Hanging around, dancing

Posted on Thu, Jan. 20, 2011

Local choreographer and spectacle-creator Brian Sanders will celebrate 18 3/4 years with his dance company, JUNK – slithering, sliding, tumbling from all kinds of found objects.

By Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer

APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer

Brian Sanders (upright) with dancer and partner John Luna at a rehearsal for the retrospective shows. Luna will perform Sanders’ “The Grid.”

If you’ve been a regular at the annual Live Arts Festival/Philly Fringe or Shut Up and Dance performances, you probably have been mesmerized by dancers hanging from fences, flipping their bodies in the air like trapeze artists, cocooned in plastic beneath the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, or costumed like liquid robots. This inventive choreography, in such pieces as The Gate, Flushdance, AdShock, Sanctuary, Urban Scuba, and Patio Plastico, is all the work of Brian Sanders, spectacle-creator, repurposer of found objects, and dance-hijinks master.

In the last two decades, Sanders, 44, has become one of Philadelphia’s most enduring and beloved dance-makers. His prolific, daring, and mischievously fun-loving work has endeared him to audiences far and wide, and to the local dance community. Dancers with gymnastic backgrounds or aspirations vie to work with him; other companies commission his choreography; critics fight to review his pieces.

Now, Sanders and his company, JUNK, in typical disregard of convention, are presenting an “18¾ Anniversary Season” through Sunday at the Arts Bank, featuring a work from each of their 18 years since 1992.

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Over the last 14 years many Philadelphians have come to partake of what is now called the Live Arts Festival/Philly Fringe, but started out as the Philly Fringe and is still affectionately so-called, just as the Philadelphia Dance Company can’t escape being called Philadanco. Nicknames stick. Some audience buy tickets for multiple shows in an evening, swanning around town with stops at outdoor cafes, many of which have proliferated and prospered with the Fringe and First Friday events. With the festival spread out over wider parts of the city each year, it’s become more difficult for me to get to as many sites as I had in the past.

As a dance critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, I limit my review nights to just one show. Still, I have been out at some festival event or other for the last 17 nights and will head out this evening for the one I held out for my own Grande Finale, Brian Sanders’ Sanctuary. Sanders is a near perennial Fringe favorite and I’ll include Sanctuary in an omnibus review for Broad Street Review next week.  I most look forward to seeing Sanders work, not just because it is great dance, but because of his exuberance as an artist. He’s been living with HIV for many years, yet his devilish joie de vivre never fails to amaze and delight me. So this is just a little homage to one of the most imaginatively brilliant artists I know.

In the week before his show opened, Brian whooped my butt in a Facebook Scrabble game — 341 – 320 – my first game online and I’m hooked. I am calling him out for a rematch next week and look forward to many more years of his shows and Scrabble games.


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