Performers and Passersby in Leah Stein Dance Company’s Portal


by Tara Giangrande for The Dance Journal

As you enter the café at FRIEDA for Generations, you feel as though you are stepping into a separate little pocket of the world.  Bare and towering white walls make you aware of the vastness of a space that might feel cavernously hollow were it not buzzing with lively conversation.

This is the environment of FRIEDA—a “for-profit social enterprise” that seeks to creatively connect people across generations through a café business model that is supplemented with community art workshops, interest groups, and design initiatives.

As you take your seat, you turn to face the glass doors from which you entered.  This threshold, framed by a soaring transom window, comes into focus as the metaphorical portal of Leah Stein’s imagination.  Throughout the ensuing performance, four members of the Leah Stein Dance Company and several members of the FRIEDA community explore the symbolic presence of this permeable, yet evident, boundary between the binaries of inside and outside, private and public, “age” and “youth.”

It is not clear exactly when the performance begins, but we find a woman sitting alone at a café table—the empty space around her gradually filling with friends and strangers.  As before, their conversations are lively and diverse, but this time expressed more with movement than with words.  Spoken snippets of a poem by cast member Frauke Regan evoke memories forged over the communal skinning of peaches for jam that is now for sale at the café counter.  The movements and sounds that stem from this imagery are juicy, fuzzy, sticky, and slicing.

The eyes of the audience shift as they notice a single person across the street.  In contrast to the cars and people passing quickly by, her movements are slow and deliberate.  More performers become evident as they circulate toward, away from, and finally through the portal in either direction.  Amid this constant circulation, which is motivated by intimate moments of connection between dancers, a series of unified movements draws attention to the many portals that surround the audience.

As dancers pull, push, and lean against the borders of these portals—for some FRIEDA’s doors, for some the windows of the buildings across the street, and for some the empty air—the audience is prodded to contemplate the limitations we confront when encountering thresholds to unfamiliar places.  Will someone hold the door open for us?  Will we push our way through on our own?  Will we retreat in timid shyness from the unknown?

Oscillating between these experiences, contact improvisation and weight-sharing serve as the primary vocabularies through which the dancers engage with each other in curiosity and support.  Particular relationships are highlighted through seamless transitions between featured duets and ensemble sections.  Reactions from those passing by on the street situate the performance compellingly within FRIEDA’s mission of providing space for meaningful connection within the social atmosphere of an urban metropolis.

Portal invites audiences to experience the social experiment being undertaken at FRIEDA while confronting their own inhibitions and desires for community.  In this way, Leah Stein adds to her impact as a virtuoso of site-specific dance with a piece that engages deeply with its environment to intrigue and challenge onlookers, whether they are fortunate enough to bear full witness or just passing through.

Leah Stein Dance Company
Sept 15, 17, 21, 22, 24b @6pm
FRIEDA for generations, 320 Walnut Street, Philadelphia
Tickets & Information:

Performers include LSDC members David Konyk, Andrew Mars, Megan Wilson Stern, Michele Tantoco and multi-generation community participants.

***Photo courtesy of FringeArts

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