By Kate Miller, Live Arts & Fringe Blog
“Choreographing a dance, for me, is figuring out what my body wants to do,” says Christina Gesualdi, cofounder of Pink Hair Affair, a nine-member dance collective from Philadelphia whose show POOF! debuts at this year’s Philly Fringe.
It’s a revealing comment about a creative process that is less about scripting steps than it is about generating a concept and seeing how her body moves in response. The dance that results often surprises Gesualdi. Leaving room within routines for improvisation is one of the major perks of choreographing her own work.
“A lot of what I do is really improvisational,” she says. “I don’t set a lot of the steps. . . . There’s a structure, but the transitions will be open enough that I’m able to change it each time.”
Her study of dance spans more than a decade: she began with ballet in her native Bristol, Pennsylvania, then progressed to acro–a fusion of classical dance and acrobatics–and modern dance in high school. Her BFA, from Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, is in modern dance performance.
But in the two years since she and seven other UArts graduates formed Pink Hair Affair (the eighth member, Kayliegh Jones, joined a year later), Gesualdi has experienced the freedom of styling dance pieces after her own instincts.
At first, she now admits, she had reservations about forming a collective with other dancers. She feared that the compromises necessary in establishing a group identity would prove restrictive, and for good reason: with nine dancers working individually and collectively to choreograph the company repertoire, the potential for artistic discord looms large.
“We worried about that,” Gesualdi says. “Like, would it be too many chefs in the kitchen?”
Still, there were practical reasons to form a collective–like splitting the cost of venues eight ways–and in the end these won out. Gesualdi identifies the members’ decision to maintain their own individual creative aesthetic as one of the main reason for the collective’s preservation.
“We’re really varied; we’ve never settled around one thing,” she says. “I’m not about compromising to the point that you’re not proud of the art anymore. If any of us feels that way, then I don’t think it’s worth doing.”
The pink, bobbed wigs the group dons before its performances lend the dances some cohesion, but Gesualdi denies the wigs much significance other than how “they show we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
Rather than impose thematic or stylistic uniformity on compositions, the collective develops pieces that embed the members’ unique choreography within a loose structure.
Last July, the company performed In the Memory of the Deathtrap, its most ambitious work to date. Each dancer choreographed and performed a piece within a room of a South Philly row house; a “realtor” escorted a small audience from room to room. The space served as an anchor for dances that were aesthetically unrelated.
Taking on projects independent of the company also helps the dancers maintain their own unique style, Gesualdi says. Her most recent work, a modern dance duet called SomeAnyOverItch, debuted in May at Philly’s Mascher Space Co-op. And for the past year, she has worked with choreographer Zornitsa Stoyanova (check out this article on Zornitsa) on a piece set to premiere at the 2009 Live Arts Festival’s The A.W.A.R.D. Show!
But Pink Hair Affair is the main vehicle for Gesualdi’s creative energy.
Now gearing up for a third year at Philly Fringe, the collective has proven itself an emerging talent on the Philadelphia scene. Since its formation, its members have earned a designation as City Paper’s Best Fringe Dance Find (2007), adopted the Painted Bride Art Center as a fiscal sponsor, and survived the transplantation of two members to the West Coast–all while working day jobs.
POOF!, which debuts at the 2009 Philly Fringe, is a series of individually-choreographed pieces about fairy tales. Though each composition takes a different approach, Gesualdi explains, “we all wanted to maintain a sort of whimsical feel.”
What else can audiences expect from POOF!?
“They can expect to climb four flights of stairs to get to the studio,” Gesualdi says glibly. She adds, more seriously, “I really don’t know yet. Even I will be surprised at what it is.”
Philadelphia Live Arts & Philly Fringe
Pink Hair Affair
Fri. 9/4 at 7:00 & 9:00 PM
Sat. 9/5 at 7:00 PM
Sun. 9/6 at 7:00 PM
the fidget space, 1714 North Mascher Street