Archive for the ‘ Theater ’ Category

By Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer

Posted: January 30, 2015


You probably know what continental drift is – but what’s Choreo_Drift?

Simply put, it’s the movement of choreographic ideas that relate to one another, to art and politics, and to society and communities across the continents. It’s the brainchild of Italian-born, Sweden-based choreographer and theorist Cristina Caprioli, and the collaborator/dancers in her company, ccap.

The project, which takes many shapes, has this week drifted down from the Museum of Modern Art’s PS1, in Queens, N.Y., to Philadelphia. Aaron Levy, a founding director of Slought, the gallery, lecture, and performance space on the University of Pennsylvania campus, is hosting its local premiere, “Choreo_Drift: Choreography and Disenchantment” – three days of multimedia, interdisciplinary performances, films, and conversations exploring choreography, embodiment, and power that’s open and free to the public.

Caprioli and Tulane University’s Felicia McCarren, author of French Moves: The Cultural Politics of le hip hop, opened the series Wednesday with talks and audience conversations, plus choreographic input of Caprioli’s dance “att att.”

Thursday features conversations with Temple University’s Mark Franko, Egyptian choreographer/dance activist and archivist Adham Hafez, and Mattias Gardell, Swedish author of Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism. Again, there will be dance interludes throughout the gallery.

Choreo_Drift culminates with a collective talk followed by a full performance of Caprioli’s Omkretz (Circumference) at the Annenberg Center on Friday.

Caprioli first came to Philadelphia last year to explore possible venues for Choreo_Drift, and, after meeting Levy, she decided Slought was the logical place to moor. She already knew Franko, who directs Temple’s graduate studies program in dance, from his own choreography and his many books on dance, and it wasn’t long before the three concluded his work and Slought’s programming would mesh.

Temple’s monthly dance colloquium is “the only program like it in the region,” Franko says, “and the fact that we live-stream the colloquia, which is free to the public, makes it absolutely unique on the East Coast.” He says people too often see dance only as play, or feel it can’t be thoughtful or engage with ideas and politics, as do other art forms.

His 2005 book, Excursion for Miracles, dealt with his time in New York in the ’60s with Paul Sanasardo and Donya Feuer, cofounders of Studio for Dance. Feuer (1934-2011), was a native Philadelphian who eventually moved to Sweden and was a longtime collaborator with director Ingmar Bergman.

So when Franko came to Philadelphia two years ago from the University of California at Santa Cruz, there were connections linking him, Philadelphia, and Caprioli.

“Cristina had invited me to Stockholm several times,” he said. “I’m never quite sure what I’m supposed to do or if I’m doing enough, but she just likes to have certain people around to bounce off of.”

When she was organizing a conference in Stockholm in 2010, she invited him to help her program it.

“It was called Weaving Politics, and she’s been extraordinarily generous. She provided an apartment for me for a month,” Franko said. “She brings me so that I can just be there. And I work, I write, we talk, I interact with the company.” He helped conceptualize the conference, which brought together choreographer William Forsythe and Bulgarian French philosopher Julia Kristeva, who called dance “a nimble movement of incorporated thought.”

Afterward, he proposed publishing the paper that resulted, “but Cristina said, ‘No, it’s your paper, but you should keep developing it, let it drift.’ So she’s the one who made the connection for me with Slought.”

In a Skype interview from MoMA last week, Caprioli proved an animated 61-year-old who seemed much younger – dancers tend to age less dramatically than the rest of us.

“I am convinced that choreography is not only the best [art] form to buy a ticket for, it is also an orchestration of encounters, the setting up of encounters between different minds,” she said. “I hope we give audiences the possibility to enter the choreography themselves, but also to intellectually stimulate the publics we encounter, more than just satisfy them and try to do it very gently, not aggressively.”

“I really cherish this. It is a shame for dance and choreography to be still happening in conventional theater. It’s not really about just watching a piece, but to share the event of the piece. It’s so easy to get into this product thinking.”

Omkretz, which had its world premiere in October in Florence, Italy, “has two dancers and a musician on a saxophone. The live music gives it a strong atmosphere.

“The dancers and the music are dealing with the idea of throwing the bow and arrow – thrust, momentum, trajectory, and distance,” said Caprioli. “When they come to the edge, they have to turn and drift back.”

Slam dunks from Philadanco

Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer

Posted: Saturday, April 19, 2014, 1:08 AM




Adryan Moorefield and Janine Beckles of Philadanco.

