Review: Beyond Dance Company: Not a Girl… Not Yet a Woman

Kaitlin_Chow of Kchow studios
photo credit Kchow Studios

by Gregory King for The Dance Journal

Willingly welcoming new dance companies and new choreographic voices with passion and zeal, Philadelphians often offer support in numbers by attending performances at high profile venues, community centers, karate studios, and even in living rooms.

Where the more heavily resourced dance companies have the capacity to produce shows with lofty sets, high tech lighting, and flashy costumes, some of the less popular, under resourced companies, work with very little to be able to share the fruits of their labor.

Relatively new on the Philadelphia dance scene, Beyond Dance Company (BDC) presented a night called “Evolution of Women” to enthusiastic viewers at The Painted Bride.

Upon entering the space, the voices of Whitney Houston and Beyoncé could be heard in songs like “I’m every woman” and “Freak Um Dress.” Promoting female empowerment, I assumed these songs were being used to set the tone for a night of girl power and lady liberation.

Themed showcases usually have good intentions but sometimes fall short when blending multiple genres, several choreographers, and varying levels of performance experience. If these elements fail to converge, narratives are usually unclear and the themes rarely successfully explored.  With twenty-nine pieces on the program….yes twenty-nine, the pieces I saw in the almost 3 hour show felt more like an end of year recital and less like a company concert.*

While the program was billed to include works from Andrea Mychaels Dance Project, Femme Collective, and the 609 Dream Team, the night was jam packed with pieces by BDC – most choreographed by Renee Johnson, presumably the director of the company as nothing was written in the program to clarify her role.

Watching the dancers of BDC, one could not help but notice how young some of the dancers were.  The future of dance? Perhaps. But their youthful presence and limited life experiences made it very hard to believe they could deliver a fully developed message about the “Evolution of Women.”

Pieces like Child’s Play choreographed by Noel Sarachilli and Kids Having Fun choreographed by Johnson stayed true to their titles by having the dancers wear their hair in pigtails and simulating playground frolicking. Other works like Pretty Hurts and Like a Boy, choreographed by Johnson and Deondra Kinard and Briyanna Latimer respectively, were pantomimic as dancers touched their heads, hearts, and lips after being prompted by the the lyrics in the songs with the same titles. Yes, these pieces were well received by the audience, but sometimes when choreographers use pop songs as their soundscape, I find audiences are tempted to engage with the narrative of the songs instead of what is happening onstage.  Piece after piece, the support and cheers from the audience made it easy to see past the technical flaws, in order to appreciate these young, eager performers, sharing their love of dance with sparkling enthusiasm. And while the dancers were effervescent in their delivery, I questioned if the director thought to seek expert choreographic mentorship, in an attempt to receive feedback throughout the creative process.

Given that no mission statement was provided in the program, I was unsure of BDC’s objectives. The performance may have been evidence that pure love of movement is sometimes all that is needed to introduce aspiring performers to dance as an art form. Such exploration exposes them to technical rigor and professional commitment, proving that hard work can possibly lead to a life on stage.

With continued training  and some choreographic mentorship, I have no doubt that Johnson and BDC will contribute to the dance scene in Philadelphia.

* The show started at 7:00 (maybe later), and I left the theatre at 8:35 after viewing fourteen pieces. With fourteen pieces to go, and leaving 1.5 hours into the program, I estimated the length of the show.

About Gregory King

Gregory King received his MFA in Choreographic Practice and Theory from Southern Methodist University. In addition, he is certified in Elementary Labanotation. His dance training began in Washington DC at the Washington Ballet and later at American University. He went on to participate in the Horton Project in conjunction with the Library of Congress. His training continued at the prestigious institutions such as The Dance Theatre of Harlem and The Alvin Ailey School. Gregory has performed with The Washington Ballet, Rebecca Kelly Ballet, Erick Hawkins Dance Company, New York Theatre Ballet, Donald Byrd /The Group, The Metropolitan Opera Ballet, New York City Opera, and Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway.

