by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal
Choreographer Jessica Warchal-King returned to Philadelphia February 22, for a one-night-only performance of her ballet HOMEbody, which she premiered last fall at Alvernia University in Reading.
The CHI Movement Arts Center on 9th street in South Philadelphia was Warchal-King’s creative home when she danced for Kun Yang-Lin /Dancers for seven years, and where she co-founded and curated the InHale Performance Series, a platform for emerging area dance artists. Warchal-King welcomed the sold-out audience with a few comments about being back in Philadelphia with her JCKW Dance Lab dancers Serena Kabakoff, Erin Coffey, Kyleigh Kover and Laura Baehr.
The concert began with a screening of a mini-documentary film by Jake Buczeski about the in-studio creative process. Serena Kabakoff stated that for her the ballet is “ultimately, home equals body, my body…. the work of this piece is to feel safe in my body.” One of the younger of the dancers, Kyleigh Kover, emphasized that “Home is so different for everybody.” Warchal-King described her work on the piece as a “collage of all of the different ways that she has experienced, perceived, loved and has been frustrated by home.” She goes on to add that “there are five women on stage, who are all different…in age and life experience, bringing different stories….and shared experiences that are hard to talk about.”
The actual live performance started in a flood of shadowy blue light, Warchal-King appearing to dance her solo piece, Shed, set to introspective piano music by composer Jude Eden. It is a serenely meditative composition with adagio movement that echoes her years dancing with choreographer, Kun-Yang Lin, and which crucially is not in any way derivative.
Warchal-King offers inventive neoclassical moments with sharp unison jumps, lithe transitional steps, and dramatic lifts frame the individual stories of the dancers. A steely solo danced by Kabakoff, stated many of the movement themes with balletic fusion and grounded expressionism, literally and figuratively. At the end of Kabakoff’s hypnotic performance, Warchal-King enters the space and wraps her arms protectively around Serena.
Composer Paul Fejko’s score is atmospheric, a meditative orchestral of cello, piano, percussion, and organ in an arrangement that just flows with strong progressions as does Warchal-King’s choreography.
For those not familiar with Warchal-King’s work, this piece exemplifies her strong sense of collaborative energy with her dancers. The ballet admirably sustains a cohesive dramatic arc over 35 minutes, with palpable synergy among the dancers.
Cryptic hand gestures shared from one dance to the next and some yogic vocabulary and positions could easily look like studio exercises. Warchal-King is particularly inventive with trio combinations, lifts and group sculpturing.
Toward the end of the work, Laura Baehr dances an exquisite solo that starts with arabesque in motion to a penche tilt and then melts to the ground in anguish, to rise again with powerful control. The last section of of the piece has the ensemble in slow Sufi spin variations as the lights fade.
As compelling as Warshal-King’s subtext is in HOMEbody, actually the choreography and the performances were dynamic enough that you really didn’t need to know anything about it to be completely drawn in. And just as much as anything, that is the mark of a choreographer who knows that in the end the dance is the thing that ultimately drives it all home.
photo credit: Wall Photography