Virtual Dance Recess – fun with Rhonda Moore and Ben Grinberg

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal

One of the breakouts hits of the 2020 Virtual Fringe is ‘Fun With Dick and Jane: working title’ a 40-minute film recorded in the FringeArts Sound Stage conceived and danced by Rhonda Moore and Ben Grinberg. It will be their first time partnering in what they set up as “a physical encounter between two bodies and two artists”, inspired by the kindergarten primer “Fun With Dick and Jane” that teaches children how to play, communicate, understand, and physically relate to each other.

Indeed, a primer now in the time of Covid, when we are forced to relearn some of those skills as we practice safe physical distancing and figure out other ways we can we again indeed – have fun and be together again.

Jane (Rhonda) is slain on the studio floor in a pink romper and a mask, warming up with supple limb extensions as Dick (Ben) enters in a blue baseball hat, mask, tee & jeans, locking into yoga-like flow technique.  A haunting Chopin polonaise floats in, but the film is sped up for a little comic relief as they state a few of their disparate choreographic notes. Rhonda undulates to the side as Ben locks into a steely handstand – all to be topsy-turvy in the interludes ala Dick & Jane’s CLIMB TIME!outs

Instead of the playground jungle gym, Ronda scales Ben in various precarious mounts. This is somewhat risky, as Rhonda laughs about “not being a 57- year old acrobat”. Jane wraps her legs around Dick’s neck and they become welded bodies, eventually dancing rhythmically and with abandon.

Improv, creative exchange, the overarching theme of remote performing and not being able to use the choreographic template of bodies touching prevails in their sculpturing, and use of physicality. There is never a problem for this very inventive, distinctly dynamic, dance duo.

Movement phrases are used to try to physically connect beyond an invisible barrier. Precarious positions, trying to reach each other, and critically, the literalness is not the core of the movement but instead more of a subtext. There are even several moves that strike as unsafe under the unknowable aspects of a highly transmissible virus. 

In-studio the other dance partner is the camera work by Kelly Orenshaw and Evelyn Shuker with editing by Orenshaw and Grinberg. These videographers skillfully filmed in a studio black box theater space (credit Shuker also for the fine lighting design) which can so easily look static on a small computer screen. The camera moves sustain spatial dimension and enhance the palpable dance chemistry between Moore and Grinberg.

Fun with Dick and Jane (a working title) hints at a larger work to come. Certainly, this version is already fertile dance ground, a completely engaging narrative arc choreographically, emotionally, and visually. Never an easy achievement in a docu-dance film.

And for audiences, this was a dance romper room that everyone will have fun with. Ben & Rhonda also filmed themselves talking about the project. Rhonda mentions that they have a day for everything to “come together in the studio or not”.

Even when Rhonda says “What are we doing” or at one- point Ben blurts out “this is bullshit” they are in the creative moment. “All I have are my relationships, my body, and what it does in the world. Fucking is not even that important anymore.” 

Ben admits that he has a crush on Rhonda, just as Dick had an obvious crush on Jane; and in both contexts, they didn’t have to say it.  Ben & Rhonda are very different dancers, who communicate choreographically in different languages. They are a joy to watch and along with movement alchemy between them that is just as luminous on a computer screen.

Fashion-forward, the dance couture for Jane is warm, witty, and fun. Whether she’s moving in a swirling summer lime green skirt or a hugging slit front black floral, it is dance stage perfection.  Ben is more basic in a slate-gray tee with UNARMED across the front.

These dance scenes are witty, goofy, and sketchy movement concepts, and under the circumstances bravely danced. Fun With Dick and Jane is funzies for all and is so easy for everyone to dance read. There is even a breakout jazz/funk/rap sequence with Moore on vocals for a Dick and Jane disco-y-dance down.

In the finale, Jane stands securely on Dick’s shoulders, arms raised to the heavens, reciting a cosmic benediction about the circle of love.  They face each other, and struggle to pull each other closer, with faces down, and their foreheads pressed together with delicate precision.

‘Fun With Dick & Jane: working title’ is available through the remainder of the FringeArts Festival. Donations received are split between the artists and the Black and Brown Workers Co-Op.
https://fringearts.com/event/fun-with-dick-jane-working-title/

About Lewis J. Whittington

Lewis Whittington is an arts journalist based in Philadelphia. He started writing professionally in the early 90s as a media consultant for an AIDS organizations and then as a theater and dance reviewer for the Philadelphia Gay News. Mr. Whittington has covered dance, theater, opera and classical music for the Philadelphia Inquirer and City Paper.

Mr. Whittington’s arts profiles, features, and stories have appeared in The Advocate, Dance International, Playbill, American Theatre, American Record Guide, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, EdgeMedia, and Philadelphia Dance Journal. Mr. Whittington has received two NEA awards for journalistic excellence.

In addition to interviews with choreographers, dancers, and artistic directors from every discipline, he has interviewed such music luminaries from Ned Rorem to Eartha Kitt. He has written extensively on gay culture and politics and is most proud of his interviews with such gay rights pioneers as Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.

Mr. Whittington has participated on the poetry series Voice in Philadelphia and has written two (unpublished) books of poetry. He is currently finishing Beloved Infidels, a play about the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. His editorials on GLBTQ activism, marriage equality, gay culture and social issues have appeared in Philadelphia Inquirer, City Paper, and The Advocate.

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