Archive for the ‘ Dance ’ Category

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

Monday, September 17, 2012

By Merilyn Jackson

A huge, hexagonal, cagelike structure that reached to the ceiling commanded the space inside Pier 9 on Friday night for the premiere of The Gate Reopened by choreographer Brian Sanders’ company, Junk. Surrounding it was a packed audience.

As Sanders’ eight muscular performers — six men and two women — emerged, fleetly circling the Gate’s base to the wild cheers of the crowd, I couldn’t help but see them as gladiators. Instead of fighting each other, they fought height and gravity, calculating risk as they swung on bungees or launched themselves like simians against the chain-link fencing, which they gripped only by their fingertips and the J-hooks on their boots.

Sanders’ work is always thrilling, inventive, daring, ingenious and very witty. It was gratifying to see him have a free hand with a good budget for the set and the Pedro Silva/Conrad Bender lighting design. The men — Connor Senning, Gunnar Clark, Teddy Fatscher, John Luna, Billy Robinson, and Tommy Schimmel — and the women, Jerrica Blankenship and Tamar Gutherz, were all topless, so the low lighting was perhaps to cast them in shadow.

Blankenship and Gutherz performed daredevil feats on a swinging ladder. Robinson took a big leap from the top into a watery canvas, only to be caught up in a sheet of plastic and then writhe his way out again. A mist sprayed them all in the final moments, catching the light magically and casting a mystical cloud over the scene. This was one of those performances where the line between dancer and athlete was blurred, if not obliterated. Indeed, the crowd strolled out into the fine evening in high spirits, as if we’d just been to a sporting event.

I enjoyed seeing how far the Polish dancers have come into the world of Western contemporary dance. From their concert, I’d say they are now in various stages from the 60s to the 80s when contemporary dance first began to trickle into Poland. But you must eat all of the banquet if you are ever to digest its meaning. And these three have a good appetite for it.


My review of their Sept. 15 2012 concert:

Three Polish dancers made their American debuts Friday evening at the modest Mascher Space up on Cecil B. Moore Ave. Though their paths have crossed in Poland and two have worked with each other in the past, their movement esthetics diverge except for the fact that each uses sound/music very minimally, if at all.  Izabela Chlewińska lives and works in Warsaw, but has also performed in Germany, Mexico and Japan. In a doll-like little white dress, she writes out the story of her concept on an easel filled with large sheets of paper. She takes us to the land of Tralfamadoria, a riff on Kurt Vonnegut’s work (which was very popular in Poland) in that her work is non-linear, episodic and elliptical. It’s when she strips to her body stocking that we see what an original mover, even a contortionist, she is. In the Zoo section, she takes to the floor in an exquisitely high back-bend, head facing us and scuttles crab-like from side to side. She strikes sharply angled poses, bent-elbowed arms splayed out along her body while her chest and torso rise pointing to the ceiling or lies on her side like an odalisque or such as you might see when a leopard is in repose. Finally, she dedicates the dance to her father. But why? Did he introduce her to Tralfamadoria? Is this a remnant of a childhood memory lived just before the bizarre life lived under Communism dissolved? Maybe nothing of the sort, but I love works that raise more questions than they can answer.

Marysia Stokłosa’s Vacuum didn’t spare us from questions either. Wielding a vintage Electrolux canister vac (I had a similar one for many years), she literally swept the entire large space with it, criss-crossing from right to left, even insinuating it under the feet of the people in the front row. She re-covered the entire space from front to back running in reverse, so I thought, probably incongruously, of a warp and weft imaginary weaving of the space into one large fabric for her to dance upon. Lest you think this sounds too serious, Stokłosa disappears into a side restroom and runs the shower returning to us in a bathing suit the same vintage as the vacuum cleaner, and sopping wet, belly flops on the floor, flinging and flopping like a fish out of water. To Chopin, she dries her hair with the vacuum. Hah! Is she saying it’s time for Poland to wash that fusty romantic self-image away? I hope so, but that’s just me.

