Brian Sanders’ JUNK flies high & lowdown at Shiloh

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal | Photo credit: Ted Lieverman

After seven years, choreographer Brian Sanders reanimates his dancing zombies in a reboot of his 2011 Fringe Festival hit, reincarnated as “Dancing Dead IPX”, his sardonic meditations on death and dying. Sanders is back as the loveable gravedigger and has cut out some previously lumbering sections and added a new one that is a more choreographically witty, wily and giddily dance macabre to match his haunting soundtrack of graveyard hit songs from the 70s.

JUNK’s troupe of six decaying undead dancers- Teddy Fatscher, Kelly Trevlyn, Chelsea Prunty and newbie JUNK dancers Neimo Whittley, Avi Wolf-Borouchoff, Amelia Estrada- are still the most daring acrobatics in their new digs in the historic Shiloh Baptist Church on Christian St. The main staging area in the rustic grandeur of the main hall converted to a maze of a graveyard and is utilized to full effect by Sanders’ and frequent JUNK collaborator/set designer Pedro Silva.

Dancing Dead IPX (Immersive Performance eXperience) ticket includes the pre-show that includes scenes in various rooms before the main event. The pre-show features some down and dirty dancing by JUNK’s troupe of six. Audiences members are led to a room with chromatic tilework and sturdy inn tables which the dancers jump on for some spirited acrobatics and disco/salsa flash dancing, some rowdy boot stomping. The highlight is a sensual duet by Teddy Fatscher and Kelly Trevlyn full of intricate lifts to Tom Jones 70s ballad ‘I Who Have Nothing.’

We move to another room with some creepy abandoned props behind plastic curtains, a voyeuristic tableau as dancers swirl in a cryptic dance to a Carpenter’s classic. Then the crowd moves on the open bar for further immersion and Avi Wolf Borouchoff is on balcony bathed in glitter lights ala gaybar go-go boys circa 1973.

The bar is open and for many, the experience becomes even more immersive for the mainstage show as Sanders’ shuffles on as the gravedigger with his wheelbarrow and pulls out dances a skeleton to slow dance with while Barbra Streisand belts out “Evergreen.” Sanders then lifts out Chelsey Prunty and places her carefully on a stone slab, then pulls Neimo Whittley out of a shallow grave places him beside her. Just as Roberta Flake is whispering the final lyrics of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” Sanders floats off with his barrow and the corpses bolt upward.

The lights go out and the troupe of dancers suddenly appear are on cords hanging 50 ft. from the rafters and in between the zombie spasms they around like pendulums, then pirouette upside down at mach speed as Judy Collins’ “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” plays. Later, more ghostly aerial fly as Whittley and Estrada are catapulted on ropes in billowing white gowns to the upper chambers of the room set aloft like spectrals in motion.

Frequent partners Teddy Fatscher and Kelly Trevlyn previewed Sanders’ rigor mortis waltz to John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” (You Fill Up My Senses) wowing the crowd at this year’s Shut Up and Dance benefit. But it can only be truly appreciated on this set. Sanders’ hilarious sound effects of rigor mortis in extremis with bones breaking as they try to waltz.

The most poetic moments come when the troupe strips down to skivvies and are entwined on trapeze platforms to execute Sanders’ signature ballet-acrobatics scored to Carly Simon’s bittersweet ballad “That’s the Way I Always Heard It Should Be.”

The zombies make their way to a set of bleachers for the group finale to Captain and Tennille’s hit “Love Will Keep Us Together” which has the troupe dropping on the crypt steps obviously depicting the night disco died. Sanders gets tumbled by the gang during “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” With bodies left unburied, the gravedigger takes a final spin around the garden path in sporting his vintage mirror aviators, pedaling his banana seat bike and cruising gently into this good night.

Pedro Silva’s graveyard environs, catwalks and suspension apparatus are integrated so perfectly for the audience to take in the unique gothic architecture, not to mention the phantom-esque pipe organ, dark shadows eaves and arched skylights.

Dancing Dead IPX performances through June 2nd at Shiloh Baptist Church, 21st and Christian Streets Philadelphia. Go to www.briansandersjunk.com for complete information.

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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