fidget’s quantum dance leaps with sp3

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal | photo by Bill Hebert

Megan Bridge is one of Philadelphia’s most adventurous improvisational dancer-choreographers and her premiere of  “sp3” co-directed by composer Peter Price shows is something completely different from what their company <fidget> usually presents.  This is a work that Bridge, for all intents, choreographed in advance and she was creating it with Price’s completed score. However atypical the process, Bridge doesn’t skip an inventive (and clearly) inspired beat.

The premiere at FringeArts filled only half the theater night, but there was a sense of dance occasion among the crowd, many Philly dance artists and fans (among them former Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell).  But local luminaries aside, “sp3” already has the feel of a FringeArts classic.

The highly conceptual and for (lack of a better word) abstract long form dance piece built on the central idea at the outset by Price and Bridge – sp3 is short for Space, Pulse, Pattern, Presence – sounds like a physics equation and in a way it is in this context.

Pulse being the central operative word, musically and choreographically, throughout the piece.

Noted in the program as “created with a steady pulse but with the rhythmic complexity of shifting accents and cross-rhythms.”  A core pulse beats through Price’s musical soundscape with its spacey timpani, sound clouds, metallic swarms, acoustical sonics, watery vortexes engulfing the theater. Musically sp3 is entrancing as it connect to what Bridge achieves choreographically as a “direct relation to the music, creating spatial analogies to the sound.”  However complex Bridge’s process in sp3, the result is also completely assessable.

“sp3” has been in choreographic development for over two and you can see it in the polish and naturalized precision by Bridge and her dancers Marie Brown, Ann-Marie Gover, Megan Wilson Stern, Zornitsa Stoyanova and Kat Sullivan. All in different ways, solely and together bringing their ‘Presence’ into this movement world.

The dancer’s stoic ‘mask’ is off right from the start when Stoyanova, holding hands with Bridge in the opening scene, curls her tongue out grotesquely.  Kneeled on the floor at a distance are Kat Sullivan and Megan Wilson Stern, jarringly manipulating their shoulders and arms, then carving out geometric movement with their torsos and limbs.  This is a motif that builds throughout the piece, intricate patterns with the dancers’ supine, their bodies calligraphic and in dramatic postures partnering the against the floor, and at times they seem to be floating in space.

Bridge accumulates ‘Pattern’ and establishing both technical artistry and idiosyncratic dance vocabulary that accumulates before our eyes. Bridge’s use of repetition is just hypnotic enough to build an ephemeral vocabulary, however cryptic, adding to the visual impact of the entire work. Bodylines collapsed in or are blurred, the ‘line’ of dance beauty redefined, facial expressions and hand signals that flash at various times, are convey anger, confusion and even fear toward a threatening and unstable world.

A central dramatic duet with Bridge and Kat Sullivan, in shadowy spotlights, bare-chested with a black line painted down the center of their bodies.  Price’s soundscape floats a sonic concussive wave that seems to bolt through their whole being. Their accelerating undulations getting more violent as they extend their torsos bodies back as if in a ritualized trance.  Dropping down to the floor they conclude the sequence each bowing their bodies skyward in a yogic arc.  Later, Bridge performs a riveting solo, with staccato minimalistic phrases, forward and reverse, reaching and collapsing, steeled and brittle.

Dancers eventually mark patterns over the entire space of the FringeArts theater space, which has never looked more cavernous, due to the sculptural lighting designs by Mark O’Malley, that essays a shadowy world of mazes, darkness one minutes or bathing the space with muted blue hues.  The dancers might be in full motion and there will be a blackout, seconds later they are in another part of the floor already in a different dance as lights come up on them.

One section, dubbed ‘loop’ and ‘evolve’ with the ensemble in a diagonal line, in rhythmic arm and foot patterns, and then during barely audible shifts in the score, some dancers go off the count.   Bridge and Price explained later that an eight count phrase is the base, four of the dancer dropping a count to a seven, two more going down to a six count, then they all loop back into sync because of the 56 count phrase is divisible by 6s and 7s.

Aside from nailing the Zen of that, at several other sections the dancers are distanced and from each other, yet executing mirror image unison work. Indeed, “sp3” has a quality of an art installation in terms of Bridge use of space and sustained stage composition in motion.

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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