Dance labs and academic vamping

REVIEW: Philadelphia Dances (Selected works)
Arts Bank, June 16, 2012

by Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal
Photos by Bill Hebert

The choreographers who presented work in Philadelphia Dances at the Arts Bank, are all dynamic in their own right as experimenters and in their respective commercial entities. The collective’s concert at the Arts Bank, capping off a dance conference at the University of the Arts, was a mixed bag that was under rehearsed and with the atmosphere of work that wasn’t ready to be seen out of a studio setting. Still, the audience and the performers were game for an at ease performance, that veered from valid experimentation to clammy indulgence.

Choreographer Meg Foley kicked off with a solo ‘Auxiliary Studies, With and Without You’ mixing free form improv, muscling (and sometimes slouching) toward structure. Loved those high releve struts that devolve into sensual repose or launch reverse phrases. Foley has such dynamic stage presence and is comfortable dancing with bald physicality hanging out, with only the soundtrack being her eventual heavy breathing.  She would dance herself into a corner and look at the audience with frustration. Fascinating to watch whether she is writhing on the floor, or in bursts of urgent movement phrasing. An editorial eye may have called tightened for theatrical effect, though, to be fair, the title warned us that it was a dance ‘study.’

‘Double Vision’ by Silvana Cardell was dynamic from the start with Bethany Formica in a floor length black flamenco gown, her breasts bound in surgical gauze seems like she is being pulled from behind. The music has dialogue of a patient being instructed on what to expect from surgery.  A Bach guitar starts to play with the sound of medical equipment. A form appears out of her dress and it is Maria Urrutia and the two cleave in various lift patterns and poses against red lighting.  Urrutia seemed to represent a protective specter. Cardell’s movement is sensually dramatic and evocative to the theme. Her inherent message being of the dignity of the body, even as it is ravaged.  This intriguing work was all too brief.

Merián Soto’s ’Tú y Yo (You and Me)’ made in 1989, plays on the theme of body objectification. Dancers Beau Hancock and Eun Jung Choi, in separate solos, come on, stare down the audience and then start to strip. They each pop distorted poses and then would throw a provocative stripper move. Hancock had a nice breakout section dancing amok with invertebrate fluidity and hyperextensions. Choi was more playful and editorial, making fun of herself in her caresses and checking the audience as she reaches for her top button, but instead shoves her hands in her pocket. At these dare to go the full frontal moments the lights go up at moments of strip, they were making the audience’s interest, prurient or otherwise, as exposed to examination as any revealed flesh.  Once, twice, adroitly makes this point, after that it gets cloying.

‘Plastic City, re-set‘ choreographer by Jumatatu Poe and Shannon Murphy is a baffling duet with Poe partnering with Michele Tantoco.  It reminded me of twister, limb tangles and body knots, otherwise a baffling scenario of dance kids in shredded, blood red togs, playing zombies with grotesque faces, body tic and lurches. They fling themselves on each other, cleave together, make goofy noises or pound out beats with their feet. Interesting comic dynamic, but done in by being self-consciously abstract. It got too cryptic to care about. The audience cracked up when Tantoco sprang from a torso-limb tangle like a masthead on a ship, accompanied by an Emperor’s gong. But one-note motifs had Tantoco instructing Poe to ‘keep his head down‘ while he was trying to tell us about an incident about an ominous car trip. We never got there.

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