Spring comes in leaps and bounds with the return of Philly’s own modern dance company Philadanco performing Blood, Sweat, and Dance, Thursday –Saturday, April 17-19, 2014, at Perelman Theater. Known for their electrifying dance moves mixing energized modern dance with the elegance of classical ballet, Philadanco’s new program highlights include the company premiere of “Bad Blood,” a rarely performed piece by renowned choreographer Ulysses Dove; juxtaposed with the return of “Philadelphia Experiment” by Philly-native and world renowned hip hop choreographer Rennie Harris; the late Philadelphia choreographer Gene Hill Sagan’s classic, “Suite en Bleu;” and acclaimed modern dance choreographer Donald Byrd’s “Bamm.”
“I’m always looking for work that challenges my dancers, and this is even more demanding because of the structure of the work,” says Joan Myers Brown about the company’s premiere of Dove’s “Bad Blood.” “It’s about relationships, but a lot of the lifts are ‘death-defying’ and it requires the dancers to have the utmost trust in each other.”
Joan Myers Brown, founder of Philadanco, is the recent recipient of the 2012 National Medal of the Arts award presented by President Obama, and the 2013 Dance USA Honor Award for extraordinary leadership and vision in Dance.
Beloved by audiences worldwide, Philadanco brings their passion and high-spirited movement to stages around the globe for 40 weeks each year. In 2015, Philadanco will tour the “James Brown: Get on the Good Foot” project in Europe for five weeks with performances scheduled in Germany, Hungary, Switzerland and the Netherlands (February-March 2015). This new work made its world premiere at the Apollo Theater in New York City (October 2014), and has been performed this season in Lafayette, Louisiana, where Philadanco stayed for a two-week residency, as well as at The Rialto Theater in Atlanta, Georgia and The Music Center’s Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles, California.
Tickets for Philadanco are available at $29 to $46, and can be purchased by calling 215-893-1999, online at kimmelcenter.org, or at the Kimmel Center Box Office located on Broad and Spruce streets, Philadelphia, Pa. (open daily from 10am to 6pm, later on performance evenings).
One of the most innovative choreographers of our time, Ulysses Dove’s work has premiered at the New York City Ballet (”Twilight,” “Red Angels,” 1994), as well as with world renowned companies, such as the Dutch National Ballet, the Basel Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, London Festival Ballet, and Groupe de Recherche Choreographique de l’Opéra de Paris, where he spent three years as assistant director (1980-1983). A former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer (1973-1980), upon Ailey’s influence Dove made his first choreographic debut in 1979 with “I see the moon…and the moon sees me,” followed by the creation of “Inside,” a solo dedicated to Judith Jamison, whose performance of the piece she has described as ”one of the hardest pieces I’ve ever done” (NY Times). The Ailey company has interpreted his works “Night Shade” (1982), “Bad Blood” (1984), “Vespers” (1986) and “Episodes” (1987), all works that define Dove as brandishing speed, force and eroticism in dance. Originally a South Carolina native, Dove gave up his premed studies at Howard University to study with Xenia Chlistowa of the Kirov Ballet at the University of Wisconsin, and then graduated from Bennington College with a degree in dance. Upon moving to New York City, Dove performed with Mary Anthony, Pearl Lang and Anna Sokolow. In 1970, he joined the Cunningham Company after receiving a scholarship at the Merce Cunningham School. Dove passed away in 1996, and has been continuously revered for his explosive, forceful dances he brought to the stage.
