Archive for November, 2011

November 21, 2011|By Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer

  • Gabrielle Revlock in "Share!" Also featured was Lionel Popkin's "There Is an Elephant in This Dance."
Gabrielle Revlock in “Share!” Also featured was Lionel Popkin’s There is an Elephant in This Dance

Sometimes when a critic sees a dance the first time, it goes over her head. On a witty double bill with Lionel Popkin at Philadelphia Dance Projects’ season opener at the Performance Garage, I saw Gabrielle Revlock’s Share! a second time since it premiered in 2009.

I got the wit part back then, but not the “share.” With Julius Masri performing his soundscape live off to one side, Bonnie Friel stands on a riser lip-synching “Red River Valley.” Gregory Holt and Revlock dance Revlock’s eccentric and often original choreography: standing in place, the right toe raised slightly, the buttock rocking up and down with the eyes rolled upward – a motif repeated throughout the dance until you get its slightly bored affect. Eventually the three begin removing multiple sets of underwear and exchanging them, but finally it all ends up in heaps on Friel – shared.

Popkin illuminated Philadelphia stages years ago, but we lost him to Trisha Brown’s company and now to UCLA, where he teaches. His There Is an Elephant in This Dance is something you might have to see more than once.

Popkin, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Carolyn Hall, and Zornitsa Stoyanova warmed up the audience by coming out and chatting up individuals, creating a lovely connection between us. As Stoyanova donned the elephant costume, she asked an audience member to help her. When she danced, hopping, mincing along on her knees, flapping her trunk, we felt affection for her. The elephant seemed pensive, dejected, and then brightened at times, on stage as well as in Kyle Ruddick and Cari Ann Shim’s ghostly video projected throughout.

Popkin riveted us with an upstage center solo done in one spot. Without moving his feet, he moved or shook every other body part, even his mouth, blowing air out at us, eyes twinkling. At times he could have been evading an insect. Or he’d just let his upper torso sway and sink into his hips. All the while, he never lost eye contact with the audience, and we loved it.

Houston-Jones (another Philly ex-pat) stomps and travels rapidly across the stage in a vigorous dance that ends abruptly as he saunters away, shrugging it off with a raised eyebrow. Popkin dances with Hall; they do a back crossover tango step, and she leaps high backward into his hands. Popkin puts on the elephant, does kazatskis in it – funny, sad. Sometimes you don’t quite get a dance, but you know it was something heady.

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Merilyn Jackson writes on dance, books, and food for

The Inquirer and other publications. Her blog is


By Merilyn Jackson
For The Inquirer

BalletX opened its fifth season at the Wilma Theater on Wednesday with a triple bill sparkling with surprising and lovely performances by company newcomers and more-senior members. A new initiative backed by the Knight Foundation and Wells Fargo included intermission entertainment that kept the excitement going. During the first, the Conestoga Angels Precision Marching Drum Corps shook things up by marching down and taking the Wilma stage with stomping, rib-pumping drills and bold-as-brass drumming.

It was like taking an expansive breath between the show’s two dark opening numbers. The first, Two Ears, One Mouth, a world premiere by up-and-coming choreographer Loni Landon, evoked a steamy after-hours street scene, with clubgoers in confrontations that spun out in backbends. In one beautiful phrase, new member Barry Kerollis gorgeously curled his fingers into a fist, then bobbed his head three times as he ducked under Anitra N. Keegan’s waiting upraised leg. Kerollis knew where to go but the work didn’t always.

Alex Ketley’s Silt (2009) looked more solid on second viewing than the title implied. Keegan and Kerollis started with exaggerated studio poses, while the other dancers sat around, observing. Veteran X-er Tara Keating and newcomer William Cannon clipped their movements short to metronomic music. In the second section the movement became more attenuated, the women’s arms went ribbony. Keating’s solo opened the final section to a plinking piano piece by Arvo Pärt, soon stomping to it with Cannon and the others. Colby Damon and Laura Feig ended it with a duet of compressed passion.

The entr’acte here was First Person Arts winner R. Eric Thomas, talking about moving to Philly because “everybody here has it in them, and that’s freedom!”

Matthew Neenan went to the Andrew Jackson School in South Philly for inspiration for the first installment of an education venture funded by the Philadelphia chapter of the American Composers Forum. For it, he and his musical collaborator, Robert Maggio, created a charming and strong work called Jackson Sounds. A little video of the kids they worked with set the stage, including a song an Asian student sang that later became Maggio’s theme and variations for two live cellists, Jie Jin and Thomas Kraines, upstage center.

The five women en pointe and in Martha Chamberlain’s adorable flirty skirts toyed with the company’s five men, including marvelous Jesse Sani and Adam Hundt. Their interplay shows that BalletX, even when fooling around with its schoolyard playmates, is quite grown up.


Posted: Fri, Nov. 4, 2011, 3:00 AM

By Merilyn Jackson

For the Inquirer

Tui is the Maori name for a black bird with a small white tuft at its throat. When the English came to New Zealand, its native habitat, they named it the parson bird. Honeyeaters, Tuis have two voice boxes and some of their sounds range beyond what we humans can hear. On opening night at Subcircle’s Christ Church fall run, called Seed, Gin MacCallum and Niki Cousineau danced like two wavering voices that hushed us and left us craving to hear and see them.Cousineau and MacCallum choreographed, and New Zealand’s Carol Brown, who has worked with Subcircle and Group Motion here in past years, directed. Jorge Cousineau created a spare and moody set, vaguely reminiscent of the Mutter Museum, with glass-doored specimen cabinets on either side. His video screen runs on a wide band across the stage and slowly morphs through organic, sepia-toned scenes. The Cousineaus run Subcircle and are both recent, and very deserving, independent recipients of Pew Fellowships.

I can’t say how enjoyable it was to see MacCallum dance here again, after her departure from Philadelphia. She’s an artist whose mysterious quality reminds me of a 19th-century poet – frail, romantic, possibly a little shy or neurotic. Paired with Cousineau’s cool rationality, it made for a glorious frisson that lasted throughout the one-hour dance theater piece. Together they wove a spellbinding web of fantasy.

Dressed in a man’s black suit, Cousineau is like a scientist dissecting a bird. From it, she pulls various objects – a red ribbon, a blue feather, twigs – no doubt secreted to decorate the nest. As Cousineau deliberately arranges the objects and notates them, MacCallum interferes like a little magpie, creating disorder.

They veil their heads in black, don pink or red high heels, crawl under the table. MacCallum becomes a specimen lying on the table, ripping the paper sheet to shreds and eating it. Cousineau calmly removes the wad of paper from her mouth and places it in a jar.

Rosie Langabeer’s mournful accordion notes glaze the scene with a dreamlike aura. She later sings unearthly fragments of song: “Mad with honey” is one. In her clangorous percussion section the dancers squat, swoop, lunge to the floor and then, on all fours, behave erratically. They swerve their heads or torsos one way, pull back, teeter. A coat floats down behind Cousineau. She wraps herself inside and flaps the sleeves as it wafts her aloft.

Sometimes you can see the tuis flying about like that, whimsically capricious, intoxicated by fermented nectar.


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