The Fifth Snowball


by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal

It’s a cold and blustery January morning but the five dancers of Brian Sanders JUNK are wrapping up an early rehearsal in their new studio and performance space on Christian Street in South Philly.  The stage is set with clusters of silver pipe-like pieces and yards and yards of rigging.

The company mainly comprises UArts grads and their resumes run the gamut: the Kirov, the Rock School, and not surprisingly considering the aerial work for which the company has become known, the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts.  If they look tired, it’s because they performed at the Suzanne Roberts the night before and JUNK’s choreography, which is featured regularly in the FringeArts Festival, is some of the most physical demanding I’ve seen here in Philadelphia.

This weekend, they’ll be at the Trocadero, performing in Pig Iron’s “Pignometry” fundraiser on Friday night and then at their own benefit—the annual “Snowball”—on Saturday.

Sanders, who describes his current work as “Charles Dickens meets the 80s,” is wearing a flannel shirt and flannel pajama bottoms.  He proudly displays the industrial looking blazer he’ll be wearing for this year’s Snowball along with a pair of white pants he made himself.  “Fabric from Jomar’s” he adds with a laugh, and it is in this sort of bargain basement creativity that the company excels.

Their work in the Fringe is edgy and raw.  Topless dancers plummet from atop a chain link cage or balance precariously on a ladder suspended above the stage.  In their more family-friendly fare, they mime a swim meet, spring towards the audience in a hammock and bend forward to reveal dancing smiley faces painted on their rumps.

As such, you never know what you’re going to get with JUNK but you can be sure it’s going to be thrilling: part circus, part dance, part comedy.  This year, the Snowball will pay homage to The 5th Element and will feature a short performance by the dancers to live accompaniment by Nicole Atkins.

Although the company has performed at the Troc before (it was the site of their debut back in 1992), this will be their first time dancing to live music and it’s both a nerve wracking and exciting prospect for them.

When asked about the most challenging aspects of performing aerial work, Julia Higdon cites building the requisite strength and confidence—and trusting her fellow dancers.  “We set up the rigging ourselves.” She’s currently sporting a typical dancer’s foot, although instead of the usual pointe shoe blisters, hers is both sliced and burned thanks to a collision with the rigging and a series of chané turns.

Veteran dancer Theodore “Teddy” Fatcher explains the important of grip.  “You’re holding on with your hands, or with something, and you’ve got to find the right mindset.”

The company is used to site-specific work and, according to Sanders, to climbing into odd spaces.  “It’s about being in performance mode, of metaphorically letting go.”  Of course, the letting go is carefully choreographed, with plenty of trampolines and padding.

Sanders, however, envisions this weekend’s event as more of a social gathering.  Attendees are encourage to come in costume and the dancers’ eyes light up as they recall the outfits their fans have worn at prior events: a dress made of coffee filters, a suit made of bubble wrap.

“That’s what JUNK is all about,” explains Sanders, “not thinking outside the box but thinking inside the box, creatively.”

Fatcher agrees.  “People see that creativity in themselves.  Someone who can look at a piece of bubble wrap and see a suit in it—that’s what we try to give them and that’s why they love the company.”

Saturday, January 24 @ 8:00PM
1003 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107

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