FringeArts Profile – Sanders’ dance rhymes & Gunnar’s dance therapy

by Lewis Whitington for The Dance Journal


Sanders’ dance rhymes

Choreographer Brian Sanders makes more than one visual statement with his company JUNK using unique props and costumes crafted from discarded materials.  They can be as whimsical as the kiddie slide he used in Patio Plastico or as elaborate as sculpted wood carved chariot in his post-apocalyptic Sanctuary. With Urban Scuba, he completely excavated the abandoned pool at the Gershman Y that he transformed into murky seascape with aerialists swinging perilously over the shallow water deep end.  His stage environs often double as launch pads for performer in high-octane acrobatic dance. The Gate Re-opened was set in an elaborate metal and water arena on the Delaware River with the troupe executing  high-velocity dance acrobatics.

This year, JUNK takes over the 23th St. Armory for Sanders new work Hush Now Sweet High Heels and Oak an allegorical tale weaving together childhood rhymes and individual journeys. The choreographer gave a few descriptive clues about the show by phone from Franklin Park on Labor Day Weekend on break walking his new puppy.

“I started with the idea of nursery rhymes, the first time we hear them we are pre-cognizant but we hear them and remember them. And I had the idea, how could that play out in our bedrooms when we are adults. So that’s where we ended up with sexual content, you know, Knick, knack, paddy wack,” Sanders jokes. “Who want to play? so to speak.”

In conceiving the piece Sanders said he “wanted a huge space. I pictured the Armory, but they cleaned it up from how I was remembering it. Now it doesn’t have the disheveled look I remembered, but I always work with what I got.”

His narrative moves from the nursery, into the wood by way of a  25 foot oak tree and onto the sea which includes a bed of 50 tons of sand. On that terrain some of his male dancers will be moving around on metal strapped high heels that hoist them up about  a foot and a half.  “I worked with (designer and sculptor) John Howell and I wanted this to be a very masculine element in the show. They are steel and very heavy. I didn’t want it to be a drag thing,“ Sanders explained. Adjustments had to be made because once the men started moving around in them  the steel was bending under their weight.

JUNK is also known for elaborate sound designs and this will be the first time Sanders is collaborating with a composer, his sister Stephanie Sanders. “She plays keyboard, guitar and sings in a rock band. She arranged versions of nursery rhymes that became the basis of the score. Then there is this very ambience soundscape of nature, actually, that reflects a journey we take from the city to the country and then goes into a bog and the ocean,” Sanders explained.

Sanders described his choreography in the piece “lyrical” but still fueled with athleticism  “my work is always challenging for the dancers. I can’t seem to stay away from that, but they always go for it, even if I‘m doing a comedy you got to go for it, ” and sometimes in steel heels.

photo credit: Jan Rattia

Gunnar’s dance therapy  

A choreographer-dancer who performed in several of Sanders’ productions is Gunnar Montana and he has emerged as a  provocateur in his own right. He first saw Sanders’ work when he was a sophomore in High School and attended a University of the Arts showcases “ I knew that I wanted to be part of it. His choreography is physically demanding, but there is so much artistic trust too, and it is so worth the challenges.”  Montana said.

Last year, Montana’s sexually explicit ad campaign for ‘Rub’ spurred maximum ticket sales, now his ad poster for Basement goes even further. In fact, the poster looks like a gay porn chainsaw massacre. Not to worry, Montana says, it looks gruesome, but the image is just a visual metaphor, the show is not as graphic onstage.

“It was a blast to shoot,” Montana commented, in a phone interview this week, “ I got naked, rented a concrete chainsaw and asked my friend to lay down and get covered in fake blood.  It’s this twisted installation, the whole show is about my breakup, how I dealt with it and everything is an extreme metaphor.”

But, without doubt the show references his anguish of the actual events, and how he attempts to work through irrational anger that can surface during a breakup. “I walked in on my ex-boyfriend after we broke up and he’s in bed with another guy and the first thing that flashes in my mind are these violent images. Course that is an awful thing, so I just walked out of the house and decided to use my art as a therapeutic way for me to express all the emotions and to bring it to a resolution. … to move on. At some point it stopped being about him,” he said.

Basement has elements of physical theater Montana explains “I’m a visually physical artist and this is dance and movement based, but I’m taping more into performance art for this piece, it’s not so much about the movement but me projecting feeling onto the audience. In the show, I’m stuck in this space with all of these outrageous characters that represent all of crazy emotions you feel when you are going through a breakup. Then leaving it all behind. It’s got angst to it, but I think it’s actually more artistic.”

Montana is anything but shy about onstage nudity. “The body was born naked and it isn’t outrageous for it to stay that way. The body is an art form in itself, celebrate it,” he said. He was celebrating more modestly as a beach cover boy for G Philly this summer which he described as .a fantastic experience and made a lot of good media contacts, but is not looking for a career shift. In fact he is planning to choreograph full time for the stage and even collaborating on various dance events at some of  the gay clubs this fall. Without doubt, he has worked through the angst on more than one dance-floor.

Hush Now Sweet High Heels and Oak by Brian Sanders’ JUNK
8 dates from September 6 2013 – September 15 2013
23rd Street Armory, 22 South 23rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
Info & Tickets:

BASEMENT by Gunnar Montana
6 dates from September 13 2013 – September 21 2013
Asian Arts Initiative, 1219 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Info & Tickets:


***Article icon photo credit: Neal Santos


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