The program included a mix of newer and older pieces.
To a packed house, Philadanco brought back Donald Byrd’s 1995 BAMM at its spring offering at the Kimmel’s Perelman Theater Thursday night. I first saw it in 2004 with the now-retired force of nature Odara Jabali-Nash as the center of its centrifugal force. This time, six dancers revolve around veteran company dancer Roxanne Lyst like numbers on a spinning clock.

The missing hands of this no-tick-tock clock are Mio Morales’ quick-pulsed percussive score, which ultimately hurls the dancers from the circle and into various patterns around the stage. The men walked off and on stage ramrod-stiff, almost militaristic. But the spitfire Lyst remains in control, leading the others through Africanized, hunched-over skipping. Their fists pumped to the floor, pushing their shoulders up in synchronized rhythms.

It was such a sweet surprise when many of the same dancers came out next in Gene Hill Sagan’s ballet Suite en Bleu, to the music of Handel and Bach, which, with its metronomic formalisms, mirrored Morales’ score. Lyst, Rosita Adamo, and Janine Beckles, in soft hyacinth-blue gowns and ballet slippers, flared out their skirts in their tours, Tommie-Waheed Evans, Dwayne Cook Jr., and even the towering Adryan Moorefield lifting them joyfully as if they were flowers.

The company premiere of Ulysses Dove’s 1984 Bad Blood, to Laurie Anderson’s “Gravity’s Angel” and “Walking and Falling” and Peter Gabriel’s “Excellent Birds,” seemed a little off-kilter on opening night. This normally sure-footed company did not yet have the piece in its belly, where they need it. It is a furiously brutal work about the search for connection through physical impact. I could see Beckles cross herself before running out from the wings to throw her spread-eagled legs around one of the men who had to take her impact without faltering. I have no doubt they will ultimately devour the piece with their typical fierceness.

That hunched-over Africanist skip returned in Rennie Harris’ 2007 Philadelphia Experiment, only this time as a ghost of itself, haunting us from the centuries of slavery where even the muscle memory diminishes. Evans ferociously spurred the full company through its paces past Philly’s darker moments – shown in a video collage by John Abner – to embrace the joy and fulfillment that hip-hop and dance bring to many of us in Harris’ paean to our city. With so many slam dunks throughout the show, I wanted to jump up and shout: BOOMSHAKALAKA!


POSTED: Monday, January 28, 2013, 6:46 PM
By Merilyn Jackson

A full moon soared diagonally across the stage backdrop at Temple’s Conwell Theater Friday night for the opening of “Wolf-in-Skins.” Hounds and wolves bayed; the hair on my neck prickled. The animals loped in on all fours, knuckles fisted like paws. From the opposite fly, three consorts of the prince regent of Annfwin (Gwyn ap Nudd, a stag) danced across in vertical contrast, often in relevé. Their breasts were cupped loosely in petals, their diaphanous empire-waist tutus flared by acrylic. This tale, drawn from pre-Christian Celtic mythology, takes place when man and beast mated and procreated, if only in myth.

“Wolf-in-Skins” is the brainchild of choreographer Christopher Williams in collaboration with composer Gregory Spears, and this was but a preview — Act I, and a short excerpt of Act II. Terry Fox, director of Philadelphia Dance Projects, laudably brought this huge project to Philadelphia on her shoestring budget.

As a child, Williams danced the myths he read and locates the work in Prydein, yet it does not seem based on Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles even though it uses similar names.

Not since the gang rape by antlered men in Tomasz Wesolowski’s “Rite of Spring” in Warsaw have I seen costumes and movement this primal and erotic. Williams staged an equally savage disrobing of Bleiddwen, Kira Rae Blazek, by the hounds of the stag, Burr Johnson. Johnson (reviewed here last year for his poignant role in John Jasperse’ Fort Blossom)is a peerless Gwyn ap Nudd, his anguished, serpentine torso undulating in conflicted seduction of Bleiddwen even as he is banishing her for loving “the flesh of men.” Bleiddwen has whelped three bastard sons by Gwydion, the nephew of King Math; now she is turned into a she-wolf Gwydion cannot recognize.

Geoff McDonald conducted Spears’ postminimalist, early music-influenced score for a small ensemble and a four-voice “Greek chorus” singing in polyphonic harmonies, with soprano or countertenor breakouts.

Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek and Anthony Roth Costanzo gave voice to Bleiddwen and her son Gwrgi. Matthew Flatley danced Gwrgi until he changed into a human who serves the king as a footman, at which point Costanzo took the role in a tour-de-force of movement, acting, and singing.

