Archive for January, 2012

Thirdbird soars with music, dance

Posted: Mon, Jan. 23, 2012, 3:01 AM

By Merilyn Jackson
For The Inquirer

Thirdbird bills itself as the new “wing” of Ladybird and Bowerbird, the organizations directed by Anna Drozdowski and Dustin Hurt. As scouts and presenters, Drozdowski and Hurt bring together movers and music makers from near and far, producing concerts in various and sometimes out-of-the-way venues.

Thirdbird’s second flight landed at Christ Church over the weekend with Voransicht, pairing soprano, pianist, and composer Judith Berkson in the first half with dancer, choreographer, and performance artist Eleanor Bauer in the second. Both gave soaring performances that left the packed audience floored.

Voransicht, in German, means preview, and that is what Berkson delivered: an hour-long glimpse at a much larger opera to be performed with chorus and other musicians next fall. As a soloist on piano, drums, and keyboard and as a singer, she made this Voransicht as lush as a Babylonian garden in moonlight. The music, which also used electronic score, was mostly microtonal and chromatically rich.

Her vocal output, inflected with idiosyncratic tics, ranged from soprano down to a very low register that was powerful and weighty for a person of slight stature. She startled with articulations of unexpected vowels exploding on top of other sounds.

Voice output and stature figured in Bauer’s Big Girls Do Big Things as well, and in a big way. Bauer is tall and as ravishingly curvy as her concepts. She slips into a polar bear suit lying on the floor and creates the most mysteriously interesting or hilarious collages of movement. This beauty is not afraid to sweat or be ludicrous, but her humor drips with irony, intelligence and, perhaps, some tamped down rage.

Who could sustain such a high-pitched hour of switching between drollery and swanning her arms exquisitely without a simmering undercurrent of a passion, such as rage? Once the polar bear fur comes off, she is back down to her sexy black teddy, feet in high, white pumps that intensify not only her gorgeous legs, but also her vulnerability and danger as she climbs a ladder in them. Slowly, she sings Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” taking her pitch up an octave for each rung. It’s excruciatingly funny at first but gets devastating the higher she goes and the song and she begin to disintegrate.

As a woman of substance, Bauer went far beyond what she has to work with to become a dance artist of the highest state. Kudos to Thirdbird for bringing Bauer and Berkson to Philadelphia. Wow!

Posted: Sat, Jan. 21, 2012, 3:01 AM
By Merilyn Jackson
For The Inquirer
“Gravity of Center” was performed by the Montreal troupe RUBBERBANDance at the Annenberg Center.

The 10-year-old Montreal troupe RUBBERBANDance returned to Annenberg Center on Thursday evening with the Philadelphia premiere of Gravity of Center. In focus and technique, the soulfully danced work far surpasses the company’s last offering here in 2008.

The vision of company founder and former hip-hop dancer Victor Quijada is to blend his b-boy background with ballet as well as such martial arts movement as capoeira. In Gravity of Center, he’s crystallized this style into what I’ll call “acro-balletic.”

With his co-artistic director, dancer Anne Plamondon, and their collaborators, DJ Jasper Gahunia, who wrote the music, and Yan Lee Chan, who created the lighting design, the team has made a homogeneous work in perfect pitch with its concept. I like seeing hip-hop danced raw on the street, but seeing it danced more slowly and by well-trained dancers like these is like eating tournedos de boeuf instead of hot dogs. There’s nothing wrong with hotdogging on the street, but it can go only so far.

With this work, RUBBERBANDance pares break-dance phrases down to their core and spins lovely strands that seamlessly link them. Quijada was inspired by the disparity between social classes created by the economic failures of recent years. Elon Höglund, Emmanuelle Lê Phan, Daniel Mayo, and Plamondon appear with Quijada in near-darkness struggling with one another, but also against something larger, outside their understanding. The movements flow one from the other in an endless stream, arms slipping over shoulders, legs over backs, necks under torsos. In one phrase, dancers appear to be stepping out of each other’s circled arms as if from a pair of trousers.

Plamondon and Quijada go at each other, simulating head butts; the men have several elegantly crafted fight scenes, always blending the dynamics of hip-hop with the stretchy formalisms of ballet.

They all wear multiple layers of clothing that one expects will be peeled away as the dance reveals itself. But they remove only a vest here, a shirt there. In one instance, a male throws his jacket away after he is ejected from the group. It becomes, for the woman who loves him, a talisman. Eventually, she finds him again, and, forming a human chain, they all pull him back into their community.

Somehow the despair and fear of living in poverty come through. A pulsing light high in the flies beckons. The woman ventures out beyond their circle of light into darkness and is left alone at the end. Is she the one who escapes or is she abandoned?

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Posted: Tue, Jan. 17, 2012, 3:01 AM

By Merilyn Jackson
For The Inquirer

Last week a clever little dance festival called Falls Bridge – founded in 2010 by Curt Haworth, who heads PARD (Performance Arts, Research and Development), and Nicole Bindler – provided an investigatory laboratory for dance and movement arts that ended with two concerts.

On Saturday night, Ishmael Houston Jones, Yvonne Meier, Meg Foley, Zornitsa Stoyanova, Manfred Fischbeck, Sharon Mansur, and Daniel Burkholder performed at Mascher Space Co-op. I made it to the Sunday night show at Mt. Vernon Dance Space; after seeing the caliber of Sunday night’s lineup, I was sorry I had missed the first performance.

Merian Soto has partnered with Marion Ramirez since 2003; they opened this contact-improv-based show with Circulations. In total silence, Ramirez, a beautiful mover, paced the space with increasing speed, spiraling her circles smaller until she reached center. She and Soto embarked on an exploration of the space, avoiding collision with each other as their breathing became labored, finally ending in a heap together.

Street Grace was Lela Aisha Jones’ poetic solo, beginning as a paean to a poem she thought her grandmother wrote. The little music box playing Schubert that she danced to seemed to represent the poem. Often just standing in place, she languidly led us through an evocation of many emotions, from hunger for beauty to acceptance of self.

At last, I got to see much-discussed Michelle Stortz, who danced a witty improvisation called Open Wide with Leah Stein. At times, they played like small animals, mostly communicating with each other via guttural sounds or visual signals in a language we all somehow understood.
Another wonderfully playful improvisation – between Sarah Gladwin Camp, of Green Chair Dance Group, and Gregory Holt – started out with a kind of rock-paper-scissors stare-down. Holt ran around, wildly flapping his arms like a madman wanting to shout his love from the treetops, while Camp sat watching impassively. In a magnificent moment reminiscent of Xavier Leroy’s nude Self-Unfinished, the fully-dressed Holt upended his legs over his upper back to touch the wall, head unseen, backside up, his arms and hands extended absurdly behind him, taking on a life of their own.

NOW! by Silvana Cardell was all about immediacy. She and her five dancers blocked and challenged, held and climbed over one another, as artist Jennifer Baker drew life-size impressions of them on six large easels. It was fascinating to see her stretch all over with her charcoal even as she watched and studied whatever phrases the dancers presented. Baker captured the whip-snap swing and sway of the choreography better than any words.


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