Each dance seemed born of a big idea realized with an economy of movement and a great take-it-or-leave-it confidence including the final work, Le Pas Jacques. By Magda Jędra, who is co-founder of Good Girl Killer in Gdansk, she starts with both feet planted on the floor while she scoops and swoops the air with her arms. She pulls a Babci shawl from a nearby paper bag and ties her ankles together with it, her wrists with another piece of clothing and then bruisingly jumps around, falling often until she loosens her bonds. I had to leave for another show so I regrettably couldn’t stay to see the rest. But I ran into her at the supermarket today and she had cabbages in her cart for tonight’s show. So, Kapusta anyone?

$15 Mascher Space, 155 Cecil B. Moore Ave. tonight and Sunday night, 8 p.m.

June 18, 1999|By Merilyn Jackson, FOR THE INQUIRER
Want to learn a new language in a week?

2000 Feet’s 25 or so troupes from abroad, and a few American companies with foreign roots, speak in many languages, both verbal and body. Just reading about these dancers could add a bunch of new phrases to anyone’s vocabulary. Seeing them perform can teach the universal language of dance.

Here are some that intrigued us:


With 50 works to her credit, 35- year-old Chinese-American choreographer Li Chiao-Ping, of Li Chiao-Ping Dance, has established herself as one of the young forces majeurs of modern dance in the United States today. Her video/dance works, often made in collaboration with noted video artist Douglas Rosenberg, are shown at film festivals around the world. The programmers surely made a mistake in not scheduling her pieces as one of the festival’s main attractions. But their mistake is your gain. Fin de Siecle, I and II, will be shown twice: 2:30 p.m. Monday at a free lecture/demonsration at the Arts Bank, Broad and South Streets, and in a public performance late Thursday night.

(A brief digression about schedules: All public performances recommended here are listed on Page 26. Many other opportunities to see and hear about dance this week, including dozens of “lecture/demonstrations,” are mainly for conference registrants but are free and open to everyone, space permitting. A schedule of those is in the Festival Guide available at all events, and at the Inquirer’s site on the Internet:

Fin de Siecle is an amazing 22-minute dance. Li, a powerhouse dancer, is still recovering from an early-winter auto accident; her Part I solo will be danced by Walter Dundervill and Part II by the full company of four. Watching Fin de Siecle is a perfect way to learn what is meant by the term “postmodern dance.” Li’s costuming, for instance, is reminiscent of the Italian futurists and the Bauhaus – the things that started all this early in the century. The choreography moves robotically, athletically and even balletically through the styles of the century, yet all the while it is clearly influenced by Chinese dance training. The piece will represent the genre well into the next century.

Tuesday evening at the Drake, Dundervill performs Chi, Li’s signature dance. Before her accident, Li had been working on Satori (which the company premieres on the same Tuesday program), a piece to music by Japanese shakuhachi master Riley Lee. In it, she works on extreme uses of the body but shapes awkward movements into gracefulness. “Since I no longer could use my own body to investigate or demonstrate with, I relied on my visual sense to create this work – a different process for me,” she told me by phone from her home base in Madison, Wis.

Postmodern dance turns modern and classical dance inside out – rather like wearing a couturier ball gown with the inseams, boning, and zipper placket exposed so that you see its structure, how it was made. Practitioners often use technologies and text, anything that helps them pull together and make sense of the artistic forms and political events of our times. One of the beauties of these contemporary dance forms is their ability to enfold other cultures and traditions and reinterpret them.

The following companies are also steeped in these techniques and represent the way the genres are developing in their home countries. Their performances, like all the public performances in 2000 Feet, are parts of mixed bills with several other companies.

A not-to-be-missed performance will be Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company’s Dragons on the Wall, Wednesday evening at the Merriam. Featuring a live performance by the ethereal soprano Joan LaBarbara, who composed the music, Dragons is part of Chen’s ongoing series called “Calligraphy.

