by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal
Presented by Philadelphia Dance Projects, Dance Up Close brought a charming split bill of choreography by Philadelphia’s own Nora Gibson and Ireland’s John Scott to the Performance Garage from February 27 to March 1. Both artists were in residence at the Performance Garage for a week’s worth of programming before the final performance on Saturday night, including a workshop led by Scott and dancers Michelle Boulé and Phillip Connaughton on Saturday.
Gibson, whose performance style somehow combines the intense gaze of a tightly coiled bunhead with the fluidity of a more pedestrian vocabulary, selected Beethoven’s Piano Sonata #14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27 for Temporal Objects. The Tisch graduate has enjoyed a good deal success since establishing Nora Gibson Performance Project and Saturday evening’s performance made it easy to see why.
Working with designer Clifford Greer, she created a piece in which the lighting played as important a role as the dance. Repetitive balletic motifs of port de bras and pirouettes performed by Gibson and dancers Erin Gallagher, Mellisa McCarten, Meredith Stapleton and Jessica Warchal-King took on new life when illuminated from behind or not at all, and in an interesting break from tradition, the lights went out as soon as the music began instead of on. A series of 14 standing lamps ran along the back wall of the Garage; at times they were silent but at times, they danced, sometimes in predictable patterns and sometimes like piano keys: fast and fierce.
The quintet of dancers was oblivious to one another, their gazes vacant as they sliced and lunged anonymously through the space. I would have preferred a slightly stronger crescendo, perhaps with some unison movement to contrast to the simultaneous soloing that comprised the majority of the work, but overall the choreography was well developed and exquisitely danced.
Up next was Scott’s Body Duet, originally commissioned by Ireland’s Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2011. It was easy to see why the work has endured. Boulé and Connaughton had fantastic chemistry and their timing was perfect despite the fact that much of the duet was performed a cappella. Representing two halves of the same person, in rolled up sweatpants and simple black tops, they seemed to improvise their way through the first few minutes of the piece, contorting themselves nonchalantly into lifts and pulling an iPad back and forth while reading in alternated syllables. In one particularly funny moment, they “blew” one another across the stage; Connaughton blew Boulé’s hand into the air until like a deflated balloon it fell, splat onto his face.
They jogged and karate chopped, slapped their butts and somersaulted (impressively while still holding the iPad), declaring to the audience that “It-was-on-ly-ev-er-real-ly-phy-si-cal.” An original composition by James Everest and Joel Pickard of Blackfish provided the perfect backdrop: watery at times and metallic at others, it enhanced Connaughton blew Boulé’s antics without overwhelming them. Body Duet was the perfect pairing for Temporal Objects, answering seriousness with whimsy and careful technique with zany, charming exhuberance.
Due to illness, the writer was unable to view the conclusion of Scott’s work and wishes to apologize to the artists for any resulting omissions.