"Big Bang", Courtney Robinson, Philadanco, Tommie-Waheed Evans
"Big Bang", Courtney Robinson, Philadanco, Tommie-Waheed Evans

Philadanco

Joan Myers Brown, artistic director

Blood, Sweat and Dance

Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center

April 17-19

Philadanco played to sold-out houses in the Perelman Theater in Philly for their spring concert series in the Easter weekend. Danco is coming off a high profile year with the premiere at the Apollo Theater of Get on the Good Foot, dancing to music by the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Even though artistic director Joan Myers Brown commented after their return from their LA, and other stops touring Good Foot, received some bad notices, but audiences were coming in droves. Last fall in Philly, Danco’s powerhouse programming included a retrospective of works by Christopher Huggins proved a hot dance ticket and they are following on their home turf with Blood, Sweat and Dance, which showed Danco’s wide – ranging choreographic template,

The concert opens BAMMby Seattle-based choreographer Donald Byrd where he runs Spectrum, but is a prolific choreographer for companies all over the globe. BAMM with Mio Morales’ metronomic electronic score propels Danco dancers (in spacey purple unitards) initially like emotionless dancebots, but when they start switching out partners, scenarios unfold. The male-female duets get acrobatic with perilously angled body geometry; then becomes a dizzying communal dance of individuality. Dancers cluster and move rhythmically in a traditional African communal skip step. Roxanne Lyst is at the center of the action in a series of solos that end in an intimate duet on the floor. Bryd’s choreography had a ponderous feel in the front half, and as danced in this performance, seemed even more tentative, but once the duet work starts, it gels with ensemble esprit.

Gene Hill Sagan’s Suite en Bleu, scored to Bach, sweep in and out of balletic-jazz aesthetic in silky chasses and fluid lift patterns. The ensemble was a bit erratic during some of the transitional phrasing in the middle and this performance had a rote quality that makes it look dated. Danco has danced in with more energy in the past, but among the standouts this night Adryan Moorefield’s huge fully extended and airy jetes (he is a very tall, muscled dancer) and Courtney Robinson, Rosita Adamo and Janine Beckles‘s razor precision and ensemble esprit.

Ulysses Dove created more than 26 contemporary ballets before his death at age 49 in 1995 and now his brother Alfred L. Dove, keeps his legacy alive. Dove was in Philadelphia for the Danco’s company premiere of Bad Blood. The opening has Dwayne Cook, Jr. is alone on a bench and does an arresting solo to executing hypnotic body sculpting, the other dancers appear, Dove has the dancers in mach speed spins variations on their heels, arms tights to their bodies.

 

Bad Blood suggest a scenario where the women characters seemed submissive to the male characters. It is set to songs of troubled love by Laurie Anderson and Peter Gabriel, essay three male-female couples in turmoil. At several points, the women hurl themselves at the men, (vaulting on their waists and necks). At one point, a dancer is hauled across the stage the strap on her belt. Whatever the macho scenario, the performance level and stage pictures are so dynamic, it is easy to ignore, with Danco‘s athletic artistry in full gear.

Rennie Harris’ Philadelphia Experiment just grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let got. It is a modern dance masterpiece and Philadanco refines it every time out. Backdrop projections of historical documents and of the streets of Philadelphia show poverty and blight and there is voiceover narration about the bombing of MOVE members. Dancers moving forward, slumped over and with movement that symbolizes historical oppression and loss, time passing and racial pride surviving an onslaught of injustices.

The mood shifts, the bass-line music takes over and the dancers just explode with matrix slo-mo dives, intricate group patterning and fluid fusion of hip-hop, street and club moves that keep evolving. At the center is Tommie- Waheed Evans’ mesmerizing solo that expresses liberated and angry truth. Harris has two faux endings, each time bringing the lights up on another reprise, driving home the work’s visceral and poetic power.

Philadelphia, PA
Lewis Whittington writes about the performing and film arts for many publications. He is a renegade dance, theater and opera queen, a jazz-head and a civil activist.