American Dance Abroad checks out the Philly scene

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal | photo courtesy ADA

Established in 2009, American Dance Abroad was established to assist and support US dance artists in expanding their international reach and facilitate opportunities for them on stages all over the world.  The organization embarks on ‘Recon’ tours around the US with programmers from several countries to engage with American dance artists and see their work.  On July 27, ADA’s co-directors Carolinda Dickey and Andrea Snyder, brought eight international programmers from four continents on their 7th ‘recon’ in Philadelphia before stops in New York and Jacob’s Pillow.  The contingent spent all day dropping in on several studio rehearsals of area dancers and capped off the day at a concert at the Performance Garage in Fairmount.  On the program were works by Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, Kun-Yan Lin/Dancers, Megan Bridge and BalletX.

There was a distinct air of dance occasion right out of the gate as Garage artistic director Jeanne Ruddy welcomed the audience of local dance professionals, ADA directors, the programmers and arriving just in time, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell.

Moments later, everyone’s attention was riveted on the arresting images of Kosoko’s ‘Séancers’ described as a “journey into the surreal and fantastical states of the Black imagination axis of abstraction, illegibility, identity and gender multiplicity.”

At center stage, IMMA Asher is collapsed in a pool of light, writhing and surrounded by deflated masks fetish dolls, Trump masks and fright wigs and Kosoko downstage at the end of a trail of tulle.  IMMA and Kosoko in black and white bodygloves with symbolic African symbols on them and donning hideous nylon facemasks with long fire-orange hair. “I have not been able to touch the destruction within me.” From black lesbian poet Audrey Lorde’s poem Power is the refrain that ushers in Kosoko’s surreal world of colliding political realities, and social justice polemic.

They circle each other, ritualistically, heads twirling with the hair looking their heads are on fire.  It is a primal dance scream and polemical incantation. Later, Kosoko starts to pull of his nylon mask, puts on white lipstick as he flawlessly lip-syncs black civil-rights leader Ruby Sales’ recent speech about the state we are in now politically and a new era of open racism.  IMMA meanwhile appears in gold glitter in a convulsive solo. This 20-minute excerpt of an obviously complex 70- minute work, was at a certain disadvantage, but Kosoko’s choreography, visuals and text nevertheless commanded attention.

Next, KYL/Dancer’s Santuario also takes on serious social justice themes and was presented in its entirety. The work had its premiere at the Prince Theater in the Spring also dealt with social justice issues, in memorializing the victims of the Pulse Massacre that claimed 50 lives.

The opening movement is a joyous depiction of the Orlando GLBTQ community on Latin night at Pulse in liberated club dance to the track ‘Wake Up.’ The partying is soon overtaken by disturbing voices and harrowing sounds.  Mayhem ensues, There are screams, sounds of panic, concussive movements where dancers seem suspended in space. Lin’s imagery doesn’t dwell on the carnage that occurred, but it doesn’t back away from it either.

Lin’s final passage is a stirring movement elegy, as their bodies entwine over the stage, suggest passage, metaphysical dignity of the body.  This performance of Santuario was minus some of the technical precision-   voiceovers of antigay preachers and politicians were drowned out by the choral track and the lighting design wasn’t fully realized at key points, but these deficiencies took nothing away from the dancers’ performances or the power of Lin’s choreography.

Megan Bridge’s ‘The Backyard’ is based on a prose narrative about a relationship between a man and a woman.  Bridge and Beau Hancock dance to are the inhabiting the narrative is read over a soundtrack of Indian tabla percussion and piano laced through. Bridge is costumed in red petal pushers and Hancock in a Hawaiian shirt.

Bridge’s movement has a sense of immediacy, phrase clarity and mostly both witty and unpredictable lyricism. Sometimes at far ends of the stage observing each other, other times scaling each other’s bodies in intricate interlocks and releases, ‘The Backyard’ suggest physical and emotional space, a territory that Bridge defines with a keen sense of stage composition. Her liberated physical expression, for instance, is still carved out in distinct lines that eventually traverse the depth and expanse of the stage, to great effect. Meanwhile, Bridge and Hancock are hypnotic together.

The choreography is eloquent and witty, with a forward drive that tackles Ashley’s baleful narrative, because the dancers are inhabiting his story and embodying these characters.  Bridge’s choreography defines their intimacy and mystique with wit and pathos that builds over 40 minutes.  Not an easy dance trick.

BalletX closed the showcase with Matthew Neenan’s ‘Credo’ choreographed by Neenan and inspired by the people and culture he experienced on a trip to India last year.  Scored to music by contemporary composer Kevin Putts and Haydn, Neenan’s opening tableaux has the ensemble passages in flat footed, stiff legged skips, arms rigidly out, configurations that are contrasted turn with mise-en-scenes of more expressive dance.

Andrea Yorka flies into a solo and it sets-up a central duet and partnering with Richard Villaverde and Chloe Perkes.  But Villaverde and Yorita later also  have an intimate duet, so there might be more dance drama to reveal. Meanwhile, Gary Jeter and Roderick Phifer also have a vivid duet featuring muscled balletics.  Other couples appear and vanish, but Neenan repeats the some configurations that strike as ponderous.  Neenan ending ensemble unison work, though, is fueled with flash duets, explosive layouts and flying arabesques scored to the propulsive drive of Haydn’s string quartet no. 76, and by then Credo kicks into high Neenan gear.

Richard Villaverde is finishing out this season with BX and it was particularly poignant to see what will be for the moment his final regular appearance in Philly with his company.  Needless to say, this gifted contemporary danseur exited in top form.

In comments after the performance Dickey explained that ADA “tries to fill in the gaps for dance in America because the US doesn’t have a cultural policy. We don’t have the infrastructure and support that other countries provide their artists. We try to fill in the gaps so that American artists can compete fairly with non-American artists. Make it possible for international programmers to see American work and to introduce American artists on the international scene.”  Stay tuned.

 

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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2 Comments

  1. Thank you so much Lewis for this thoughtful commentary on an excellent evening of dance. I would like to clarify the full title of our work is “The Backyard (after Nelson/Paxton’s PA RT, 1978-2002.” The program listed the title incorrectly. Also, the “choreography” is completely improvised, and so Beau Hancock and I share authorship of the work, it is not my choreography any more than it is his. Thank you again for coming, witnessing, and sharing your thoughts!

    • Megan Sincere thanks for correcting me on the choreography. Hope to see this wonderful work again & hopefully write about it with more clarity. Lew

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