Chen, like Li, is Chinese American, having arrived from Taiwan in 1981 to study at New York University at the age of 22. She, too, works in postmodern idioms with some martial-arts influence, but even more clearly lets her early traditional Chinese dance training shine through. An exquisite dancer, she will perform in a longer version of Dragons at the lecture/demonstration at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Arts Bank.

For Chen, dance is not just physical expression. It has visual elements, too. “Calligraphy is like painting,” she said by phone from her studio in Fort Lee, N.J. “Within it, you can find parallels to many artistic `isms’ – the lines get blurred today.”

France’s Companhia Ladainha blurs ethnic lines so much it is almost impossible to identify the soil from which their new “isms” spring. Laina Fischbeck – the daughter of German-born Manfred Fischbeck, who founded Group Motion here in 1968 – left for France more than a year ago and met up with a dancer from the Rennes-based company while studying in Normandy. After an audition, the company invited Fischbeck to join.

When pushed to name her top five picks, 2000 Feet codirector Susan Glazer included Ladainha: “They surely will be one of the big hits of the festival.” After seeing their preview at Kumquat last weekend, I agree. Brazilian Capoeira master and company cofounder Armando Pekeno delivers an adrenalin rush to movement junkies, and Fischbeck has never danced better. She trains six hours a day in Capoeira, an Angolan-style martial art disguised as dance, and Candomble, a danhe training has dispelled Fischbeck’s old South Street ennui and imbued her body with a mysterious new energy and intelligence. She and Michele Brown, the other cofounder of the French company, and three other beautiful dancers were tres formidable with their ataques and take-downs.

Like tai chi, the Capoeira disciplines that Pekeno and Brown base their choreography on can be forceful and sudden, but is rarely violent-looking. The most explosive movements are when the five women, lying on their backs, jerk their bodies upward, momentarily levitating a foot or so off the floor. The musicians who accompany them – and sometimes dance – in ORU: Heat, Vapor, Energy, make percussive musical dynamism that more than matches the title. They’ll perform on Tuesday afternoon, with a generous lecture/demonstration at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Arts Bank.

Australia’s Expressions, another highly physical troupe, created quite a buzz when they performed in the United Kingdom a couple of years ago. Here they bring extracts from Jigsaw, a later work. Company members are known for their hell-bent cleverness and hilarious takes on just about everything. By e-mail, they describe Jigsaw as “a hybrid of several disciplines, including ballet, that explores phobias.” They’ll perform Thursday evening at the Merriam, and give a lecture/demo at 10 a.m. next Friday at the Arts Bank.

Transitions is a London-based professional company that accepts only the top graduated dancers and gives them the opportunity to work with Europe’s award-winning choreographers. They’ll perform a 1999 work for four men and one woman that contrasts spiraling athleticism and still moments to music by Fred Frith. Another piece – to music by the Klezmatics – is a high-wired, high-velocity dance on the same Tuesday night program at the Merriam. A demonstration at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Arts Bank offers a chance to see the company’s hits from last year.

Transitions is a London-based professional company that accepts only the top graduated dancers and gives them the opportunity to work with Europe’s award-winning choreographers. They’ll perform a 1999 work for four men and one woman that contrasts spiraling athleticism and still moments to music by Fred Frith. Another piece – to music by the Klezmatics – is a high-wired, high-velocity dance on the same Tuesday night program at the Merriam. A demonstration at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Arts Bank offers a chance to see the company’s hits from last year.


Spain, Mexico and Venezuela are represented by large troupes at the festival. Of these, the Madrid natives who form Noche Flamenca, now based in New York, already have a slew of fans here. From their first Jaleo – the Andalucian term for the shouting and clapping that encourages the dancers to jest and make merry – to the setting of their last, lonely Solea, they’ll once again please their crowd. Noche Flamenca, which sold out the Wilma Theater for 10 days in January, is appearing at Saturday night’s opening gala as a prelude to a second run at the Wilma beginning Wednesday.

