by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal
Woodstock wasn’t known for its dance but that didn’t stop Diane Sharp-Nachsin from tackling the legendary music concert for her company’s contribution to this year’s Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. In a playful romp through August of 1969, Sharp Dance Company took audiences on an Aquarian Exposition: A Trip Back to the Original Woodstock by turning theBOX Space into a psychedelic hangout complete with a “Soul Lounge” upstairs and a small theater on the second floor.
Audiences were encouraged to dress in their best hippie duds and prizes were awarded for the grooviest costume. Peace signs, tie dyed flags and fringe curtains filled the space and the company made the most of the awkward layout with rolling panels to hide transitions and cushions on the floor for younger viewers.
Vocalists Jenn Hallman and Jason Andrew of HOPE Players got the party started with an acoustic rendition of Joe Cocker’s With a Little Help From my Friends. It was the perfect combination of guts and technique, with unusual but brilliant phrasing that had the audience cheering from their seats before the song was over.
Percussionist Wesley Rast accompanied the crowd as they made their way downstairs and the dance portion of the evening began with Sharp company members Sandra Davis and Kate Rast swinging from a lyra to the music of Janis Joplin. In tie dyed bras, they took turns curling their bodies around the metal hoop, then arching back into seemingly impossible poses, their limbs just barely skimming the floor as they swung.
White Rabbit, a more traditional dance piece, saw the emergence of the entire company. I was amazed by their ability to cram so much movement into such a small space. At times, it seemed like there were more than just six dancers thanks to Sharp’s adept use of canons and different levels.
Purple Haze, choreographed by Joe Cotler of Koresh Dance, was less about the appendages than Sharp’s choreography and more about the spine. The dancers carved their way through body rolls and lunges to the music of Jimi Hendrix; it was a shame that the piece ended so soon, seemingly just as Cotler had hit his stride.
Kate Rast danced a fluid solo to Wesley Rast’s The Passion of Groovy, juxtaposing both sharp and sinuous movements as she slithered towards the floor and rolled over her back. Sandra Davis’s performance to Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger’s Amazing Grace was more liturgical. The ever-smiling dancer struggled a bit with the musical phrasing but displayed impeccable technique as she rocked up from a kneeling position onto her toes.
Caroline Butcher was sultry in the ensemble’s explosive rendition of Santana’s Evil Ways and Carolyn Marcinkiewicz’s choreography for I Put a Spell on You made for a haunting duet of femme fatale strength. Janis Joplin’s Piece of My Heart, choreographed by Sharp-Nachsin, provided a fitting conclusion to the evening. Its movement vocabulary was reminiscent of Sharp-Nachsin’s earlier works but it served as a much needed reminder that good dance can also be fun.
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.