Sharp Dance: A dramatic journey from despair to hope

by Jane Fries for The Dance Journal

Sharp Dance Company, a Philadelphia-based troupe, presented an appealing mixed-bill at the American Jewish History Museum on Saturday. Though small in number, the company’s dancers made a big splash with strong dancing that carried them through the evening.

The program opened with a series of three short pieces from the company’s repertoire, all of which were choreographed by artistic director Diane Sharp-Nachsin. The highlight was a solo, I thought of you again, danced by Miguel Quinones to the words of a poem written and read aloud (on a recording) by Sharp-Nachsin. In his earlier career, Quinones danced for many years with the famed New York Parsons Dance Company, including in “Caught” – the iconic Parsons’ piece where a soloist performs rapid jumps as a strobe light freezes the airborne images and the dancer appears to levitate in the air. Quinones is a performer with an engaging personality and technical dynamism, and a pleasure to see dancing with a local company.

The two other short pieces on the program shared an economical, yet seductive, theatricality. In the first of these, Blind Faith, Caroline Butcher, Sandra Davis, and Kate Lombardi are first seen with their bare backs facing the audience. They are draped in long skirts which are spread out across the entire width of the stage. Dancing to a song by Kate Bush, they manipulate the long swaths of fabric, creating intriguing visual designs. Rounding out the opening series, the trio is joined by Linnea Calzada-Charma for Woman’s Story – Part 2, set to music by Annie Lennox. The piece also begins with the dancer’s bare backs to the audience and features expansive, full-bodied movement fueled by a veiled emotionality. The women dance well together in both numbers, and what’s not to like about Kate Bush and Annie Lennox?

The main event of the evening was the longer length piece, 669 – choreographed by Sharp-Nachsin and inspired by the true story of Sir Nicholas Winton, who saved 669 Jewish children from dying in Nazi-occupied Prague. The cast was joined by a sixth member of Sharp Dance, Greg Anmuth, for an abstract retelling of the story. In the first segment, the dancers (costumed in long trench coats) portray the children’s anxious parents. As the sound of a clock ticks ominously in the background, they pace the stage and then prostrate themselves on the ground in profound devastation. They find the strength to rouse themselves to dance through their grief, and hauntingly come together in a circle to comfort one another. Lined up to face the audience, they remove their overcoats and street clothes; they are stripped down both literally and metaphorically.

669’s abstract choreography hints at the storyline: moving from the parents’ despair into a sequence where a mother must choose which of her two children to send to safety, and then through a jazzy interlude featuring Calzada-Charma as a seductress sent to spy on the rescue operation. In the final section, the entire cast portrays the multitude of saved children, and the mood becomes hopeful. Dancing to the percolating strains of the musical score by Liliyana Danieva, they make deep lunges towards the audience. The dancers seem to present a small offering from their outstretched hands, and thereby they establish a final, lingering connection with the audience.

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