Even those who find bourrees (those teensy on-pointe steps) boring will be intrigued by Venezuela’s Ballet Metropolitano de Caracas. This is classical ballet infused with Latin zing. Wednesday evening at the Merriam, 10 of their dancers will perform a salute to Venezuelan dance, to music by Latin-American composers.

Mexico’s Delfos fuses Latin and western modern dance and is another of festival codirector Glazer’s picks. She says to watch for the delicately traced choreography, defined by impeccable body work. Sunday night’s program at the Merriam will offer an unusual opportunity to see a neighbor nation’s contemporary work.

In a burst of joyful brilliance, the programmers have engaged the Philadelphia-based Samba Nosso drum and dance group to lead the audience in and out of the Merriam at Saturday’s gala. Samba Nosso plays African-influenced styles of authentic Brazilian music with musicians and dancers from around the world.


After watching anorexic Western ballerinas with their hinged elbows and knees, most Asian dancers appear boneless. Their limbs are breathtakingly fluid, with no awkward joints. Because of their rigorous training, it is unlikely that audiences will see even one mediocre dancer out of the eight contemporary troupes from China, Hong Kong, Korea, Kuala-Lumpur, Taiwan and Singapore.

When pressed for her favorites, Pearl Schaeffer, director of the Philadelphia Dance Alliance and Glazer’s partner in 2000 Feet, blurted out China’s Guangdong Modern Dance Company first. “I’m interested in seeing modern dance with roots in the U.S. being reinterpreted by a Chinese company,” she said. The members of Guangdong Modern Dance, founded by the Chinese government in 1992, “use elements of contact improvisation, they’re highly gestural, and use partnering well. Their costuming is very western – the men bare-breasted with baggy white pants and the women often have minimal costuming with long sleeves or fabric trailing behind.” The company will be on a Thursday night bill at the Merriam.

Posted: Sat, May. 19, 2012, 3:00 AM
By Merilyn Jackson

You could sum up the work of the genius stagecrafter and choreographer Moses Pendleton by saying he exceeds the influence of such peers as Alwin Nikolais, Elizabeth Streb, Mummenschanz, and Pilobolus, the now-41-year-old company he cofounded, then left in 1983 to form MOMIX. His inventiveness and artistry far surpass the popular Cirque du Soleil.

A Dance Celebration favorite, MOMIX opened at the Annenberg Center on Thursday night to a nearly full house with its show “reMIX.” Instead of one of his evening-length works, Pendleton offered an exotic caravan of pieces — some new, some familiar — that drew oohs, aahs, and scatterings of applause throughout.

I’d love to be able to see into Pendleton’s dreams just one night, but dreams alone don’t make theater like this. It needs imagination, an understanding of the laws of physics — inertia, centrifugal force, gravity, weight, velocity — and the grit to work out the precision timing that keeps his dancers safe, all of which someone like Streb employs with ease. But like Nikolais, Pendleton brings beauty, mystery, emotion, and uproarious fun to the table, too.

In his and Karl Baumann’s piece TableTalk, Steven Marshall, a phenomenal gymnastic dancer who performed in many of the works, splays his arms out and, with head below the rim of the table, draws us in with a powerful rippling of his shoulder muscles. He proceeds through every possible permutation of stance until finally he twirls the table on his back and carries it off.

In Tuu, with Rebecca Rasmussen, he holds and lifts her, with every press of the feet, lean of the body, fall, timed to perfection. In Dream Catcher with Cara Seymour, he commands a giant elliptically designed gyroscope, which the two pivot and swing around on in dangerous-looking variations.

Two dances by the company’s women endeared with sensuality and wit: In Marigolds, Phoebe Katzin’s fabulous orange frills enfolded the women and allowed them to shimmy the dresses down their bodies till they were rumba-like sheaths. Baths of Caracalla, by the same five women, now in white by Katzin, harked all the way back to Loie Fuller, with the women rippling their white skirts like bath towels, flags, or clouds.

Sputnik and Pole Dance were magnificent spectacles, using poles for balancing, vaulting, and flying, that Philadelphia choreographer Brian Sanders had a hand in contriving.

