May Dance, Philadelphia

Written by:
Lewis Whittington
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Dance Blooms in Philly

Lots of dance in Philly the first week of May, with three contemporary companies premiering new work:

In their first appearance at the Annenberg Center, Aszure Barton & Artists finished out the Dance Celebration season. The two recent works by Barton, a protégé of Mikhail Baryshnikov, showing dance range and her unique style. In “Blue Soup,” her dancers donned electric-blue suits for escapades both comic and poignant. The opening solo by Andrew Murdock is Chaplin-esque and the playfulness sets up the witty micro-moving ensemble phrases, midair freezes that remind you of a Road Runner cartoon, all of the hijinks not hijacking the choreographic polish of this troupe.

“Busk” refers to street performers, acrobats and clowning; it was a riskier, more arty piece, but no less entertaining (see video above). The dancers appear in hoodies, which make them, along with the Gregorian chant soundtrack, look like monks in cloistered formations. They get livelier very fast and when you least expect it, Barton pops in unexpected athleticism. Circus accessories like juggling and a unicycle pop up, not to mention slides into arabesques, lava-liquidy torsos, and yogic variations that keep evolving. Terrific esprit with this troupe, with the choreographer really giving each dancer something dazzling.

Philadanco presented a high-velocity program for their spring run at the Perelman Theater in the Kimmel Center. The full company ignited choreographer Milton Myers’ “Violin Concert,” set to music by Philip Glass that just propels duets and group patterns packed with breakneck spins, jumps and flowing lifts. “Cottonwool” (referring to soft landings) by Christopher Huggins is a study of precarious positions, physically and socially, as dancers perch on one foot and are knocked off balance and show their meddle in their cool move recoveries. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” by Ray Mercer, had the women in fearless leaps off a four-foot platform, and everyone over, under, sideways, and down on the “table.” Mercer runs out of steam with the concept, but the effects wowed the crowd.

The finale was Rennie Harris’ “Philadelphia Experiment,” sealing its place as a minted company classic. Harris’ docu-dance of the destructive legacies of slavery as it played out on an urban landscape grabs you by the throat and doesn‘t let go. Dancers are in perpetual motion with the crouched physicality of broken bodies, but never the human spirit. As the music becomes more and more polyrhythmic, messages of liberation, unity and ethnography thunder in. The rage of oppression is expressed by Tommie-Waheed Evans in solo that threads through and grows in intensity. Harris’ Afro-tradition-hip-hop fusion is fertile choreographic ground and is delivered with explosive clarity and passion by Philadanco.

Koresh Dance Company presented the episodic “Through the Skin” in its official premiere, at the Roberts Theater. Artistic Director Roni Koresh told the audience that this piece was referential to the culmination of his life’s work as a choreographer, which explains some fragments of his other dances showing up in the 15 sections. Some seemed out of place in a work otherwise pulsing with new ideas. Most impressive here were three duets that only had broad Koresh signatures and were otherwise completely electric and fabulously danced by each couple.

“Flesh” was danced with lush and lithe clarity by Jessica Daley and Eric Bean. Also, there was outstanding partnering by Micah Geyer and Melissa Rector in “Sin and Forgive” and later in “Our Eyes Met… And You Were Gone” danced by Joe Colter and Fang-Ju Chou Gant. In contrast the ensemble work never bloomed into new territory, and that’s where some signature vignettes seemed too rote in key moments. In contrast, those dance-down fadeouts to some lounge-y music (and a great moment of paso doble vamping) outdid the flashier, regimented ensemble sections.

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