by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal
As a dance critic Philadelphia, I see a lot of work that makes me shake my head in disbelief. “Somebody got commissioned to do that?” I find myself wondering. “Somebody rehearsed to do that?” Over the years I’ve developed two requirements for what I consider to be “good” dance: it’s got to be visually interesting and beautifully performed or it’s got to make me think.
A lot of the experimental dance presented in Philadelphia falls short in my opinion and I was, admittedly, a bit skeptical as I sat at Christ Church Theater on Saturday night reading the program note’s for She Measures the Storm, an evening of student works presented by Headlong’s Performance Institute.
“MAKE SOMETHING REAL” read the first line, “THEN MAKE IT GOOD.” The following paragraphs, which explained the Institute’s creative process, reminded me of something my more theatrically inclined classmates would have written as undergraduates: authentic origin, genuine curiosity, fearless discovery, etc. Taking a deep breath, I vowed to keep an open mind—these were students after all—but then the show began with a “performed program,” a bowl of lentils and an outline of Philadelphia taped to the floor. It was real, it was good and it left me seriously hoping that the nine women who presented their work go on to get many, many commissions.
There were beans, cupcakes, slats of wood, bowls of water, sheets, hats, breasts, butts and pre-planned disagreements over the name of the second piece. There were tales of injury, confessions, descriptions of miscarriage and death, sexual fantasies, inside jokes and even some good ol’ audience participation. And in spite of all the “stuff,” the eight works were fresh, quirky, honest and only slightly self-indulgent, which is saying a lot for a band of 20somethings.
Magdalene San Millan was brilliant in both Loud Mouth Noises, performed with Chelsea Murphy, and in an untitled duet that revolved around the teaching of a nonsensical phrase complete with mimed hamsters and pancake flipping. (You had to be there.)
In the third piece, another untitled duet, dancers Elizabeth Weinstein and Zoe Richards tiptoed across piles of wooden beams. We weren’t sure if they were different parts of the same story, told by different characters whose exact relationship to one another has not yet been revealed, or if they were from differently lives entirely, connected only by the overlapping debris but it didn’t matter.
Fresh Cake, performed by Madeline Kurtz and Sarah Stearns, turned the silliness of Rihanna’s Cake on its head with a bawdy, satirical nod to burlesque and the concluding improvisation created by Richard Bull showed all of the performers to be both capable dancers and comedians.
Kudos to all of the young women of She Measures the Storm and to Headlong for turning out another generation of extremely talented choreographers.
Kat Richter is a freelance writer and teaching artist. She holds an MA in Dance Anthropology and is also the co-founder of The Lady Hoofers, Philadelphia’s only all-female tap company. Her work can be found at www.katrichter.com.
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