By the concert’s end the ethereal, Asian-inspired ambient sound and lounge music grew tedious — my only complaint — so it was a great relief in the last piece, If You Need Some Body, to hear Bach, which I normally hate for dance. It made a perfect foil for the ebullient silliness of the company of 10 partnered by floppy dummies that ended up flying joyfully from dancer to dancer.

Posted: Sun, May. 6, 2012, 4:56 PM
By Merilyn Jackson

The threesome who compose the Headlong Dance Theater brought tales of their early, communal living arrangement as well as baskets full of onions to the Performance Garage. The artists have a knack for finding meaning in small things.J.J. TIZIOUR /

After years of making more conceptual work and implementing teaching projects, the triumvirate that makes up Headlong Dance Theater — Amy Smith, David Brick, and Andrew Simonet — came together again over the weekend at the Performance Garage to dance. Their new work, directed by Swarthmore College professor K. Elizabeth Stevens, is called Desire. For what, it doesn’t say. But all it made me want to do was cry.

It was all about onions, you see. There were four huge laundry hampers full of big, juicy golden onions that pretty soon got dumped, rolling all over the stage for these actor/dancers to mash pell-mell with their bare feet — and bodies, too, once the juices started oozing and they slipped on them.

There was a microphone to one side of the stage where Smith recounted anecdotes about their early, idealistic days together. Brick and Simonet also took turns at the mic, and it was as though three siblings were telling versions of their cildhood.

They lived communally, two of them as vegans envying Brick his coffees’ real half-and-half over their soy version. They shared clothes — three pairs of shorts among them — as they sprinkled onion seeds down the rows Brick had sown. Once they graduated from Wesleyan, they migrated to Philly. Here, they sowed seeds for new kinds of dance.

What endears the Headlongers to everyone is how they take small bits of life and turn them into something meaningful, familiar, sometimes a little sinister. Masters at juxtaposing melancholy texts with nostalgic music and goofy dancing, they jut out their legs and wiggle their arms in opposite directions in simpleminded steps. They drop behind one another, gently aping the other until the one who’s being aped peels away.

In one part, a song relays that it’s a “custom to dance after funerals. We like to waltz,” and the three take turns waltzing among the crushed onions, managing to sidestep each one. They know how to lead an audience to focus on several aspects of their theater-making all at once.

The set and lighting were by Thom Weaver — three boxes sided with fabric that represent tents. Each of the dancers emerges from his or her individual spaces or retreats to them. Simonet comes out on all fours in an animal head, and later so does Brick as a unicorn. We all know they’re mythical, so is he telling us not to believe what we’ve heard and seen?

Each of them (literally or figuratively) peeled away an onion at various times throughout the show — a kind of search to find the center of meaning, the kernel of truth in who we are. Of course, an onion has no center, so it makes a good metaphor for life and all the things we do as we journey through it.

And that could make you smile through your tears.

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Posted: Fri, May. 4, 2012, 9:37 PM
By Merilyn Jackson

In J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, the boy was dressed in leaves, as perhaps was Pan, the Greek god of nature whom Barrie had in mind. When Pennsylvania Ballet gave the ballet Peter Pan its Philadelphia premiere Thursday night at the Academy of Music with Alexander Peters as the boy from Neverland, his sprightly body was not clad in leaves, but scantily enough in shorts and straps around his chest to suggest a ruffian from the wilds.

The Oregon Ballet originally commissioned choreographer Trey McIntyre to create this Peter Pan, his first full-length ballet, but funding problems caused him to set the work on the Houston Ballet in 2002. Though he came to Philadelphia to polish his gem on this company, there were still some rough edges opening night.

The flying sequences, in which Wendy (Evelyn Kocak), John (Jonathan Stiles), and Michael (Abigail Mentzer) take off with Peter, had to be rehearsed in another theater until two days before the first performance. Pan was also the god of theater criticism, so I think he might have forgiven the slight scenery malfunctions and occasional missteps when dancers could not always find their places.

