by Mara Miller, Live Arts & Fringe Festival Blog
When Amy Harding, artistic director and choreographer for Alchemy Dance Company, was twelve she started taking ballet classes. But it was a short-lived stint; her parents pulled her out because they didn’t think she practiced enough. Amy wasn’t about to throw in the towel, though. “I taught myself to dance from watching music videos,” she says.
In the small town of Bloomsburg, PA where Harding grew up, the only thing she knew aside from her MTV-powered tutorials was the high school dance team (which she captained) and basic musical theater. So when she arrived at the University of the Arts as a jazz dance performance student, she found herself in paradise. “I took every class I possibly could,” she says. Now, that wide range of dance fuels Harding’s work, which is labeled contemporary jazz though she hesitates to categorize it. “My choreography has so many elements . . . and that’s from my training at UArts.”
After graduation, Harding moved to Los Angeles for a gig with the Carol Solomon Dance Company. It was out west where she met and married her husband before the pair made their way back to Philadelphia. Once she returned, Harding began working as an IT assistant, a post she still holds, and continued to dance. “But I just felt unfulfilled, like I wanted to do something more with dance,” she says. “Choreography was my main passion . . . not just being a dancer in someone else’s company. So that’s why I started Alchemy.”
That was the winter of 2007, and each year since the company has performed in the Philly Fringe. Amy also strives to share her dance with the community through Alchemy’s Out-of-Bounds program, which helps groups from hospitals, camps, or senior centers to enjoy her work. “We once performed for a group of mentally disabled women from Divine Providence Village,” says Harding, “and they just loved it.”
Harding also shares her love of movement with children through classes she teaches at the Landsdowne YMCA. “Those classes are more about creative exploration than dance,” she says.
For her choreography, Harding finds her greatest inspiration in the idea of transforming. “It’s a mystical process,” she says. “I explore transformation in my choreography, whether it’s death, or . . . any other change. I also want to give the audience a transformative experience.”
Her creative process looks different each time she begins a piece. “Sometimes it starts with movement, or sometimes with the music I want to use. But from there a story starts to come out, like a channeled experience,” she says.
In this fall’s Philly Fringe, Alchemy will explore “the transformation of fear into love” with Sideshow Noir which, hints Harding, involves a ringmaster. As the show goes on, the doll-like costumes will morph from stark black-and-white to vibrant accents of red and gold. Harding explains that this color spectrum was important in the practice of alchemy, “so we’re integrating that concept [of our company name] too.”
For the Fringe, Alchemy will pair with Ami Dowden-Fant to form an evening-length show called Elixir, including both Sideshow Noir and a separate piece by Dowden-Fant. This potion of dance, says Harding, will “take you out of your day-to-day.”
She first met Dowden-Fant at a Koresh Artist Showcase, where she saw her perform and approached her about a collaboration. Harding says Dowden-Fant’s movement “has an elegance to it . . . you just feel massaged, watching it.”
Harding sees more promise in this show than ever before because her “concept is more defined . . . and this piece is more like dance theater, much more theatrical.” She says that audiences will like what Alchemy has to offer this year. “It’s filled with angst and challenge . . . and the finale is really high energy jazz . . . that I don’t think you see very often in the area. You get a lot of buildup and resonance with the audience.” She also looks forward to the juxtaposition with Dowden-Fant’s work.
For Amy and for Alchemy, the incorporation of different styles is essential. For example, she presents both contemporary dance and b-boying (aka break dancing) not just in the same piece, but alongside each other on stage, and the result is a unique concoction indeed. “The fusion is so fascinating,” she says, “and the different types of movement are so interesting to see together.”
Alchemy Dance Company
Dance, 75 minutes
Fri. 9/4 7:00 PM
Sat. 9/5 7:00 PM
Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine Street