His desire to integrate social activism into his choreography began with his graduate thesis, where he used the platform to push the conversation about homophobia and heterosexism. He is a lover of movement exploration and describes his aesthetic as a classical base with a theatrical flair.

He has taught at Boston Ballet, Boston Conservatory, Boston University, Bowdoin College, Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Texas Ballet Theatre. Additionally, he has served as a teaching artist in public schools in and around Dallas, as Resident Guest artist at Temple University and Assistant Professor of Dance at Dean College. Recently, Gregory received the Excellence in Teaching Award from the National Society of Leadership and Success. He is currently a Visiting Professor of Dance and Consortium on Faculty Diversity Fellow at Swarthmore College where he teaches Modern and continues to use his choreography as a means for social change.

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19 Comments

  1. Bill,
    If you read those who commented in regards to the show, you will see those who went weren’t attacking his critique of the show. They were questioning the validity of it based on the evidences he presented. He originally stated that it was a 3 hour show (and it wasn’t) which implied he was there for its entirety. He was seen leaving mid-way through the show which would prove that his statement was inaccurate. He incorrectly gave choreography credits to the wrong person as well as judge these women based off their looks rather than getting facts. His review is his opinion yes. A biased one which with the proven inaccuracies that he tried to initially pass off as the truth, should challenge those reading to see the view that maybe he did not come to the show with the best of intentions.

    He notes reviewing bigger companies in the past. He most likely is a supporter of those companies from what I can tell from his writing. And rightfully so, companies like Philadanco, Koreah, KYL are all extremely talented with many years under their belts. From what I know BDC is new and has accomplished a lot in its short tenure. If BDC’s performances were that bad, I’m sure the other companies and showcases wouldn’t ask or have them perform in the shows that they have. He has a right to his opinion, but let’s not cloud or misjudge his opinion as being the only and accurate truth when his initial article posed inaccuracies & misguided those reading saying that the show was 3 hours fooling readers into thinking he was there to then once called out for the fact that he was seen leaving midway through the show want to go back and retract his statement.

    Those who are sticking up for BDC, I agree with John. I applaud you ladies. Yes, I am a friend of a few of the ladies in that company. However I dance with a fairly new company in Philadelphia and I will be sure that my director reads this article and never supports this site. It’s disheartening to see that a supposedly seasoned write and dancer would put on a facade about what actually went on by lying about factual things such as him viewing a 3 hour show and then writing a review and more. You tarnished your own credibility with that. Don’t be a hypocrite. Just as you have your critique, everyone reading this is entitled to their critique of your writing.

  2. A reviewers job is to review, which is a good thing this isn’t actual journalism. However a review that is false can be settled easily in court which is what nobody realizes and heres why.

    Everything he writes is false. This all stems from not being a dedicated review blogger. Imagine if non of the readers decided not to take action against what was basically a lie in the article he wrote.

    He mixed up who choreographed who and published it out for other people to read false castings. Just imagine if you spent months creating anything practicing repetitively and not being credited, not only are you not being credited but your being told that you should be respected that your reviewed. Which this wasn’t.

    He then goes to say the show was 3 hours, and then writes another article letting us know that he wasn’t there. In fact he estimates. This is except-able where?

    He writes one article how he praises from halls to living room shows and then goes to contradict himself in the second article on how he’s use to a more of a higher budget.

    He goes to write how he doesn’t like how themed dance movements can go with the lyric of a song and then in the next article blame song selection as if that’s what he’s there for in the first place.

    To be misinforming the readers on everything your telling them and to have such a slandering tone at that is the most Hypocritical part of this whole thing.
    I Highly suggest that Beyond Dance and every dance organization especially ones with majority of women should stay far away from this person. Its a false review.

    I’m sure these women can take constructive criticism, but not hate and especially one that is just all the way false with the wrong information, and its sad to see that all the readers are the ones standing up for them.

  3. I was not at the show myself but those commenting must remember that a review is someone’s opinion utilizing their experiences, perspective and training.

    For instance saying that someone who is young may not be able to fully express the evolution of a woman or man is an opinion I think many of us may have. Yes there are times that someone who is say 18 has been through more than most of us may experience in a lifetime but can you honestly say that it is the norm.

