Danube/Schuykill: Crossing Borders, Discovering Parallels, and Dancing the Political

by Courtney Colón for The Dance Journal

A man crouches on a small piece of rock jutting up from the stage, his back turned to the audience. He watches scenes flicker rapidly by on a small TV. A hush slips its way through the crowd. This moment of stillness begins Philadelphia Dance Project’s Danube/Schuykill, the byproduct of 2018 BILATERAL: a three-week creative residency exchange between Philadelphia and Budapest. Presenting two guest artists from Budapest and a diverse group of former Philly BILATERAL artists, the evening provided a lesson on making art in politically charged times. Nine distinct works highlighted the parallels between disparate geographic locations, dance communities, and contemporary politics.

Jungwoong Kim’s work-in-progress (2018) opened the show. Part movement, part spoken word, part instrumental sound score, Kim, along with poet Michelle Myers and musician Benjamin Bennett, explored the immigrant experience and the impact of language. Words were mumbled, shouted at the audience, and used as an impetus for movement. Kim played his character like an instrument slowly going out of tune, whether crouched on a rock (a symbol of national soil?), gyrating sinuously through space, or rocking on the floor, as Myers and Bennett produced a cacophony of sounds with their mouths, instruments, and by playing with wooden word tiles.

Megan Mazarick’s Boundary was technically impressive, displaying Mazarick’s stop-motion-animation movement and comedic undertones. Whether gliding through inversions and impossibly-unending turns to the Hungarian national anthem, or juddering clay-mation-like through a phrase about the American bald eagle, Mazarick commanded the audience’s attention.

The interactive Declaration of Independence by Kata Juhasz included movement, monologue, and a call and response discourse with the audience. Juhasz, from Budapest, investigated the politics of culture, knowledge, and power, talking of childhood games in Hungary and passing through customs in airports later in life. At customs, she must declare her citizenship and role in society. While disrobing, talking, and dancing, she declares herself a mother, artist, and citizen of Hungary where a man whose actions are increasingly authoritarian sits as Prime Minister.

The cheeky Love is like a Butterfly by Gabrielle Revlock was highly entertaining, drawing laughs from the audience by cleverly using several props and Revlock’s signature hoops to charm the room. Words were highlighted as meaningful as Revlock introduced and read book after book. The last image of her solo was a poignant one, as she transformed these books into birds flying into the sunset-towards freedom.

After intermission, we were introduced to footage taken by Nichole Canuso during her 2015 residency in Hungary. This collection of footage examined both geography and language. Immediately after the film, Canuso performed an excerpt of an evening-length work, titled Midway Avenue. A moving memoir, she gave the audience a tour of her childhood home, outlined with duct tape onstage. Each room held personal narrative, each narrative an archive of familial memory set against backdrops of ever-changing presidencies and political landscapes.

Choreographed by Tori Lawrence and danced by Ellie Goudie-Averill and Jungwoong Kim, JUNKSPACE was a commentary on the consequences of modernization. Utilizing the space as movement research for an evening-length work, Goudie and Kim danced the same steps carefully out of sync while musicians Cole Highnam and Seth Wenger provided a live musical score.

In A Piece of Me for Your Peace of Mind, Guillermo Ortega and Eun Jung Choi moved through a fluid duet so effortless and buoyant to seemingly be underwater. Together they pulled, pushed, and rolled over each other, sharing weight and building a tension between them that grew in scope with every minute they were onstage.

Finally, Patrik Kelemen’s solo Celestine-heavenly apparitions and other unearthly phenomena mesmerized. Kelemen’s otherworldly machinations made him seem as if he was another species entirely as he moved, uncanny, across the stage. This type of supernatural transformation brought up questions surrounding the visibility and invisibility of ourselves and others.

The artists of Danube/Schuykill demonstrated how dance can become the embodiment of any political zeitgeist while highlighting that it is in exchange where dance becomes most meaningful. I have been reminded that art is dialogue, and that movement-something that has bound humanity together for thousands of years-can transgress any boundary and find new meaning and significance within any agenda.


***photo courtesy of Philadelphia Dance Projects

One reply on “Danube/Schuykill: Crossing Borders, Discovering Parallels, and Dancing the Political”

  1. Thanks, Courtney, for this lovely review. You last paragraph particularly aligns with the intent and purpose of the BILATERAL Exchange. Thanks for articulating your insight so well. Terry Fox, PDP Director

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