Archive for November, 2012

November 08, 2012|By Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer

Three works by Italy’s Mauro Astolfi crown this fall’s dance season in Philadelphia, as a flurry of new pieces – from him and others – take to two local stages only a week apart.

Arriving in Philadelphia from Rome just before Sandy, Astolfi worked through storm-related delays to make Instant God for BalletX, which the company is premiering this week at the Wilma, along with new work by Matthew Neenan and Kate Watson-Wallace. And next week, Astolfi’s highly regarded Spellbound Contemporary Ballet debuts here with two Philadelphia premieres presented by Dance Celebration at the Annenberg Center.

Spellbound has been touring the United States on a subsidy from New England’s National Dance Project, the only European company to be chosen last year by the project. When BalletX cofounder Christine Cox saw them in New York in January, she sensed Astolfi’s sensual yet cerebral choreography would be a good fit for her company, and it wasn’t long before a BalletX commission was set.

“Working as a freelance choreographer in Europe,” Astolfi said, “I sometimes find the young dancers complain – about what time rehearsal is over, about traveling too much because they can’t recover. They want to be taken care of. For some, it’s just a job. But you can’t do this work just for money. It’s impossible.”

On the other hand, he said, after only three days of rehearsal, the BalletX dancers already were taking to the shape of Instant God.

“If I were here for a month,” he said, “they would look like my company. These dancers are hungry, and they can do anything. They are professional and don’t just work as a job.”

Dance companies in several countries have commissioned him in recent years, including Chicago’s River North Dance, which is coming next spring to the Annenberg.

He says he never comes to a company with preconceived ideas, “because when I meet the dancers, I just change everything. I need to feel their energy. So I’m trying to create an atmosphere and using an ambient soundscape created by Not From Earth for this piece.”

Neenan, BalletX’s co-artistic director, said, “In less than two weeks, Mauro and the dancers have created a dance that is sculptural, intimate, entangled, and precise.

Instant God is the darkest work on the program,” he said, “so we decided it should open, and my own work Switch Phase, which is more upbeat, closes it. We put Kate’s piece in the middle because it contrasts with both – it starts dark but gets funky, wild, and fun by the end.”

New York Times critic Alastair Macauley wrote warmly about Switch Phase after its world premiere over the summer at the Vail International Dance Festival and recently praised Neenan’s Party of the Year, saying the choreographer “is emerging as one of today’s foremost dance poets of American behavior and society.” Switch Phase was originally presented with the string quartet Brooklyn Rider performing onstage; here, the music will be recorded.

Watson-Wallace has been the Philly dance scene’s It Girl for more than a decade and received a Pew Fellowship in 2007. She may be best known for her Live Arts Festival trilogy House, Car, and Store. ( Car was performed for an audience of three in the backseat, surrounded by spectators who might have been witnesses to an accident.)

Those were site-specific works for small spaces, but last year, she began choreographing again for the stage. For BalletX, she’s made I Was at a Party and My Mind Wandered Off, which she calls a “nonlinear work that functions like a dream, a lot of washes of imagery – some futuristic and some animalistic or from nature.”

Fans of the impishly sexy and versatile dancer Tara Keating will be sorry to hear that this run marks her final appearance with BalletX. Keating danced with Pennsylvania Ballet from 1998 to 2008 and, in her last three years there, was also a founding member of BalletX, in 2005. She will continue as artistic coordinator and become the company’s ballet mistress.

In Dance Celebration’s program next week at Annenberg, Spellbound, which Astolfi formed in 1994, performs Lost for Words and Downshifting. While Italy is not short of highly regarded contemporary-dance companies and choreographers, Astolfi and Mauro Bigonzetti among them, Astolfi said that politicians and funders have not fully embraced the genre and have given very little support. They back traditional art forms, “the classical,” he said.

“To us, they say, ‘Oh, you’re fantastic, you’re one of the best companies – we’ll help you,’ but they promise, and they don’t fulfill their promises. Their words are empty. This was the inspiration for Lost for Words.”

Downshifting “is like the person who is changing the quality of life, maybe changing his job or going in another environment,” he said. “And we were changing some of our dancers and moving away from Italy a bit, and so I found this word in English, and I thought it was the right title for a dance.”

Spellbound, Nov. 15-17 at the Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St. Tickets: $20-$55. 215-898- 3900 or

Fall Arts Preview: Dance

Merilyn Jackson for The Inquirer
Posted: Saturday, September 15, 2012, 8:00 AM

Seeking common ground for Philly’s dancing feet in the coming season, I found it in the city’s galleries and academic, scientific, and ethnic institutions. The exploratory and collaborative nature of the work that will take place in them could hold extraordinary surprises, given the people creating it. The dance-makers are Philadelphia artists, Nichole Canuso, Merian Soto, Kun-Yang Lin, and Meredith Rainey, who have proven themselves innovators and who bring personal charisma to their stage work.

All were born here, and stayed or returned because of the city’s supportive atmosphere and fondness for the arts. The institutions they’ll take over, from the American Philosophical Society to North Philly’s Taller Puertorriqueño, serve diverse communities, uniting them through the arts.

Other companies and presenters are institutions in themselves. Joan Myers Brown’s Philadanco has been breaking ground for 43 years. Pennsylvania Ballet is nearing its 50th anniversary with one of its most talented rosters ever. Now in its 30th year, Dance Celebration at Annenberg Center has always been the leader in importing dance. And there are always new venues – like Skybox 2424 Studios in a rehabbed factory in a flowering Fishtown neighborhood – that enrich their communities by making the arts more available to them.

