Úumbal collective 5_by Johanna Austin

Úumbal celebrates Philly’s dance language

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal | photo credit: Joanna Austin

Úumbal: Nomadic Choreography for Inhabitants, already a highlight of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, took place when traffic was blocked on several streets in South Philly for Mexican based choreographer Mariana Arteaga.

Arteaga had worked with French choreographer Sylvain Émard’s staging of Le Grand Continental in Mexico City. Emard’s Le Grande for FringeArts had been performed in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in both 2012 and 2018.  Arteaga developed Úumbal in response to the disappearance of 43 college students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico in 2014. The students had been presumed murdered by drug gangs or authorities. The Mexican government repressed citizen protests of the crimes. Arteaga’s use of indigenous dances was a way of choreographing freedom and “making a collective body visible, recovering the streets with the social power of dance.”

With over 125 participants in three performances, Úumbal’s premiere in Philly turned into a joyous a happening in its first installment on September 7th, starting with the fact that traffic was rerouted over a snaking processional that flooded a South Philly neighborhood with dancing in the streets.

FringeArts began organizing the performances in April with video documentation of Philadelphians ‘donating’ their steps.  Arteaga and her Úumbal team then developed the choreography.  Rehearsals were held twice a week for participants starting in July, with added rehearsal cycles on weekends leading up to the performances.

Dancers from Hip Hop Fundamentals and the SEAMAAC Neighborhood Elders (for those vintage Lindy moves) joined the pedestrian cast of over 125, in separate groups of around 50 participants per performance. The indigenous energy of Úumbal (a Mayan word for ‘Balance’) has multiple dance evocations. In Philly, with such a fertile ground for multicultural, generational, ethnic and an altogether liberated movement, a true mosaic was created representing the population.

R & B, Funk, hip-hop, alt-urban grooves were provided by the traveling DJ stations on wheels. Hundreds of dance fans gathered at Shunk & 5th Streets in South Philly for the hour-long traveling performance.  And it was immediately a dance happening as the ‘Phase One’ participants rounded the corner and were greeted by hundreds of spectators in the streets and hanging out on their neighborhood stoops.

The dancers led the crowd to their next dance station, but before that, they led the procession through a serene, busted up alleyway as the dancers signaled the crowd to join in by clapping their chests, and soft humming on cue that was also accompanied by the rustling of the wind through some tall leafy trees.

At the intersection of Vollmer St and 5th St., there was a series of group dance challenges and even some pop-up breakdancing. Christian Walker, aka “Mach Phive,” Steve “Believe” Lunger and Jay Jao aka BBoy Rukkus, took command in the center ring with some Philly vintage and acrobatic solos with explosive flips. The trio made way for two junior dancers from the crowd that had everyone going wild in the streets.

The dancers and spectators then wound through some narrow curvy streets to gather in Mifflin Park, which was already full of families enjoying the day and the mist fountain. The Úumbal dancers became a playground frieze of bodyscapes, before moving onto the final section onto the sidewalk for some chorus line dancing. Featured were some quotes from vintage 60’s line-dancing, some 70’s disco flashdance brio, some Soul City walking moves circa 1986. and 90’s punk jumps and vogue posing. Úumbal was a celebratory reminder that Philly was and always will be a land of a thousand evolving dances.

Úumbal is a free event and will be performed again on  Sept 13, 7pm and Sept. 14, 4pm with the procession starting on 5th Street between Shunk and Oregon.
More information and even a playlist visit –  https://fringearts.com/event/uumbal-nomadic-choreography-for-inhabitants/

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