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Simian signs and wonders from a charismatic Pierrot

Photo by BILL HEBERT
Matteo Scammell , left, as Pierrot, with Brandon Sloan. Hannah De Keijzer, below, gives a frighteningly realistic characterization of Chunky the chimpanzee.

By Merilyn Jackson For The Inquirer

How likely is it that the commedia dell’arte character Pierrot, a passel of peculiar primatologists, and a chimp could come together in the same story? It happened last weekend at Community Education Center in Sonso, Simians & Pierrot, a physical dance-theater piece by the center’s New Edge resident artist, Marcel Williams Foster, who tied them up in a neat little package – and in the funniest kind of way.

As we enter the performance space, five “scientists” in lab coats greet us and we realize we are playing attendees at a conference. They hand out graphs, direct us to a refreshment table, and introduce their leader, Dr. Kathryn Schwartz (Jenna Horton), themselves, and their specialties: One is an American Sign Language (ASL) expert.

Foster bills himself as an anthropologist working in the fields of dance and theater; he spent four years studying in Gombe National Park, Tanzania, at Jane Goodall’s Center for Primate Studies. At 2010’s Fringe Festival, he appeared in The Jane Goodall Experience as Goodall, in drag. Here, he does not perform but directs. Continuing to mine his experience, he reached back even further in his own academic history to when he was first introduced to the Pierrot character by Aya Nishina, a native of Sendai, Japan, who created the work’s brooding score. Mysteriously, Foster inserts Pierrot (Matteo Scammell) into the circle of scientists attempting to teach the chimp (Hannah De Keijzer.)

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- Merilyn Jackson

Merilyn is a guest contributor to the Dance Journal. She writes regularly on dance for The Philadelphia Inquirer since 1996 and writes on dance, theater, food, travel and Eastern European and Latin American fiction for many publications. More than 800 of her articles have appeared in publications as diverse as The New York Times, The Warsaw Voice, The Arizona Republic, The Phoenix New Times, MIT’s Technology Review, and Arizona Highways, Dance, Pointe and Dance Teacher magazines, Broad Street Review and www.exploredance.com.

She was awarded an NEA Critics Fellowship in 2005 and a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship in 1999 for her novel-in-progress, O Solitary Host. A chapter of that novel, “A Sow of Violence,” appeared in the Massachusetts Review in the Fall 2004 “Food Matters” issue. In 2012 she attended poetry workshops at Colgate University and Sarah Lawrence College, working with poets Peter Balakian and Tom Lux, respectively. Several of her poems appear in Exquisite Corpse, The Rusty Nail and Broad Street Review. She likes to say that dance was her first love, but when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although, she also writes poetry. Much of her writing can be read on her personal blog Prime Glib.

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