by Winfield Maben for The Dance Journal
As a new transplant to Philadelphia, I didn’t quite know what to expect as I sat in the slowly filling upper room of Franky Bradley ’s on Thursday night. The patrons filtering in from the bustling downstairs room were greeted by a stage bathed in pink and purple light, seasonally appropriate as this was to be the second annual Valentine’s Day performance by Matter Movement Group, Cupid’s Funeral. Nearly two and a half hours later I left the establishment, delighted to have spent the evening in good company, observing fantastic performers at the top of their game.
Cupid’s Funeral finds itself somewhere between a concert dance showcase and a Valentine’s Day cabaret and featured numerous pieces from Matter Movement Group’s repertoire as well as brief set from musician George Engel Brooks and two separate drag performances by Philly Drag Queen Zsa Zsa St. James, coming together to provide the audience with an experience that delighted and enthralled over and over again.
Structurally, the evening was separated into four parts with brief intermissions between. Each part consisted of several acts or pieces, punctuated by host Christ Reeves who did a fabulous job keeping the audience in good spirits with his quick wit during the sometimes lengthy transitions required to set up the various props and aerial apparatuses utilized throughout the performances.
The first of the four sections served as an introduction to the evening’s performances and featured both the aforementioned George Engel Brooks as well as an excerpt from 2018’s Unhinged which was converted to a burlesque number and performed by MMG’s Sarah Warren. The number was highly theatrical, blending a languid sensuality with moments of stark vulnerability. This contrast resulted in an engaging piece which provided a brief glimpse into the life of the character portrayed by Warren and left the audience to speculate at the larger picture implied by her performance.
After a brief intermission, the night’s performances began in earnest with the first selection of works, all of which premiered in the first performance of Cupid’s Funeral. Three of the pieces, performed by MMG company members, focused heavily on partnering, props, and aerial apparatuses. The technique and mastery of said apparatuses displayed by the company were stunning. Especially impressive was the way the aerial performances managed to capture the full attention of the busy, talkative audience in such a crowded space. Standouts from this section included a piece in which company founder Teddy Fatscher who hung suspended from a spinning mattress in the midst of a steamy trio (or ménage à trois as it was described by Nick Reeves) and Dead Bride, a piece which blended macabre humor with highly technical acrobatics and break dancing. The latter was notable for the effect it had on the audience, who were one moment howling with laughter and the next sitting in stunned silence. The section concluded with a lip-synching performance by Zsa Zsa St. James which provided even more fun in the spirit of the holiday.
The evening’s third section consisted of a variety of different works including another excerpt from 2018’s Unhinged, an excerpt from a work in progress titled Jungle, and Sad Cat, a delightfully funny solo performed by company member Olivia Wood. While perhaps not as thematically consistent as the second section, the third section excelled in showing the breadth and depth of MMG and its dancers. While I was unable to see Unhinged back in September, I now wish I had. The excerpt shown portrayed an eerie, almost otherworldly perspective on contemporary society; and touched on themes of isolation, frustration, objectification, and dehumanization in a way that was both engaging and visceral through the movement on stage. Jungle showcased the raw talent on display within the company, featuring a solo by Fatscher on an aerial bar. The piece was stark, bare, and primal in its energy with little to distract from the raw strength and skill on display. And finally, Sad Cat showcased the sense of humor present within the group. Leaving the audience in stitches while Wood soloed, with total feline mastery, to a sound-score based on “Sad Cat Diary” (a viral internet sensation).
The fourth and final segment of the evening’s performances began with another lip sync performance by Zsa Zsa St. James which traded the playfulness of her first piece for intensity and vulnerability that left the crowd in a frenzy. Co-founder Kelly Trevlyn performed the evening’s second aerial bar piece which again showcased the strength and talent on display in MMG. The solo was focused and pointed, barely giving the audience a chance to absorb what was happening before launching into the next set of movements. Mikhail Kelevra, who had performed in Dead Bride earlier in the program, again showcased his blend of athleticism and comedy in a piece which utilized a set of rocking chairs as a vehicle for choreographic innovation. The closing number was an in your face, bombastic piece featuring most of the performers from the evening. The choreography was sassy, synchronistic, and carried a clear and poignant thematic message in the dancers’ rejection of a showboating, handsy “pig” (portrayed by Fatscher in a rubber pig mask), audience reception was immense and it seems this piece was the perfect way to close out the evening.
Throughout the evening, I struggled to find a thematic thread which linked the various performances together. However, in his closing remarks to the audience, Teddy Fatscher said something that flipped a switch within me. He proclaimed; “It doesn’t matter who you’re loving as long as you love yourself”. And that to me was the throughline I had been searching for. Each piece in Cupid’s Funeral highlighted an aspect of love whether that be sexual love, self-love, playful love, etc. etc. Through a night of dance, comedy, theatrics, and music MMG was able to foster a sense of community among the patrons of Franky Bradley’s, which in its own way is a sort of love. Despite all my other praise, I feel that in and of itself was the real takeaway of this performance, that as a community the audience, performers, and everyone else involved were able to relate to each other on a base human level predicated on the idea of love.