by Kathleen Glynn for The Dance Journal
This holiday season Brian Sanders and his company, JUNK, present a fun, family friendly, sing-a-long dance performance on the Harold Prince Theatre’s stage within the Annenberg Center for Performing Arts. Snowball is a perfect fit for all audience members; featuring a colorful mix of comedy, romance, drama, action, and a wintry theme.
Remaining loyal to his notorious use of props and set, Sanders’ detailed scenery is certainly intriguing! A narrator, filling in the audience once at the start of the show and again after intermission, introduces an oppressed and suffering Grey Lane. Grey Lane, the narrator laments, used to be a community filled with hope, joy, and cheer. Due to the unforgiving control of Julia Stone, Grey Lane has been purged of any money, food, and materials, trapped under Stone’s spell. The pathetic emptiness of the neighborhood is immediately evident; Sanders uses cardboard boxes, old mattresses, used car parts, graffiti dumpsters, a shopping cart, a tire swing, stop signs, and ropes to illustrate.
The residents on Grey Lane may appear ragged and pitiable in their dress, but their vibrant spirits shine through dancing. Dancing along to 1980’s favorites including Bad Boys, Forever Young, and Eternal Flame, The Gang of Fur parades a playful demeanor, battling back and forth and showing off their tricks. Audience members specifically seemed to enjoy the dancers’ syncopated climbing up and down the set’s scaffolding, filled with risky suspensions, seamless flipping, and rope swings across the stage. Later, female heroine Gem, danced by Ann Marie Gover, executed breath-taking acrobatics and beautiful character dynamics on an enlarged swinging snowflake. The enlarged snowflake seemed symbolic of her powers to be through a snowflake necklaceThe climbing in both scenes was done in such a deliberate yet smooth manner that it so clearly paralleled the characters’ yearning to rise up against Stone and her monarchy. Company member Billy Robinson demonstrated an exceptional amount of strength, agility, and athleticism all while remaining true to his character. One may wonder how much more potential the dancers could have shown with the rope swings on a bigger stage space.
I asked Sanders how the dancers move in such an edge-of-your-seat way, moving as if they are part of the prop itself. He replied, “I encourage them to explore in particular ways that I have imagined or sometimes they come up with their own. In the end, I sew it all together to create what you see.” The collaboration is so whole that we, the audience, are unable to decipher a difference between the dancers’ and the choreographer’s ideas.
As Snowball literally snowballs into Grey Lane’s fight for liberation, sprinkled with romance and comedic moments, Ms. Julia Stone’s spell is broken and all good is restored through a gestural, pantomime-like battle between bunny and toad. Grey Lane’s ruffians are transformed into bunnies by Ms. Stone and her people function as toads. The use of animalistic figures highlights good and evil and simplifies the battle for young audience members. Christine Morano, who defiantly prances throughout the set in sparkling platforms, fulfills Ms. Stone’s character brilliantly. The shoes grew every scene until she eventually appeared in glittering stilts! Her use of acrobatics on the swinging rope are mesmerizing to say the least.
Sanders continues to feature timeless hits including Sweet Dreams and Shy Boy to supplement Grey Lane’s revolution. The theme of snow saves the day in the form of a snowflake necklace, which was immune to Ms. Stone’s spell, and as snowballs, the chosen weapon during the bunny and toad battle. Dancers and choreographer alike are successful in portraying hope amongst the frozen and dying community, and the power of one small idea when working together and uniting!
Snowball is a great holiday activity for all. It features a twist on tradition, great characters, daring choreography and dancing, and a classic narrative plot all can understand and relate to. Do not miss Snowball’s last weekend in town.
Brian Sanders’ JUNK
December 4 – 15
Harold Prince Theatre
Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 3680 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104