    With any review the best thing to do is be objective as you are reading it. There is likely instructive elements in there or things you can look at to build on or even if you don’t agree with something or any of it then prove them wrong.

    Each person sees things in their own way. For a reviewer to do their job it is to honestly express their thoughts. We may not agree with it, heck i’ve seen the arts community in NY respond against a review of a well known choreographer. At the end of the day they are giving their review of the show.

  4. There’s a lot of backtracking in this piece the fact that you apologize in one paragraph and in the next paragraph state that “I never said the entire show”. The fact that you tried to cover your self and type that in caps shows exactly the type of person we are still dealing with.

    So instead you decided to write a list full of excuses for your blogging style.

    You apologize for not being a dedicated journalist, and then pull a throw back quote on why its okay to not stay and review the entire show. So how did you come up with the show was 3 hours long??? Oh you didn’t stay for the entire show.

    Your whole entire review is null and void due to the fact that you lied. You said you didn’t stay but you estimated the time? HAVE YOU EVER HEARD AN ESTIMATED REVIEW? If you were a film critic you’d already have 2 reviews for Suicide Squad and the movie isn’t even out till next month. Then wonder why your getting all negative feedback and blame a whole company (not the bloggers) for not taking criticism from somebody who is incapable of understanding his job.

    You put your own foot in your mouth and try to pat your own back at the same time. You should have just stopped a long time ago. Honestly I’d quit, I’m starting to think you have some stake in Philadelphiadance.org because the fact that they allow this to continue with such a lazy blogger is just insane. If you were an actual journalist and this was the news paper your editor wouldn’t have allowed you to put this out, you lack basic fundamentals. You don’t even have one quote from a member of the dance team or feedback from the audience.

    The dangerous thing about this is Its more then obvious now that you hate women, I used misogyny but now i see hatred and the proof is as clear as a quoted sentence in court.

    When the blogger says…
    “I am sure some of the choreographers had it in mind to create works dealing with the evolution of women – whatever that means”

    Highly disrespectful, its obvious your taste in women is tarnished with some sort of hate, you’ve been corrected numerous times by many members of the audience that there were children along with adults for you to condescendingly disrespect women as if you’ve never had one or a mother that loved you deserve serious soul searching. I mean lets be honest, the evolution of women isn’t something anybody is confused about…..and once again I’m a man.

    You even pulled the race card. Im not entertaining that…by the way I’m a Black man. I have no idea who you tried to get on your side with that reach.

    Basically if any dancers want a blogger to review ONLY HALF THEIR SHOW you got the perfect blogger for the job….just make sure they are all males you’ll have a better review one that he can understand better.

    And to imagine this most likely isn’t your first blog, so i wonder how many other choreographers you did got literally a “half assed review”. You should just delete everything, maybe take a communications course and come back and do better.

    I have much respect for Beyond Dance as i yet to have read one response from any member. You women are stronger than you realize keep the passion going and the drive a live we need more shows that show the essence and support of women. This man understands. – John

  5. I agree with Kelly. Also to the person who said people need to grow up is insensitive. None of the comments in regards to King’s article from I can see were attacking his critisism of the dancers skill or technique. They are a young company, that as any company just starting are probably well of aware of where they can improve to reach the status they desire. the comments were simply stating that he had false information about the company and the performance. As stated, I was a spectator at the show and although it is great to see that he retracted his error and mentioned that he was not there for the entirety. It really speaks to the credibility of the source. The show started at 7:20 and by 8:35 they were wrapping up intermission. To make an “estimation” of when it was over and leave and then write an article on an entire show when it was not seen in its entirely is unprofessional.

  6. I think the issue here is that there is false information about the event in this post. I think any company could appreciate and benefit from this constructive feedback from an educator such as Mr. King, however, I do see how someone would be upset if there were inaccurate information about the event posted in such a well known journal.

  7. To John – In the interest of transparency, I am a freelance writer based in New York. I have written only one article for the Dance Journal back in 2008 or 2009 about a teen dance company – Music & Motion Dance, which was the company of the Dance Journals editor at the time.

