by Chrysta Brown for The Dance Journal
A peacock, a student, an exotic frog, a realtor, dancing monkeys, and dancing professionals. What do all of these beings have in common? Perhaps a more apropos question is: Where in Philadelphia can you find them all in one place?
Off the road, nestled behind the autumn-painted trees is the Smith Memorial Playhouse and Playground, donated in 1899 by Richard and Sarah Smith. I watch as one young visitor transforms a room full of cardboard boxes into an automobile with a thrill factor that rivals the most luxurious sports car. There are several more themed rooms in the Smith House. Each is designed to stimulate a child’s imagination. But it is not only a creative palate for children.
Next to the mansion is the backyard of every imaginative child’s dreams. It is the Smith Memorial Playground. It is here that I meet Daniela Galdi, the co-founder of the Blind Faith Project and the choreographer of Humanimals, the site-specific performance happening at the Smith Memorial Playground this weekend.
Two years ago, Galdi was at the zoo with her nephew. The two of them were standing in front of the sloth habitat when he started imitating the sloth’s leisurely and intricate movements. One year later, the same nephew had a birthday party at the Smith Playhouse. Galdi now had both an idea, a location, and when she combined those things with her company, The Blind Faith Project, she had dancers.
“I wanted it to be like a zoo after hours,” Galdi explains leading me down the playground’s path. “The animals are out of their cages and loose and freely roaming around.” Daniela stops and points uphill, halfway between a classic, wooden jungle gym and where we are standing. “There’s going to be a peacock there,” she points out. “Isn’t that exactly the kind of place you’d see a peacock at the zoo?” She would know. Since she came up with the idea for Humanimals she’s spent a lot of time at zoos, and even more time researching the animals that will appear in the production.
The company rehearsed two or three times each week at the playground and often during business hours. She laughs as she explains how some of the children visiting the grounds saw the dancers performing their signature blend of athleticism and modern and theatrical dance and joined the rehearsal. “They didn’t see anything usual about us dancing outside at the park,” she smiles.
Though contextually different from other Blind Faith performances, Humanimals falls in line with the company’s vision and mission statement. The Blind Faith Project seeks to “postively impact culture through dance,” and “heighten the mind of the audience and raise recognition to issues that are influential in society and otherwise overlooked.” Galdi chose to highlight more unknown species of animals. She knowledgeably tells me about the characteristics and quirks of each one. She uses the Panamanian Gold Frog as an example. Unlike many other species of frogs, it is known for the generosity of its wave rather than the length of its jump. Galdi funded the entire project herself, a costly affair, and yet she is donating a portion of ticket sales back to the Smith Foundation. “I wanted to educate the audience about these strange and exotic animals,” she says, “but I also wanted to draw some attention and give something back to this really wonderful place in Philly.” Galdi is also using Hamanials to enrich Philadelphia’s dance community. Not only is she showcasing local dancers, but local make-up artists and body-painters as well.
“We’ve had our obstacles,” she confesses. Her dancers have multiple jobs and sometimes conflicting schedules. She faced with the struggles that come with rehearsing and performing outside in a public space. Then there were the funding challenges and the sorts of existential and artistic crises that come with them. However, motivated by her mission, her dancers, and the children during rehearsal, Galdi persevered. The 30 minute Humanimals tour ends with a caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly. “That feels like kind of a metaphor for me,” she explains. This production challenged her in a variety of administrative, artistic, and personal ways.
Galdi watches children sliding down the Smith’s Playground giant wooden slide, and she smiles. “The kids using their bodies and having fun is really encouraging and inspiring,” she says. The children gleefully slide down a giant wooden slide and swing on convolutions of rope and metal. “I watch them and think ‘I can make this happen. This can work.’”
Humanimals takes place at the Smith Memorial Playground on Friday, October 17, 2014 at 7:30 p.m., 8:00 p.m., and 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for those under 17. Humanimals is friendly but not recommended for children under five. For more information visit: www.blindfaithproject.com.
- Review: Kim Brandt’s Silhouette - July 11, 2015
- Dancing Through Dark Nights – preview of faith shift - July 6, 2015
- The Whole Shebang: Philadelphia’s Newest Arts Space - June 29, 2015