As delightful as he was aerially, the young Alexander Peters was not up to par partnering a taller Kocak. In one horizontal slide, he thudded rather than slid her; later, Kocak, with Zachary Hench as Hook, performed the slide perfectly.

With her striking, sophisticated looks, Amy Aldridge — who rose from apprentice in 1994 to principal in 2001 and is a senior company member — struck me as poor casting for Tinkerbell. However, she appeared only once, briefly, and then was represented by a flickering light. (McIntyre did not include one of the most endearing sections for young audiences — for many their first audience-participation experience — when Tink is poisoned and they have to clap her back to life.)

The great story ballets — Firebird, Spartacus, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet — link generations across time with upswept melodic themes that weave throughout, signaling plot changes. The humorless hodgepodge score of Sir Edward Elgar’s music, arranged by Niel DePonte, was the slightest, most unmagical element of the ballet.

Nevertheless, there was plenty of magic inside the gorgeous “Grand Old Lady of Locust Street” Thursday night. Hench as Hook was commanding, the huge crocodile grouchily hungry. And wonderful group dances among the Shadows, Redskins, Pirates, Lost Boys, and Mermaids — where soon-to-retire Arantxa Ochoa does a comic turn — save this darkly imagined Peter Pan. You’ll live forever in our hearts, Peter.

Posted: Sun, Apr. 29, 2012, 10:21 PM
By Merilyn Jackson

The  fidget space is on North Mascher Street just above Cecil B. Moore Avenue, in a little niche of the arts neighborhood around the corner from Mascher Space and between Crane Arts on American Street and Pig Iron’s school on North Second Street.

Dancer/choreographer Megan Bridge and composer/videographer Peter Price opened the walk-up loft at the top of the building in 2009 as a research laboratory for dance, and many local and out-of-town artists have worked in the space. On Thursday, Bridge, Zornitsa Stoyanova, and Annie Wilson danced while performance artist Mauri Walton sketched and drew words backward on the freshly painted white walls. It was called situation: becoming and was as much an art installation as a performance.

At the Friday evening show, I waited outside the curtained-off space with a dozen or so other audience members (only 20 are admitted each night) until we were led inside together. We were asked to remove our shoes and invited to lounge on a white futon surrounded by pillows. This was theater-in-the-round flipped, with the audience in the center of the space and all the action revolving around us.

White Roman shades completely covered the huge factory windows on two sides of the space, blocking the magnificent city views. They act as screens for Price’s geometric video treatments that play around the room kaleidoscopically, dizzyingly, making me glad to be already on the floor.

Stoyanova saunters around us faintly smiling, then stops and leans into us, telling us one by one the secret message, which we must pass on. Wilson rocks sideways on a child’s toy. Then they gather, with Bridge on a couch, looking like beautiful mannequins in their white architecturally constructed costumes (by Heidi Barr). Soon they are prancing or skipping around us, stopping to isolate body parts, with even some subtle popping and locking. Wilson disappears into the living quarters to change into a black jumpsuit number with pops of color, and Walton helps her to roll up the shades to the cityscape.

Price sits behind a paper cutout globe like a wizard calmly orchestrating the nuttiness. Wilson sits chopping long-stemmed carrots, Bridge appears in her bunny suit, Stoyanova dresses in hot pink, dancing with a skull, or digs in a pile of soil, Walton lays objects out around the floor until we are each invited over to the bar for a beverage, and the piece just fizzles out in whispering fun.

Posted: Fri, Apr. 27, 2012, 2:08 PM
By Merilyn Jackson

What modern choreographer doesn’t want to sink his teeth into making a new Bolero? Sure, everybody’s done it. But Roni Koresh really made a quirky new one for Koresh Dance Company’s spring opener Thursday night at its home base, the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. Koresh titled the evening’s four works “Out/Line,” which also was the name of the first of three world premieres on the bill.