The great Caitlin Scranton, seen here in 2010 in Lucinda Childs’ “Dance”, and again in excerpts of Williams’ “Saints” project in 2011, is one of Gwyn ap Nudd’s consorts. Six Philadelphia dancers danced the roles of courtiers and mock courtesans in this cast of 30: Gabrielle Revlock, Gregory Holt, Beau Hancock, Drew Kaiser, Stuart Meyers and Alec Moss.

Even without the puppets and additional acts to come, Williams has realized his intention to create a Gesamtkunstwerk — a total synthesis of the arts. With lighting by Joe Levasseur, set design by Michael Wang and Tom Lee, and sensational costumes by Ciera Wells, Carol Binion, and Andrew Jordan, it’s a visual feast. If dance is looking for new directions, I say one way to go is on this lush, sensual, and primal path.

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: 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.

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Posted: Mon, Feb. 13, 2012, 3:01 AM
By Merilyn Jackson
For The Inquirer

                                             P. BROWNING
David and Lindsay Browning, father and daughter, in the dance theater work “Lincoln Luck” at the Painted Bride. The mystical dream sequences have moments of clarity and beauty.

Abe Lincoln had an irksome dream he’d be assassinated just two weeks before he actually was. Dancer Lindsay Browning and her father, actor David Browning, collaborated in a dance theater work, inspired by the dream, titled Lincoln Luck which evoked a dreamlike atmosphere rather than a narrative.

It premiered at the Painted Bride over Lincoln’s birthday weekend with performances Friday and Saturday.

The audience entered through the cafe with David Browning, bearded and in Lincoln dress, inviting us to follow him into the theater. Of course it’s the theater where Lincoln goes to meet his end.

Lindsay Browning is there waiting onstage in a harness and hoop skirt with three long white trains trailing out in different directions. With one red-gloved hand, she waves the air before her, writhing within these confines like a woman possessed. She soon sets herself free and dances to Thomas Wave’s sitar, guitar, and organic sound environment.

The Painted Bride set included three long vertical rectangles for poetic video projections by Gaetan Spurgin. Tommy Burkel is the youngster walking in one, Myra Bazell dances in another. A third featured abstract images.

The lighting by Madison Cario infused the work with a mournful aura that also helped to create its ambiguity. This moody atmosphere sometimes overwhelmed the work, becoming more dominant than the meaning, which was hard to decipher. We were supposed to be viewing Lincoln as a 217-year-old dancing with an imagined daughter in 2026. This did not come through for me in the performance but was merely told to us by David Browning.

Nevertheless, if you took it as a mystical dream and just went with it, it had its moments of clarity and beauty.

When John Luna joins Lindsay Browning in a duet, they swing gold pocket watches on a chain together. Luna takes a walk to and fro, still swinging his watch by its fob, but it pulls him in the opposite direction each time. Is he supposed to be the young Lincoln and is time pulling him back?

David Browning’s soliloquies are lovely, notably the one where Lincoln speculates on what would have happened if he’d had a daughter: “A girl would’ve changed us,” he says, “to dance while bullets rang out.”

He is most charming when he carries in a birthday balloon and what looks like a birthday pie with candles that read 87.

He blows them out, bringing us back from the future to the present, and the lights go out.

Read more:

February 9, 2012

By Merilyn Jackson

Few choreographers have the power to effect life-altering changes the way Pina Bausch did over the course of her 50-year career, and, even now, three years after her untimely death. That is what Pina does. She changes your life. She changed mine and she changed the lives of others I know. She altered my life so much, before and still long after I met her, that I have always felt touched, blessed, and saw my own work stretch to a level beyond what I had achieved. I’m even writing a poem about her effect called Pina, Queen of the Desert.

German filmmaker Wim Wenders in a recent NPR interview spoke about the first time he went to a performance by Bausch and her Tanztheater Wuppertal. “I found myself on the edge of my seat, crying like a baby after five minutes, and crying through the entire thing,” he recalled. “I was hopelessly, helplessly crying, and didn’t know what was happening. It was like lightning struck me.” The work? It was Café Müller, from 1985, and he says it changed his life.

Anyone who’s seen the film Pina (I have, three times, in previews in Philadelphia and New York) is struck with wonder, even if they haven’t seen it in 3D. I made a new friend: a German professor teaching in the U.S., he had not known about Bausch, but was so taken by her and the film that he ordered it in Blu-Ray for his university library, yet hasn’t seen it in 3D. I told him he can’t imagine the adrenaline rush of nearly ducking when a sheer curtain flies toward you, a Wuppertalian monorail car feels as if it will run you over, or buckets of water come splashing at you.

To read the remainder of the article:

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.



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