Here are 10 events that promise to give you something new to think about, to make you laugh, or cry, or to just plain thrill you.

“Return Return Departure” (American Philosophical Society, Wednesday, Friday, Oct. 5 and 20, Nov. 17, Dec. 8, 215-413-9083 What better place to set a duet reflecting on the love and study of knowledge and time than at the American Philosophical Society? At sunset, you follow choreographer Nichole Canuso and dancer John Luna as they dance from the gallery showing of Antonia Contro’s exhibition Tempus Fugit: Time Flies into the enclosed garden, where they film each other in an evolving video record of their inquiries that then can be seen back inside the gallery.

SoMoS (Taller Puertorriqueño, 2600-24 N. 5th Street, Oct. 12) Merián Soto’s work features three large geodesic tents and an outdoor performance area with simultaneous performances for audiences to move through at will. In this culmination of her seven-year Branch Dance Series, which included the One Year Wissahickon Park Project, she transforms the parking lot at Fifth and Huntingdon Streets into a quiet carnival of nature images, sounds, and movement invoking the seasons. It’s part of Taller Puertorriqueño’s free performance series, Café Under the Stars: Spotlighting the Arts in El Barrio, and takes place where Taller plans to build its next home.

Lar Lubovitch Dance Company (Annenberg Center, Oct. 11 to 13, 215-898-3900 or [email protected]) Dance Celebration opens its season with the Philadelphia premiere of Crisis Variations (2011) to Yevgeniy Sharlat’s commissioned score. The piece won Lubovitch the 2012 Benois Prize; he is the first American choreographer to receive it. The ethereal 1978 North Star to Philip Glass’ score, and The Legend of Ten, a 2010 work to Brahms choral music, fill out the program.

Symphony in D Minor Skybox 2424 Studios, Oct. 20, Nov. 2, Dec. 2, New York artists Chris Klapper and Patrick Gallagher create an epic interactive sound and video installation, accompanied by Philadelphia-based Kun-Yang Lin at Fishtown’s 2424 Studios. They’ll “harness a thunderstorm” within a series of large hand-cast resin sculptures that will hang 40 feet below the ceiling, suspended within reach. Audience members set the symphony in motion by gently pushing the forms and triggering the sound elements – recordings of thunder, lightning, wind, and rain. Soloist Kun-Yang Lin can dance up storms of his own – he’ll be a match for whatever weather Klapper and Gallagher order up.

Giselle (Academy of Music, Oct. 18 to 28, 215-893-1999 Pennsylvania Ballet dances the traditional Maurice Petipa choreography, as it has since 1988, when it opens its season with Giselle. Sixteen-year veteran principal dancer Arantxa Ochoa retires after this Giselle, in which she once again dances the role of the peasant girl who falls in love with a prince. When he betrays her she dies, but then rises from her grave to protect him from being danced to death by the vengeful Wilis – young women who died before their wedding day, but whose love of dancing keeps them on their toes all night.

Science per Forms (Christ Church Neighborhood House Oct. 25, 27 and 28, Meredith Rainey’s Carbon Dance Theatre initiates a collaborative series of dance and scholarship events that examine “the epistemology of technical, virtual, and robotic culture through the interface of balletic-based dance and interactive installations.” Sense a touch of academe? Rainey is working with the Hacktory, a digital technology lab and artists resource center, and with professors Simon Kim and Mark Yin (Penn) and Mariana Ibanez (Harvard) to create a robotics environment where audience members will interact with cyborgs, dancers, and robots. Former Merce Cunningham dancer and Bessie-winning choreographer Jonah Bokaer takes part in the heady high jinks.

BalletX (Wilma Theater, Nov. 7 to 11, 215-546-7824 At 7 you supposedly reach the age of reason; for BalletX its seventh year marks the age of recognition. The Xers are embarking on another ambitious program of two world premieres and a Philadelphia premiere. Philly’s wild-child dancer/choreographer Kate Watson-Wallace challenges the ballet-trained troupe to enter her playpen with an as-yet-untitled new work. Italy’s Mauro Astolfi is almost too hot to handle right now, and with this BalletX commission you may get a taste of what will be on stage the following week at the Annenberg Center, when Astolfi’s Spellbound Dance Company performs there. The finale has to be codirector Matthew Neenan’s Switch Phase, which premiered to acclaim at the 2012 Vail International Dance festival.

Spellbound Dance Company (Annenberg Center, Nov. 15 to 17, [email protected]) The Italian troupe makes its Dance Celebration/Philadelphia debut as part of its first North American tour. The program includes founder Mauro Astolfi’s Downshifting (2009) and Lost for Words (2011). Commenting on personal choice and will, “downshifters” imagine an alternative future in order to realize life more fully. Lost for Words mixes fluidity and virtuosity while reflecting on the role of language in human relations. These works feature music ranging from 17th-century virtuoso violin composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber to today’s electronica of Loscil.

Philadanco (Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater, Dec. 7 to 9, 215-893-1999 From triumphant appearances in world capitals during their rugged annual tours to sold-out houses at their Kimmel Center home base, Philadanco is both crowd-pleaser and artistic success. At 80, Joan Myers Brown still rules the roost, doing the programs herself. For this home season, she so far has scheduled Wiz choreographer George Faison’s Suite Otis (to music of Otis Redding), and the Philadelphia premiere of Matthew Rushing’s Moan (to Nina Simone).

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