Birds on a Wire Dance Theatre’s HATCH – Words On A Strip of Paper

Brendan Tetsuo-Amanda Edwards
photo credit Plate 3 Photography

by Gregory King for The Dance Journal

Self-described as an entirely volunteer run company committed to artists’ engagement, Bird on a Wire Dance Theatre added another bouquet of choreographic offerings to the Philadelphia artistic landscape. With eight months to realize their creative visions, and without the strains of financial burden, choreographers received both artistic and technical support from a tight network of mentors, in a well-tempered environment.

On Thursday June 9th at the Performance Garage, their works were HATCH-ed.

Although an advocate for platforms where choreographers at various stages of their discovery get to share their processes with Philadelphia audiences, I found myself questioning if the scene is becoming saturated with showcases.

Let me be clear.

I AM NOT AGAINST SHOWCASES.

I quite enjoy them actually.

But what I find a tad problematic is that feeling of familiarity that creeps to the surface knowing I’ve seen most of the works shown in some iteration. Admittedly, I attend each showcase expecting something different, whether it is a theme that follows through or audience engagement…something that sets it apart. But no sooner do these thoughts emerge, am I reminded of the advice from a colleague suggesting that I “check my expectations at the door.”

Unfortunately, that is not yet a skill I have mastered.

So I secretly pray to the showcase Gods, hoping one day, these platforms will merge, producing fewer showcases with professionally mentored pieces.

Strips of papers were placed on chairs, inviting the audience to touch, read…. sit.

My strip read “Dark, Vast Maze” and immediately my curiosity got the better of me.

Was it an insight into each piece? Whatever their purpose, HATCH was already different from other showcases and my paper became my ticket on a bus ride from piece to piece.

Choreographed by Lora Allen, Viewpoint opened the show and the memorable lighting design of Camille Gamble, stamped itself into my memory as distorted images projected with this use of the lights, climbed onto the backs of dancers Crystal Nicole, Alexis Dispenser, and Ashley Lippolis.

Because of the many forms of ballet/ modern hybrid that already exist, I struggled to comprehend what Katie Moore meant when she wrote that her piece Terra, was an investigation of her personal style as it was a “hybrid of ballet and modern techniques.” Nevertheless, I am interested to witness her contribution to the still growing concept of dance fusion.

Along with her cast mates, Temple Dance graduate Belle Alvarez recited stories of woodsheds, banjos, and car crashes in Passport. Writing with their bodies, each orator caught up with the group as they continued writing words with their dancing instrument. Having seen Alvarez’ works at various showcases, she often cushions her explorations with memories and lived experiences. Alvarez is not just a choreographer, she’s a storyteller.

Maria Brown-Melissa Chisena
photo credit Plate 3 Photography

 

The sound design of Christopher Farrell in Marie Brown’s Primal left a thumping percussive sound ringing in my head, long after leaving the theatre. After each speedy movement phrase, Brown and duet partner Melissa Chisena paused, before rippling through to a jerky, spastic pulse, making me curious about their impending journey.

donia salem
photo credit Plate 3 Photography

Based on a poem by Linwood Smith, “The Dream Song of the Deaf Man” and choreographed by Sakshi Productions, Gestures of Longing was a kaleidoscope of information. Performed in silence, Longing was a delicate blend of American Sign Language (ASL), and strands of classical Indian dances. My lack of expertise in the traditions of classical Indian dances, made it hard to identify which was represented, but the pinching of the fingers and touched heels with bent knees, gave me enough to know a classical genre was present.  There was naturalness to the mobility of Jubil Khan, donia salem, and Nandini Sikand, which could have offered a clearer revelation to the narrative. Although I wanted to know what the performers were signing, the mystery kept a silent promise and I was happy not knowing.

Bias, systematic, racism; Words used in the program notes for Mawiyah Dowd’s Depths of Equality – Part II. After checking my own bias and any preconceived notions, I stopped watching dancer Amanda Edwards (the only identifiable African American in the piece), and widened my gaze.

It wasn’t that I thought the piece was about her…okay, yes I did. But as the piece progressed, the chaotic, non-linear vocabulary became a suggestive protest in its urgent seriousness.

I have always been a fan of dancers using their bodies as instruments to create sounds. Unfulfilled used both the sounds of Break of Reality’s “Drift Apart” and those made by the dancers to provide a thrilling auditory experience. The dancers took their physical cues from the music’s tempo, delivering dramatic build with every execution. Melancon’s simplicity made the revisiting of each movement phrase welcomed.

As each piece wafted by, I realized I had no use for my bus ticket (the piece of paper I was holding). My thoughts drifted to the many ways the paper could have been used – how HATCH could have separated itself from other showcases …  completely eviscerated their competition. But instead of dwelling on my own expectations, I allowed the words “Dark, Vast and Maze” on the strip of paper, to fall to the bottom of my traveling satchel.

About Gregory King

Gregory King received his MFA in Choreographic Practice and Theory from Southern Methodist University. In addition, he is certified in Elementary Labanotation. His dance training began in Washington DC at the Washington Ballet and later at American University. He went on to participate in the Horton Project in conjunction with the Library of Congress. His training continued at the prestigious institutions such as The Dance Theatre of Harlem and The Alvin Ailey School. Gregory has performed with The Washington Ballet, Rebecca Kelly Ballet, Erick Hawkins Dance Company, New York Theatre Ballet, Donald Byrd /The Group, The Metropolitan Opera Ballet, New York City Opera, and Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway.

His desire to integrate social activism into his choreography began with his graduate thesis, where he used the platform to push the conversation about homophobia and heterosexism. He is a lover of movement exploration and describes his aesthetic as a classical base with a theatrical flair.

He has taught at Boston Ballet, Boston Conservatory, Boston University, Bowdoin College, Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Texas Ballet Theatre. Additionally, he has served as a teaching artist in public schools in and around Dallas, as Resident Guest artist at Temple University and Assistant Professor of Dance at Dean College. Recently, Gregory received the Excellence in Teaching Award from the National Society of Leadership and Success. He is currently a Visiting Professor of Dance and Consortium on Faculty Diversity Fellow at Swarthmore College where he teaches Modern and continues to use his choreography as a means for social change.

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