by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal
On a frigid Saturday night after Valentine’s Day, a couple of hundred people ventured out in costume for choreographer Brian Sanders JUNK’s company fundraiser SNOWBALL Down. The event was held in the converted industrial studio space off of 2nd & Spring Garden Streets, where JUNK has been rehearsing since December after relocating from their longtime venue at Shiloh Church in South Philadelphia.
JUNK installed rails for aerial equipment, and in the entrance hall, a spacey tunnel where there was art for the silent auctions, bar stations, and buffet table. The main staging area was redesigned as an arena with café tables and platforms and a convenient ice sculpture fountain with honeyed whiskey flowing.
The costume theme this year was ‘Down’ as in feathery white outfits, and Sanders was shaking a tail feather in a plucked plumed onesie and flared headdress. This bouncy multi-generational crowd of ardent JUNK supporters filled the space and were game for a midwinter escape dance party.
In brief announcements, Ronda Goldfein, JUNK board member and director of the AIDS Law Project, noted that Sanders was a creative force in the city of Philadelphia. and reminded the crowd how all of the arts are more important than ever in our depressing cultural time.
To kick off the night Sanders announced his upcoming collaboration with The Philadelphia Orchestra scheduled for November during an all Tchaikovsky ballet score program of Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker, and Swan Lake. Sanders told the crowd that the previews were “sketches on fairies with a unicorn thrown in …ideas I am working on for Orchestra. Still very much fleshing things out.” And he thanked JUNK supporters for allowing him to “give us permission to do what we do and ….I always try to do new things.”
In 2019 one of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s most successful concerts was a collaboration with Sanders, who choreographed a dance-acrobatic ballet to the score to Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Such fusion of the arts with a live orchestra in Verizon Hall has produced some shaky results in the past. However, JUNK’s Romeo & Juliet proved to be a bona fide collaborative hit with orchestra audiences.
Sanders also announced that he would be creating a pas de deux for Pennsylvania Ballet dancers Sterling Baca and Nayara Lopes (who were in the crowd) for this year’s Shut Up & Dance benefit for MANNA in March.
The VIP reception was in full swing by 7:15, and an hour later a full-on dance party was in motion because of the ripe pulse of club music steering everyone to the dance floor after their stop at the bar. Some costumes right out of the movie Showgirls oscillated on the periphery, gents in sailor dress whites sailing by, and a moving mosaic of stiletto heels, club togs, mummer-drag, industrial whites, action dancewear with accouterment, and of course the classic winter Athena gown or two. The cobalt blue lighting bathed the crowd and conjured some fabulous wonderland imagery.
The JUNK performances were spread out over the three-hour event. The first introduced by Mauri Walton as the Wizard (with daygo thunderbolts on her body) performing a voodoo-esque dance, before flinging herself to the floor. The music then shifted to a sensual soundscape as JUNK dancers Kate Cohen, Kate Corbett, and Kelly Trevlyn appear in a tight circle for a series of torso interlocks and geometric backbends.
An hour later, the trio also now in bikinis and translucent body art, mount a trapeze that looked like a steel outline of a Strawberry. The trio weaves their bodies in precarious arabesques, suspended balletic lines and yogic variants, the rig speeding up and slowing down for a hypnotic effect. Completely hidden of course is the fact that the aerial choreography is equal parts pure strength moves and the choreographer’s sculptural dance-acrobatics.
The dance finale was highlighted by the explosive aerial gymnastics of soloist Avi Wolf Barouchoff, with a degree of difficulty off the charts. Barouchoff dangling from a cord slung from ceiling rails in a series of cyclonic flying pirouettes, body inversions, and air-slicing vaults. The dancer was popping up throughout the event on the dance floor with some party attendees tossing off some flips and turns funk.
The event was winding down with the announcements of the fundraising raffle winners and silent auction artwork, and the announcements of most DOWN costume awards were presented by TaDonna and Christophina (in an illuminated white bouffant that just seemed to grow throughout the night).
The only snow we’ve had in town has been a passing coating or two, so the faux snowballs (3 for $5) that finished the event gave the crowd the chance for a fierce inside snowball fight, probably the only one being hurled in Philly so far this year. No surprise to anyone that Sanders knows how to throw a fabulous dance fundraiser without having it interrupted much with fundraising business.
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