Alchemy Strikes GoldMar 3rd, 2013 | By Kat Richter | Category: What Kat Saw
by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal
Photo by Bill Hebert
The word “alchemy” refers to a speculative medieval science in which base metals were supposedly transformed into gold. In the parlance of Philadelphia’s 21st-century dance community, it refers to the work of choreographer Amy Harding and her crew of six dancers, a mixture of local college students and recent grads.
With support from DanceUSA Philadelphia and a number of local businesses, the five-year old company launched its home season at the Performance Garage this weekend. Although the crowd was thin on Saturday night, the dancers didn’t seem to notice. They performed Harding’s jazz-based choreography with the perfect combination of technique, passion and gut-wrenching gusto, reminding audiences that contemporary dance doesn’t have to completely eschew tradition in order to make “good” art.
So Here We Are, the show’s opener, features all six dancers swaying with flexed feet to the sounds of Beirut. They circled, flicking their toes as if shaking water from their legs and transitioned seamlessly into a duet performed by Kaitlyn Clark and Leslie Ann Pike. In the Pocket has been a favorite of mine ever since I saw Alchemy for the first time last year. In oversized black dress pants, black sports bras and black suspenders, the two dancers jive playfully with one another and the audience, turning their pockets inside out to reveal their non-existent contents.
The beauty of the piece is its juxtaposition of pathos and whimsy. Clark in particular draws the audience in with her zany facial expressions as the choreography swoops from tragic to upbeat; the dancers go from begging for money to nonchalantly thrusting their pelvises in time with the equally exuberant Mahalageasca score.
Romp and Circumstance pits dancers Pike and Rachel Dorr against Kevan Sullivan in a buoyant explosion of skips and lifts; the women, dressed in frilly shorts and red scarves, circle Sullivan again and again like horses on a carousel. Their something uneasy though—something lurking below the carnival-like atmosphere— and the true nature of the dancers’ relationship is kept a secret until the end when a slow motion fight scene leaves Sullivan lying prostrate on the floor, pockets emptied.
Harding appears onstage with the dancers in Teaser. Her footwork, including the tight petit allegro performed to a racing waltz by Devotchka, is impressive but surprisingly for such a capable choreographer she lacks personality. The first act ends with Beggars and Choosers, a powerful ensemble piece in which soloist Susanne McHugh performs an exacting solo to original music by Harding’s husband and collaborator Jonathan Bowles. McHugh’s performance replicates the score’s rhythmic complexity beat for beat and the rest of the company crouches and hurls their weight from arms to legs and back again.
In the second act, Sullivan’s solo, Initiation, quickly distinguishes itself as something special. He thunders across the stage, running, lunging and finally suspending himself on his side before crashing onto the stage in the fetal position. He is, however, somehow lyrical in his movements: fluid but precise, even when slamming his body into the floor.
Harding’s choreography is a joy to watch in its interplay with the music. And Naked Humor, a butt-smacking trio performed by Dorr, McHugh and Pike, infuses the emotionally charged second act with some much needed levity. There are traces of Roni Koresh and Melissa Rector in nearly every piece (no surprise, considering how many of the dancers have connections to both the company and UArts) but Harding imports the very best: seamless transitions, unexpected juxtapositions and playful intersections of “pure” dance and pedestrian movements.
Surprisingly, the evening concludes with no music. Instead, the dancers accompany themselves. Standing together and each holding a single flower, they whirl their arms above their heads, slapping their chests and thighs as they breathe in perfect unison. It’s alchemy—in every sense of the word—at its best.
Kat Richter is a freelance writer and teaching artist. She holds an MA in Dance Anthropology and is also the co-founder of The Lady Hoofers, Philadelphia’s only all-female tap company. Her work can be found at www.katrichter.com.