    I have written other articles in Phindie on Mr. Weisz’s newer company but that is about it for the Philadelphia region.

    I am not employed by The Dance Journal or PhiladelphiaDANCE.org and have no other affiliation with them.

    As to Mr. King’s staying the whole show or not, I can not comment on this as I was not there and do not know Mr. King. However, it appears that he only reviewed selected pieces as noted and not all 29 pieces, which no reviewer would ever do.

    As to the title “Not Yet A woman”, I believe this is referring to Beyond Dance as an evolving company vs a fully matured group. It is not referencing individual dancers. But that is how I read it and John, you obviously have a different interpretation, which while I may disagree, I respect your right to voice.

  8. And Dee who are you with? lol

    To reach and to say “While I am sure that many of the scathing comments are being written by friends or family members of Beyond Dance Company…” shows that not only are you incapable of following to the true ethics of journalism shows bigotry bitterness. (assuming you don’t work for Philadelphiadance.org lol
    Did you read what i said?

    He left during intermission and some how was able to review the whole entire show and wrote there were 29 pieces and the audience reciprocated to them all well. How is this possible to even write?

    How can any man put himself into the position to rate women on being women…not only does he needs to choice his words more carefully he basically needs to be more dedicated to the craft. And Philadelphiadance.org seems to not address the facts of this blogger simply not doing his job.

    To say “Not yet a woman” and coming from a man is awkward, rude disrespectful and sexiest. We aren’t talking about Caitlyn Jenner, those are ACTUAL WOMEN and GIRLS, CHILDREN….thus THE EVOLUTION OF WOMEN.

    This is how journalist are sued, by simply being called out on their job and not apologizing and owning up to truth.

  9. I am confused is this a professional dance company or a studio/student repertory company?

    If this was a studio based company (non-professional) or student group, perhaps it should have not been reviewed at all.

    If this was labeled as a professional company, then grow up. Not all reviews are going to be glowing. And as far as reviews go, I think this was fairly neutral and left the reader with the expectation that Beyond Dance would still be evolving and contributing to the dance scene in Philly.

    • If we are reading the same comments on this blog no one was complaining about the critiques Mr King said about the show. There were falsities in the article which he has since fixed. How would you like it if there were inaccurate information displayed about you on a website? That seems to have been the only issue here. Again, you are someone who is putting words in other people’s mouths. The only issues I read in the others comments were that of false information about the timing of the show, a choreographer for a piece, and a judgement against women. Nothing to do with not being able to take criticism.

  10. While I am sure that many of the scathing comments are being written by friends or family members of Beyond Dance Company, all you have done here is cast a negative light on Beyond Dance Company.

    Any review is an opinion of the author and just that. As it turns out Mr. King writes on dance for multiple major publications in Philly and is a recognized dance educator and university professor. He is not some fly by night reviewer. To imply such is simply disrespectful and I do not even know the man.

    As to the claims of misogyny, did you actually read the article?

    The program was billed as “The Evolution of Women”, as such it implies a history of our struggle both here in the United States as well as abroad from the past through to current day in which the struggle still continues. Mr King’s statement, “But their youthful presence and limited life experiences made it very hard to believe they could deliver a fully developed message about the “Evolution of Women”, is a reference that 20 something year olds may not have yet had the full scope of life experiences to fully appreciate the scope of our struggle. As a fifty two year old feminist, I still struggle to comprehend all the nuances of our history, let alone translate them in to movement that embodies what we have gone through. This is a new company and not seasoned veterans of the stage, which is what he clearly states in the article.

    While I applaud the dancers of Beyond Dance Company in their efforts, as it takes courage to put yourself out there, I would also suggest that they equally embrace this review and learn from it. It is the only way we learn and grow as dancers.

    • The only person casting a negative light is you. They are entitled to their own opinions just as you are. The posts from the other people in this chat pointing out the falsities in the article were not saying that they disagreed with the overall stance of the journal. The only issues I read about were that he posted false information about details on the timing of the show and a choreographer of a piece, and that he made some strong assumptions about the women. You are putting words in their mouths saying that this company did not appreciate the feedback…because I don’t see that anyone wrote anything about that.

