Nick Stuccio’s 2016 FringeArts DanceCard

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by Lewis J. Whittington for The Dance Journal

In mid-August at the FringeArts La Peg brasserie, Nick Stuccio is the picture of relaxed as he commiserates with executive chef Peter Woolsey about films that feature elaborate feasts, but otherwise is attending to a slate of details for the offerings of the 2016 Fringe Festival just weeks away. Stuccio was once a ballet dancer and might still be mistaken for one as one as he bounds up the restaurant’s 2nd floor gallery space, talking all the way about the festival’s dance premieres. The Festival is about hit its milestone 20th year and Stuccio, one of its co-founders, may admit to others that he has only “been around for six” but I can report that he is just as pumped now as he was about then about presenting a new gen of dance artists to Philly audiences.

This year, he notes, there is an auspicious uptick of Philadelphia organizations co-presenting “contemporary performance,” Stuccio notes, “and that was not the case …forever, so we’re really thrilled.” The bulk of the festival productions are by independent artists who self-produce and collectively showcase the local unfiltered vitality of the Festival.

Stuccio doesn’t sidestep criticism of the festival’s curated programming, which can give the impression that Philadelphia area artists are under-represented on any given year. “What makes sense to us to try to present an expansive festival, with a finite amount of resources we have. And I think a great festival is a snapshot of what is happening beyond our city,” he said, adding “the time to bring in as much work as we can find and afford from outside the city and Philadelphia is certainly always part of that story…a vital part of world culture. That balance is what we want to explore in an international context.”

To that end, Nick points out the artistic exchange between visiting artists and the local community that swirls around the Festival every year, with artists performing on the international circuit of other major festivals. Stuccio also points out is that with the FringeArts Theater and “The formula we have now, is that we have an international festival and year round we focus on the arts community here.”

He also addresses the prevalent issue of the festival presenting fewer women choreographers than men. “In terms of gender, yes it is a problem, for one, the international contemporary choreographic circuit it is so dominant with men.” And of course, we want to cultivate and support more work by women. I now co-program the festival with Sarah Bishop-Stone and we both are cognizant of making sure there is a good mix male and female choreographers,” he assured, “this year it happened to lean more toward the men.”

For the moment though Stuccio said he “could talk about what we have this year and these artists all day,” he assured, as he weighed in on this year’s roster. There are six dance events among the FringeArts centerpiece shows.

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GALA – Jérôme Bel (France)
GALA creates a template for Bel’s “democratization” of dance expressionism in a “non-hierarchal space,” Stuccio observes. “with 20 performers, some never having stepped their foot on a stage, and moving with exquisite professional ballet dancers. They are asked to do the same things in this work. And in that span of human experience, you see the full scale of which we are, and what the body can achieve,” he said, recalled the night he saw the piece last year, “In Paris, right after the attacks. And it became spirit of place too, a statement of who these people are. They were Parisians and they were celebrating who they were through this communal dance, in the wake of a national tragedy,” adding that “it celebrates the art form itself, the continuum and evolution of the art.”

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Levée des conflits- Boris Charmatz (France) co-presentation with Drexel University’s Westphal College
Stuccio comments that Charmatz is very different from Bel aesthetically, a formalist “Boris is very physical and he has an amazing body and he moves through space beautifully. This piece is built on a very simple music structure of ten movements from a canon. And one dancer starts then it accumulates and evolves to a unison work. The 26 dancers are from all over Europe and have previously worked with Boris. Gestural, wacky and experimental, but the structure is decidedly formal.” Stuccio saw the work in Montreal four years ago and immediately wanted to bring it to Philly.

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Portrait of myself as my father – Nora Chipaumire (Zimbabwe) co-presentation with the Philadelphia Museum of Art
“We are co-presenting with The Art Museum, as part of the Creative Africa initiative this year,” Stuccio said. “Nora Chipaumire, born in Zimbabwe, has a law degree in her country and a post-grad degree in dance. Nora is a brilliant woman, artistically and she has a powerful mind and body. And she made her this piece about the father she didn’t know.” Chipaumire articulates African traditions and struggles and how these ideas impact the African family. She describes the piece as a using the boxing arena, in part, to express “the most masculine physical language possible, language of male spaces—or arena—in which black men dominate.”

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Citizen- Reggie Wilson /Fist & Heel Performance Group (US)
Reggie Wilson, Stuccio says, is a national treasure. “And he’s a big favorite of ours. “Citizen” is a premiere and it opens the festival and it’s the third work he’s done here. He’s done a lot of research, in the US and Africa in developing the piece. He’s still creating it now and it focuses on famous African American artists who had to leave their country to fulfill there potential as artists. They couldn’t remain here and live with the social ills of our society. It deals with themes of identity, citizenship and what does that mean now.”

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Le Cargo- Faustin Linyekula/ Studios Kabako (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Le Cargo also explores identity and changing socio-political realities in a pluralistic culture, Stuccio said of Linyekula “…Faustin is such an amazing dancemaker. And he’s just as amazing as a thinker and as a world citizen. Linyedula’s work is “immersed in geopolitical and African issues. He and his wife, who is French, have two children and they spend half the year in the Congo and half in France. He could have left the Congo and moved to Europe, he’s a very successful artist there. But it is vital for him to remain in the Congo,” Stuccio said. Le Cargo also is a dance memoir that recounts Linyekula’s growing up in post Colonial Congo, which “Faustin tells through the language of dance us about his life and where he’s from…a concept that I love.”

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Pandæmonium – Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera (US)
It is so fitting that Philadelphia choreographer-dancer Nichole Canuso Dance Company is presenting a centerpiece work at the 20th Fringe, since Canuso has created work for every festival. One of the most high concept collaborative work described as a cinematic dance-theater-concert. Canuso choreographs but said it was in equal partnership with Geoff Sobelle, one of Philly’s most physical theater actor-movers at Pig Iron Theater. She also said it is an equal collaboration with director Lars Jan, video designer Pablo N. Molina and composer Xander Duell.

They spent a week in the Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree and were inspired by the visual template of Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni used in his 60s classic “Zabriskie Point.” The film footage will at various points interact with live video feeds of Canuso and Sobelle dancing in real time on the FringeArts stage where a silver screen will separate them. “They are never touching in real space, but are together in cinematic space,” Stuccio explains. How did they devise this concept? “They were in the Mojave… I think they ate peyote and dreamed dance.” Stuccio deadpanned with a wry grin.

For the complete schedule of festival performances, locations and events go to www.fringearts.com
For a dance only guide to FringeArts also check out the PhiladelphiaDANCE.org Dance Calendar.

***All photos courtesy of FringeArts

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.

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