Straight Outta Philly, An interview with Joan Myers Brown

By Debra Danese for the Dance Journal

Two of Philadelphia’s most reputable dance companies will meet on stage for the first time when PHILADANCO presents, “Straight Outta Philly,” in collaboration with Rennie Harris Puremovement. There will be four performances running November 18 – 20 at The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts’ Perelman Theater. The production will feature five movements that will showcase the fusion of hip-hop and ballet. Joan Myers Brown, founder and artistic director of PHILADANCO, spoke about the collaboration.

Debra Danese: Is this your first collaboration with Rennie Harris?
Joan Myers Brown: Philadelphia Experiment is a work that Rennie previously choreographed for my company, so we have worked together before but this is the first time we are performing together.

DD: How did the idea to collaborate on a performance come about?
JMB:  There were really two main reasons; the lack of touring opportunities and audience development. Projects seem to have a greater appeal to presenters for tours. We hope to eventually tour for 4-6 weeks. We also wanted to engage an audience who may have only seen one company but not the other.

DD: How did your dancers react to the idea?
JMB: They are having a ball! They will be performing Philadelphia Experiment with Rennie’s company. I think audiences will be surprised because you can’t tell which dancers are from which company when they are dancing together.

DD: What was the rehearsal process like?
JMB: We rehearsed our own pieces separately. We spent the last month rehearsing Philadelphia Experiment together, with both companies’ rehearsal directors. It’s interesting to see how two very different companies can dance together.

DD: How did your dancers handle the different style of movement?
JMB: It was a bit of an adjustment at first for my company. They are modern dancers with a ballet background. They are used to being told to pull up and now they being told to get down and bend over. They are also dancing in sneakers as opposed to bare feet. I think Rennie’s dancers were amazed by how well they did.

DD: What can you tell me about the pieces you will be presenting?
JMB: I wanted to present pieces that were a distinct contrast to Rennie’s work. Folded Prism was choreographed by Thang Dao who is from Vietnam. It’s a beautiful piece of movements, shapes, and forms. Movement for 5 is about the Central Park 5 case. Five men were convicted for brutally attacking a woman in Central Park. They were exonerated years later when another man confessed to the crime. It is about how they felt and how they relied on personal relationships during their incarceration.

DD: What are you hoping the audience will take away from the performance?
JMB: We are hoping to cross over audiences by performing together. By that I mean, introducing a dance style that an audience may not have seen before or had a pre-conceived idea about. We hope they see something new and inviting but also the familiarity of what we do.


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