Review: Philadanco in Concert at The Bryn Mawr College Performing Arts Series

by Debra Danese for The Dance Journal

The Bryn Mawr College Performing Arts Series opened its season Friday, September 23, 2016 with a one-night only performance by The Philadelphia Dance Company, better known as, Philadanco. Offered as part of the Fringe Arts Festival, the performance took place at the McPherson Auditorium to a full house.

The evening consisted of four different works, by four different choreographers, showcasing the company’s versatility and originality. Choreographers for the program were David Brown, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Francisco Gella, and Christopher Huggins.  The diversity between each piece demonstrated Founder and Artistic Director Joan Myers Brown’s continued commitment to presenting innovative and thought-provoking work through her company.

The performance opened with Brown’s Labess, with music by the Afro Euro acapella women’s vocal ensemble, Zap Mama. The program defined Labess as a Tunisian expression meaning, “It’s all right…I’m okay.” Seven dancers were woven in and out of four sections that were carried throughout by one woman. Rosita Adamo led the ensemble with her compelling and poignant presence onstage. The dancers, all costumed in dark purple sleeveless dresses, were a visual display of powerful limbs and athletic prowess.

Hand Singing Song, by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, explored the idea of hand gestures and was both rhythmic and creative in its concept. The piece incorporated the hand fist greeting known as the “dap”, used during the Black Power Movement to support African American unity. The piece was timely given the current issues facing our communities and seemed to resonate with the audience.

The second half of the program opened with Francisco Gella’s Between the Lines. With a trace of romanticism, the balletic movement in this piece highlighted the technical abilities of the ensemble. Petite allegro, small quick jumps, was executed with sharp accuracy. Janine Beckles was a stand out with her exquisite lines and precise execution of the choreography. Beautifully set to Philip Glass and Gidon Kremer’s music, the dancers moved seamlessly through the   piece.

The final piece of the evening was Christopher Huggins’s Enemy Behind the Gates. The company was costumed in black with red on the underside. The long sleeves and high neck lines made a striking impression against the black back drop. Music by Steve Reich was up-tempo and powerful. This piece showcased the best parts of the company. Dancers attacked the choreography with complete accuracy. Male dancers performed pirouettes at unbelievable speed. Arm movements that could have appeared frantic were always fully completed, again, at great speed.

The evening as a whole left me with one specific impression. This is a seasoned company that dances with maturity and intent. It pushes creative boundaries and lets the dancing speak for itself. Costumes and lighting are understated allowing the audience to focus on the message and movement of the dance.

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