Born and raised in North Philadelphia, Lorenzo (Rennie) Harris celebrates hip-hop culture on his own terms by using some of the world’s most influential forms of movement, music, and storytelling to revolutionize contemporary concert dance. Wake Up, which made its world premiere during Philadanco’s 2012 spring concert, articulates the communal ties that shape the rich identities of Philadelphians and explores the birth and evolution of hip-hop. Rennie Harris teaches workshops and classes at universities around the country and is a powerful spokesperson for the significance of “street” origins in any dance style. Harris’s career began as a performer and choreographer through performing for crowds at clubs, parties and within his community with the Scanner Boys hip-hop performance group in the 1980s. In 1992 he was invited to participate in the Susan Hess Choreographer’s Project. That same year Harris founded Rennie Harris Puremovement, a hip-hop dance company dedicated to preserving and disseminating hip-hop culture through workshops, classes, hip-hop history lecture demonstrations, long-term residencies, mentoring programs and public performances. Most recently, Harris choreographed and directed his first evening length work, Rome and Jewels, which is a spunky hip-hop story based off on West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet. The show performed for sold-out audiences nationally and internationally. Harris’s work encompasses the diverse and rich African-American traditions of the past, while simultaneously presenting the voice of a new generation through its ever-evolving interpretations of dance.
Native Philadelphian Gene Hill Sagan served as Philadanco’s resident choreographer from 1976 – 1991, during which time he set more than 12 ballets for the company. Philadanco is the only company in the United States to have so much of his current works and rights to most of his past pieces. His ballet, La Valse, was his first work for Philadanco and was remounted in his memory in 1991. Gene Sagan’s choreographic style has made a distinct impression on the company and its dancers, as well as on such renowned companies as The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Pennsylvania Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, Bat’ Dor, and The Kibbutz Dance Company and Dallas Black Dance Company. His most outstanding award was The Yair Shapiro Foundation Choreographic Prize in Israel. Sagan passed away in 1995.
Donald Byrd studied at Tufts and Yale Universities, The Cambridge School of Ballet, the London School of Contemporary Dance, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, and with Mia Slavenska. As one of the most important choreographers in modern dance, he has created over 80 modern dance works for groups like the Alvin Ailey Company, the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and the Philadelphia Dance Company among others. Byrd has danced with many well-known performers like Twyla Tharp, Karole Armitage and Gus Solomons Jr. His best known work is his reworking of George Balanchine’s Christmas classic, The Nutcracker. The show toured nationally for five years and received critical acclaim. In 2006, he received a TONY nomination for his choreography in the Broadway hit-musical The Color Purple. Byrd has served on the faculty of the California Institute for the Arts and taught at Wesleyan University, the School of Visual Arts, Harvard Summer Dance Center, California State University Long Beach, and the University of California at Santa Cruz, and currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Dance Theater Workshop in New York. In 2013, Byrd was awarded a Mayor’s Arts Award for his sustained contributions to the City of Seattle. Most recently, Byrd premiered Love at the Spectrum Dance Theater, a work that presented an updated take on the subject of love.
Philadanco has a long history as Philadelphia’s premiere modern contemporary dance company: it is one of the first companies to hire dancers on a 52 week salary; the first to own housing for the dancers; and the first to own a debt-free facility. Philadanco presents wide-ranging repertoire of highly athletic material rooted in jazz, ballet and modern dance traditions. The company continues to consistently tour more than any Philadelphia cultural organization, performing as many as 50-60 concerts and 45 residencies annually.
In 2005, Philadanco was one of 14 companies to receive the prestigious American Masterpieces Award from the Kennedy Center. The company has performed at Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, the Joyce and the Delacorte in New York City as well as major venues throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean.
Founder and Artistic Director Joan Myers Brown is a revered choreographer and dancer, who pioneered an alternative path for African Americans to become professionally trained dancers post-civil rights era. A new book written by dance scholar Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Joan Myers Brown & the Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina, was published in January 2012 and explores how Brown’s personal and professional histories reflect the hardships—and advances—of African-American dancers in the artistic and social developments of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. A trailblazer in her own right, Brown helped young emerging dancers and choreographers find a voice and place in the dance world by founding the Philadelphia School of Dance Arts in Philadelphia (1960); Philadanco (1970); the Coalition of African American Cultural Organizations in Philadelphia, co-founder (1986); the International Conference of Black Dance Companies (1988); and the International Association of Blacks in Dance (1991). Currently, Brown is a visiting professor at the University of the Arts and a member of the dance faculty at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She has received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the University of the Arts (2004) and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Ursinus College (2007).The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts also honored her as a Master of African American Choreography in 2005.