Review: Dancefusion Elemental Forces

by Nicole Bergstrom for The Dance Journal | Photo by Randl Bye

On Saturday, September 23, as part of the Philadelphia FringeArts festival,  Dancefusion presented Elemental Forces with guest performances by Grounded Aerial and Jim Bunting Dance Company at The Performance Garage in Philadelphia.

This year Dancefusion is celebrating Mary Anthony’s centennial and her modern dance legacy. Gwendolyn Bye, the company’s director, revealed to the audience her past collaborations with her former mentor and colleague. Bye’s reconstruction of Anthony’s classic choreography is her way of paying homage to her legacy.

The program opened with Mary Anthony’s Songs, an historic work based on William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience.  Presented in three distinct segments, Songs evokes that time between childhood and adult responsibility and the conversion of innocence to experience. The dancers appeared in white gowns that flowed beautifully with their jumps and arching ports de bras that resolved themselves in hanging poses of elegance and grace.

In the second segment, guest dancers Omar-Frederick Pratt, Zaki Marshall and Martin Skocelas-Hunter portrayed playful innocence with a series of joyful leaps and turns. The piece concluded with  Janet Pilla-Marini joining the entire ensemble as the ‘mother’ to the group. Her light-yellow gown symbolized experience which through her moments led the transition from innocence.

The program continued with Waterwise, a new work choreographed by Jennifer Yackel.  The dancers costumed as washer women used buckets and water as props. The gray backdrop had projected images of trickling water, while music of flowing water completed the overall ambiance. The dancers began by distributing the water to each other, symbolizing water as the nourishment vital to life.  They continue dipping their hands, feet and hair into the buckets. At one point, Pilla-Marini dipped her foot into the bucket executed a perfect turn with her wet foot on the floor. The piece concluded with the ensemble lifting Pilla-Marini and dipping her hair into the bucket, symbolizing camaraderie between the women.

Infinity??  was presented by guest artist, Grounded Aerial with choreography by Karen Fuhrman.   Dancers used bungee cords attached to the rafters and proceeded to do a series of flips, turns and poses. At one point, the ensemble briefly stood on their heads while suspended, only to leap out at the audience and be retracted backward by the bungee cords. The conclusion featured one of the dancers in a frantic spin hanging from the cord, positioned as if in flight, just a few feet above the stage.

Isolated Textures was choreographed by Masad Qawishabazz. The choreography had the look and feel of a pop music video. Dressed all in black, the ensemble danced in a formation that contained many body rolls, turns and isolation of movement with minimalist music with a slight hip hop beat.  Omar-Frederick Pratt as the sole male dancer in the group was a stand out in this piece.

Surrender by Jim Bunting Dance Company, with choreography by Jim Bunting, focused on the emotional conflict between two people. With tribal-like moves, the principal dancers exhibited their confrontation as two additional dancers bore witness. Eventually, the dancers clasped hands as a sign of surrender and circled together as the stage faded to black.

The final piece in the program was Weathervane, choreographed by Janet Pilla-Marini, Assistant Director of Dancefusion.  This piece had a strong ballet influence merged with modern dance. Utilizing the entire Dancefusion ensemble, dancers moved and spun among each other in circular patterns as if blown by the wind.