But it was his fresh take on Bolero that outshone all the other works. Bronislawa Nijinska choreographed the first Bolero, which was commissioned by Ida Rubenstein in 1928. Nijinska set it in a tavern, where Rubenstein danced on tabletop. But composer Maurice Ravel had envisioned the work in a factorylike setting, because its rhythms sounded mechanically driven. Koresh boldly strayed from the usual sensual, even erotic renditions, taking his cue from Ravel’s original vision and adding lots of humorous notes. His sensational dancers even smiled while dancing it, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a smiling Bolero before.

There were some signature Koresh gestures throughout: splayed fingers, shaky hands, elbows up, clasped hands, and eyes raised to heaven. But they seemed there as a grounding sign, a cheeky reminder that, hey, this is fun, seriously.

Mechanistically, sometimes even militaristically, the dancers emerge from the black background to the harshly lit (by Robb Anderson) foreground in solos, pairs, and trios, with, eventually, the full company, and then disappear in groups back into the black. Their chic black costumes were by Bela Shehu.

Koresh varies several simple step combinations, mostly walking-based, using them like the music, to build the sensation of the dance. Joe Cotler, Micah Geyer, and Eric Bean are the current male lineup in the now-21-year-old company and, as usual, they carry the load of partnering, though there is no heavy lifting. Here they bend forward, hands on the floor, swinging their legs behind them from side to side. They make wide-open giant steps and when the charming social dancing begins, the women partner and lead each other. Everyone waits for the final falling crescendo of the music, but Koresh adds a teensy coda note with one dancer in a spot, just for laughs.

Out/Line was the evening’s weakest piece, not only for its loud, pointlessly boring music, but also for its relentlessly pugilistic, martial-arts look and length.

The Heart had many moments of sweet appeal, but these long, episodic works are really wearing thin. Who wants to nibble at a gallimaufry of cold scraps when you can feast at a fully conceived and realized banquet like Koresh’s Bolero?

Posted: Fri, Apr. 20, 2012, 5:09 PM
By Merilyn Jackson
                                       Benjamin Von Wong
Wen Wei Wang’s “Night Box” had its premiere Thursday.

In recent years Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal has changed mightily; since I last saw it in Philadelphia eight years ago, the company has replaced all but one of its members, Youri de Wilde. He returned, along with many new faces and some really great legs in the cast to dance the world premiere of Wen Wei Wang’s Night Box as well as Aszure Barton’s Les Chambres des Jacques at the Annenberg Center’s Dance Celebration series Thursday evening. And what crowd-pleasers they were.

Wang’s piece opens with a cluster of dancers, backs to us, isolating torsos, arms, and necks like figures in a video game. As a foggy-night cityscape looms above them in projection, they break into club dancing. One woman is picked to be held aloft, passed from man to man. The men dance in line, holding their hands open in front of their heads. Soon the women slide (which they do in several sequences, all wearing ankle socks) into the line; they fill the men’s empty hands with their heads and form a sort of conga line.

Breaking into couples, they slow-dance, the men languidly groping the women’s buttocks, the women responding by placing their hands up closer to shoulders. Kevin Delaney opens the men’s solos, and a crackling duet between James Gregg and Celine Cassone has her in death-dropping, face-down slides and arabesques; in one, Gregg holds her upraised leg in beautiful arched placement. In all, Night Box is a sexy, noirish dance.

Barton, a rising star in Canadian and U.S. dance with her own company, is well known to Philadelphia audiences, having been here at the Annenberg and at Swarthmore College in the past year, with her signature hit Blue Soup. Her 2006 Les Chambres features strong male solo work, little white flouncy skirts and corsets (by Anne-Marie Veevaete) for the women, and a terrific pastiche of music ranging from Vivaldi arias to the opening strains of Alberto Iglesias’ film score for Talk to Her.

Brett Taylor opened his solo in a square spot with some Irish clogging. Soon the other dancers filled other spots, each alone as in a closed room. Big ronde de jambe des tournees and deep plié kicks marked some of the men’s dances, which really got the best of Barton’s and the audience’s attention in this dance. Ultimately, I wished for a better-balanced program where one of the pieces was less episodic, more flowing.


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