Play at Every Age – Ninth Planet presents homeworld

by Gina Palumbo for The Dance Journal | photos by Kate Raines

Today’s stressful climate manifests itself in overwhelm and the general sense of longing for the monastic wonder of childhood. Ninth Planet was founded by Sam Tower, Nia Benjamin, Katie Croyle and Jeremy Gable, and together, they have created the perfect antidote. A mixture of art, theater and movement dispels the chaos and offers a momentary retreat to babyhood. A nautical atmosphere inspires play and curiosity for the unknown. The natural inclination to explore is given a place, and it is in homeworld.

On October 12th at The Painted Bride, parents and caregivers with toddlers in tow were not ushered to folding chairs before a stage but into a spacious tent with plush pillows. Cool lighting and soothing music enveloped the tent, creating the ethereality of the ocean. Company member Eliana Fabiyi was wrapped up in a blanket, resembling sea rocks, co-creator Nia Benjamin hid shyly behind a hand-made coral reef and performer Tess Kunik slowly inched her way out of what appeared to be a cave. A ring of kelp swayed quietly as blue and pink lighting waxed and waned. Three bottom-dwellers brought us through their morning routine, leaving babies spellbound and weary parents relieved.

Each dancer had a distinct personality. One shy, the other cranky and the third analytical, they began to display their temperaments. Benjamin was darting from view of the watchful eyes around her, Fabiyi was grunting, as if to ward off any unwelcome guests, and Kunik stayed hidden in a cave until a hand appeared, perhaps to investigate the room for imminent danger. A tiny audience member was so moved that he changed his seat to the middle of the dancers, just to get a closer look.

Gentle movements and their repetition created a pacifying rhythm for the babies to groove to. The first part of the performance began with simple extensions of the arms and legs, a faultless movement for a room still drowsy in the morning hours. The dancers concentrated on the effect of each movement, rather than the transition of one movement to the next. The motifs experimented with were quaking, extending and mirroring. Certain combinations of sound and movement left the babies mystified and wanting to know more.

With these tools began a game of interplay, encouraging interaction between the dancers and the audience. As the electronic soundscape transitioned from serenity to kinetic anarchy, the inhibition in the room melted away.  The dancers paused their quiet movement to awaken the solar plexus; the babies responded with wiggles and giggles. The adults were encouraged to be equally as active, and move around the room to understand a new and different view. Adult and child thrived, as flowers do with warmth and water.

One child wanted to meet everyone, and another was content with the sound of crinkling that the floor made when he scratched it. The others just sat observing the lights and sounds.

Perception of the world varies from person to person; what counts is that we always enjoy the view.

About Gina Palumbo

Gina Palumbo is a native of Philadelphia and has a passion for the arts. She has received her B.A. in Dance from DeSales University in Center Valley. She has been spending post-graduate life practicing ballet and yoga, as well as working in a library as an assistant. She resides in Northeast Philadelphia with her mother Joanne, her brother Anthony, her Nonna Carmela, and her pet bunny, Phyllis.

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