All that JUNK can be & Rock School with Curtis

by Lewis J. Whittington for The Dance Journal | photo credit Ted Lieverman

All that JUNK can be

Choreographer Brian Sanders’ put together a comic revue retrospective called “My Funny Bone” for a five night run at the Penn’s Landing Playhouse May 10-14.  Sanders routinely turns found objects into apparatus or props for his troupe of acrobatic dancers. Sanders lets out his more burlesque creations in this  mildly x-rated dance revue, that is otherwise spare on the troupe’s signature aerial ballets. The 15 sections are narrated by emcee Kyle Yackoski, who plays the hapless straight man for some of Sanders raunchiest sight gags, at one point saying “come on folks, what were you expecting from Brian with a title like My Funny Bone.

‘Maestro’ was Sanders classy opening, as he performed his own solo as a wild-haired maestro strapped into ski boots bolted to the floor and conducting Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Sanders tilts perilously forward and sideway, his arms sculpting the music in the air music with baton, characterizing the sounds like a cartoon, and suddenly a silk scarf are at its tip, he swirls around his body animating the musical lines.

The classical motif continues with ‘Faux Pas’ with Julia Higdon kept suspended in air or rotating her working leg perilously past vertical via an optical ballerina illusion.

Moments later Higdon partners with Teddy Fatscher, en attitude, despite some loud stage flatulence at key moments as they  floated some gorgeous pirouettes, fouettes and lifts dancing to J.S. Bach’s ‘Air on a G String.’ There’s more than one reason why vaudeville died.  After this JUNK was off and running with more potty humor in ‘Flushdance.’ Instead of a cabaret chair Jennifer Beales splayed herself out on in “Flashdance” Sanders makes it a commode.  Fatscher sits there and  bops to “What a Feeling” by Irene Cara, wriggles out of his jeans down to a dancebelt, then presses to a headstand whips his soaking head the water spraying in an arc as Irene Cara sings “What A Feeling” (dancing for my life).  This is classic, irreverent Sanders and has proved to be an audience royal flush every time.

Higdon was back dancing frenzily to “She’s A Maniac” with her long hair decidedly her face and when she momentarily disappears behind a panel, similarly outfitted dance doubles somersaulting on, doing the hard stuff ala Jennifer Beales famous switch out in the movie “Flashdance.” This is a hilariously well executed sleight of body illusion.

There were no stand ins for the phallic finale of with Higdon, Kelly Trevlyn and Chelsea  Prunty  sliding on in oxfords ala ‘Tom Cruising’ they strip down to dance belts with some very dancey accouterment.    Other clammy moments occur in “Duplicitous Acts” a revenge fantasy in retaliation to a former well-healed fan that cut off patronage to JUNK because of what she deemed questionable dance content.  A disguised proxy of the that patron gets pummeled onstage in a revenge fantasy complete with Bruce Lee-esque flying karate kicks by Robinson and bear wrestling by Fatscher.

In contrast, all was eventually serene in ‘Kaleidoscope’ one of Sanders’ oldest works, but this was its first performance in the US. The set up- a video of Higdon being interviewed while eating her glowing macro-bio-lunch.  Then onstage the dancers are in are spinning Sufi dancers, with some whirling dervish vogue moves laced in (this fusion of dervish vogue begs for further development).  But Higdon starts to loose her lunch cookies. No need to turn away for more than 10 seconds, the faux vomit becomes the gliding surface as the dancers are out of their skirts, nearly nude and creating geometrics on the floor, that is on a live overhead video feed for the full effect of their body kaleidoscopes.  This is inspired Sanders, when the dancers start gliding and hurling themselves in sculptural positions the overhead images becomes a celestial dancescape.  All that JUNK and more.

 

Meanwhile, across town on a cold and wet evening in May


Dancers from the Rock School of Dance Education were scheduled to perform with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra at the Mann Center in Fairmount Park, but due to the unseasonably cold weather the event was moved to Curtis’ Gould Rehearsal Hall instead, with the performance streamed live online.

Curtis Symphony orchestra performed a scaled down program of music, but the scheduled dance pieces stayed in. The first was Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide, choreographed by Rock School choreographer Justin Allen.  The dance featured Allen’s strong partnering with clean lifts and silky arabesque turns that give way to tight unison double tours for the men and quicksilver pointe work for the women. Allen saved the full ensemble ballet fireworks for Bernstein’s ending orchestral gallop.

Then Maurice Ravel’s transporting score to Daphnis et Chloé, with enchanting storytelling choreography by Colby Damon was the highlight of the program. Conner Gray Covington leading the Curtis Symphony Orchestra in conjuring Ravel’s lustrous atmospherics.

Damon’s is a strong character choreographer, and here showing his classical vocabulary prowess as well, as well as an effective choreographic synergy with the score. In this setting the performance clarity of these dancers is perhaps something that wouldn’t have been so noticeable at the huge Mann Center venue.  Ian Bulack is mythical god Pan leading everyone erotically astray including lovers Daphnis and Chloe.  He vaults around the stage in lusty leaps or is in deco repose, plays his magical flute, as three nymphs-Mine Kusano, Yueh Wang and Casey Wallace- swirl lyrically around as him.

Instant chemistry by this couple, who are frequent partners, and their technical artistry stellar. He first wakes Daphnis and he is intoxicated by the dance allure of the three nymphs.  Pan then spellbinds Chloe but she is more resistant to his magic.  Lucas Labrador and Juliana Missano are frequent partners at the Rock School and they have instant chemistry in these roles, as well as their formidable technical artistry. The  finale (‘Danse générale’) brings on the corps de ballet women in silk red dresses carrying bread and wine for Damon’s inspired ensemble bacchanalia.

 

About Lewis J. Whittington

Lewis Whittington is an arts journalist based in Philadelphia. He started writing professionally in the early 90s as a media consultant for an AIDS organizations and then as a theater and dance reviewer for the Philadelphia Gay News. Mr. Whittington has covered dance, theater, opera and classical music for the Philadelphia Inquirer and City Paper.

Mr. Whittington’s arts profiles, features, and stories have appeared in The Advocate, Dance International, Playbill, American Theatre, American Record Guide, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, EdgeMedia, and Philadelphia Dance Journal. Mr. Whittington has received two NEA awards for journalistic excellence.

In addition to interviews with choreographers, dancers, and artistic directors from every discipline, he has interviewed such music luminaries from Ned Rorem to Eartha Kitt. He has written extensively on gay culture and politics and is most proud of his interviews with such gay rights pioneers as Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.

Mr. Whittington has participated on the poetry series Voice in Philadelphia and has written two (unpublished) books of poetry. He is currently finishing Beloved Infidels, a play about the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. His editorials on GLBTQ activism, marriage equality, gay culture and social issues have appeared in Philadelphia Inquirer, City Paper, and The Advocate.

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