      Did you actually read the article? It certainly sounds a little condescending.

      You describe 20 something year olds as people who do not know the ‘struggle’ of being a woman. What a 20 something year old woman experiences is not less valid of that of a 50 year old or for any age for that matter. Why are we even discussing that age matters when it comes to womanhood? The definition of woman is a female adult. You can not say that a young adult female does not understand the full woman experience..:because they are living it. This article is an example of what women experience as women.

      I think it is a shame that you do not accept the notion that young adult women’s experiences are not valid enough to understand the ‘struggles’ of being a woman.

  11. LoL Who is this guy??? The problem is bigger then what people fail to realize, its obvious whoever the writer is has a problem and real serious issue with women. Misogyny should not be the excuse for such a faulty review. To all women dancers out there this is coming from a man, its is highly questionable that a “MAN” is telling “WOMEN” that they need more life experiences to be more women like….very shaky.

    The writer seems to really have some sort of other issue that stems beyond the actual show. So even if we pretend Misogyny is a stretch,he lost his credibility pretending he was there for the whole show when he left before intermission. So for you to say “29 yes 29 pieces” and to emphasis like it was longer then what it was is just a LIE. A film critic isn’t going to watch half the movie and write a review on The New York Times about it but i guess its okay for dancing, or maybe the integrity of Philadelphiadance.org isn’t as high as perceived to be. I was at the show it was barley 2 hours not 3.

    Critique is one thing but when your not even truthful to your own craft you just end up blogging which in all what exactly this is….not journalism.

  12. There’s a difference between criticism and giving an opinion without stating truth. I was a spectator at the event, I’ve also read this blog before and ONLY from this blog was I able to recognize Mr. King. I know nothing of him as a dancer. Mr. King was not in attendance for the entirety of the event. He left after the first half of the show. So how can you critique an entire event when you were not there for it to give an accurate depiction of it. The first half included children as well as adults portraying children and the 2nd half was about these children becoming women. Also the show was not 3 hours, it was 2. As the first comment stated to discredit these women and their life experiences which most likely were the inspiration for their works, based on their “youthful presence” is an ignorant comment to make. One cannot assume just because some “looks young” that they are or that they haven’t gone through anything. Also, I’ve worked with some of these dancers before and they have gone through technical training, at prestigious institutions.
    I also have the program and Ms. Johnson did not choreograph one of the dances Mr. King claimed that she did which would be falsely advertising what actually happened and not giving the proper credit to who did choreograph the particular piece. He as a journalist and dancer should know that.

  13. This is the type of review new companies need to read. How else will they be able to grow in their art form if no one gives them criticism? Dance performances are not only about the dancers and choreographers it’s about the audience and how they see the show. Mr. King points out that the audience did cheer after all 29 pieces and how the dancers were enthusiastic on stage. However after reading about Mr. King I learned he is very knowledgeable about choreography and dance so his critisim should be taken as a compliment. The pure fact he even came to BDCs show is an honor and people should show him more respect.

    • If you want to talk about respect…do you think that him leaving the show early was respectful to this company? Especially since he wrote a review on it. How can he give an accurate representation of the show in its entirety if he did not stay for the whole show?

  14. A question I often got throughout school was , “What will ________ (choreography, my research, movement vocabulary, thesis) do for the dance community? Beneath surface level themes there needs to be something there for the community that pushes it (dance, performance, technique) forward. That not only puts on the show but curates it in a way that speaks to a broader purpose for its presence. I think this calls for action accountability in dance that often people get away with not having. Am grateful to see this article!

  15. How can you assume that these dancers have had little life experiences? I understand your comment on viewing the dancers as having a ‘youthful presence’, but how do you know what each individual has actually gone through? Who are you to judge women based on their looks? There is no definition on what the woman experience looks like, it is something that can only be felt. I think it is insulting that you discredit these women based on pure looks.

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