PIFA Dances

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal

attackpoint910x520

Gallim Dance | Attack Point
Verizon Hall, April 10

Even though it only had one performance and drew a small crowd to Verizon Hall the first weekend of the ongoing PIFA festival  “Attack Point” in concept and as performed, was an ambitious and fully realized collaboration between the Brooklyn-based based Gallim Dance (artistic director Andrea Miller), singers from Choral Arts Philadelphia (Matthew Glandorf, conductor) and organ soloists from the Curtis Institute of Music.

The concert also put forth the abstract concept of “seeing music and hearing dance” with organ pieces composers wrote for dance played to have us imagine dancers onstage in our mind’s eye. That may have been too ambitious an abstract for many, but it didn’t get in the way of the virtuosic performances of the players, the first part of the concert featuring 16th century baroque masters Dietrich Buxtehude and J.S. Bach and played with vivid authority by organist Bryan Dunnewald.

The lights then came up on Gallim Dance’s “Boat” choreographed by Andrea Miller, with the troupe of ten clustered together in street clothes and floating forward to organ and chorale of composer Arvo Pärt’s elegiac three part suite – Salve Regina, Pari Intervalia, Gloria– which the composer dedicated to those refugees who perished trying to get to a safe place.

The singers are positioned in the choir loft over the dancers, as vocally powerful as was the 7000 pipe Fred J. Cooper organ.  The earthy three part oratorio similarly did not float over the dancers but propelled them in and out of counterpoints and pulsing waves of voices.  They fan out over the stage, getting pulled apart by invisible forces and just as suddenly regroup to mystical communal circles or are herded into threatening line ups. At random points they clamor and cling to the thundering base of the organ, as they would to a lifeboat.  Miller’s stage composition impresses throughout, especially on the wide angles and in the chromatic environs of this concert hall.

Miller’s movement chaos employs structural improv, but with that, it is vivid and choreographically lucid and performed with precision and control. What might seem like scrambling amok flashes to the acrobatic duets or the dancers in lightening bolt jete unison flying over the stage.  Miller’s torrent of perpetual motion is both eloquent and harrowing in depicting the plight of refugees trying to escape to a better life or just attempting to survive.

The performance concludes with contemporary organ compositions and performed by Curtis virtuosos Clara Gerdes and Joseph Russell. Gerdes particularly evocative on 20th century composer Calvin Hampton’s ‘Everyone Dance’ from “Five Dances” with droll organ(-iastic) vamps conjured a dancing phantom or two.


DiavoloFluidInfinities_MaraZaslove

Diavolo  | Architecture in Motion
Merriam Theater, April 14

Before the court of Louis XIV, acrobats were creating some creative movement dance DNA and contemporary troupes are picking up that tradition. PIFA has been heavy on cirque acrobatic dance troupes and this year the main draws were Cirkus Cirkor’s ‘ Knitting Peace’ involved trapeze and tightropes hidden in a recycled yarn and the Los Angeles based company Diavolo’s ‘Architecture in Motion’ which boasted equally elaborate production design.

Diavolo all but filled  the Merriam Theater, some in the crowd recalling their previous appearance in Philly 11 years ago, but most first timers. Diavolo’s artistic director Jacques Helm gamely warmed up the crowd, telling them they could use their cell phones to tweet photos during the performance in between checking in on the Flyers game.

Helms conceived and directed Diavolo’s ‘Fluid Infinities’ (2013), scored to Philip Glass’s Symphony no. 3, with the choreography credited to the whole company.

The looming dome center stage designed by Adam Davis, at different angles and depending on the dynamic lighting by John E.D.Bass, can look like a space craft, moon craters or meant, for your consideration, as infinite portals of imagination.

The dancers first appear climbing through a clear 20 ft tube like a space crew and are in the shadow of the dome as its silvery cover gets sucked through one of the portals. From there the troupes’ bodies seem to magnetize and gravity becomes relative via the strength and agility of theses dancers who are then over-under-sideways- down with this orb faster than you can say, Houston we have a problem. Eventually vanishing into it.  Seconds later as the shell pivots, they emerge transformed and now garbed in costume designer Brandon Grimm’s matted flesh bodygloves with satin codpieces.

New world, new dances from spacey geometric vignettes ala Busby Berkeley to quicksilver flash duets that keep flowing into unexpected movement ideas that proved just as compelling as the gravity defying lifts. Eventually the dancer daredevilry takes over, fiercely,  with each dancer displaying their acrobatic specialties- vaults, dive layouts, suspensions, to name a few. As the Glass score gets more propulsive, the set merges to symbolize creative infinity.

Next, “Cubical,” in contrast,  is a dance cartoon about earthbound limits of a group of office employees carting around grey crates that are reconfigured to depict desks, cityscapes, stairs, a train in motion, but mostly, a worker’s claustrophobic hell cell.  Choreographed by company dancer Leandro Glory Damasco, it depicts the mental and physical monotony of the daily grind.  A bit retro looking with office workers smoking and pantomiming using a manual typewriter and licking envelopes and rails of florescent lighting hover menacingly.

Witty and predictable office scenarios – politics and seductions -are played out with a lot of hopping around and cube scrambling, in predictable ways, however clever, lumbers on to make the same point. The piece uncorks when the workers revolt and start to shed their business drag down to colorful Ts and bras and booty shorts and bathing suits.  They liberate themselves and so Diavolo dancing really begin, all too joyously, even cathartically, but alas all too briefly.

Helm introduced each Diavolo dancer at the end and there were lusty shout outs from the audience for UArts alums Ana Brotons and Connor Senning who are touring the globe with this company.

 

***Attack Point photo: courtesy of  Gallim Dance
***Architecture in Motion photo: courtesy of Diavolo

About Lewis J. Whittington

Lewis Whittington is an arts journalist based in Philadelphia. He started writing professionally in the early 90s as a media consultant for an AIDS organizations and then as a theater and dance reviewer for the Philadelphia Gay News. Mr. Whittington has covered dance, theater, opera and classical music for the Philadelphia Inquirer and City Paper.

Mr. Whittington’s arts profiles, features, and stories have appeared in The Advocate, Dance International, Playbill, American Theatre, American Record Guide, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, EdgeMedia, and Philadelphia Dance Journal. Mr. Whittington has received two NEA awards for journalistic excellence.

In addition to interviews with choreographers, dancers, and artistic directors from every discipline, he has interviewed such music luminaries from Ned Rorem to Eartha Kitt. He has written extensively on gay culture and politics and is most proud of his interviews with such gay rights pioneers as Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.

Mr. Whittington has participated on the poetry series Voice in Philadelphia and has written two (unpublished) books of poetry. He is currently finishing Beloved Infidels, a play about the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. His editorials on GLBTQ activism, marriage equality, gay culture and social issues have appeared in Philadelphia Inquirer, City Paper, and The Advocate.

View All Posts