On a cold Philadelphia night in late February, the CHI Movement Arts Center in South Philadelphia was filled to audience capacity for the first time in two years for the return of the Inhale Performance Series number 48. There was a distinct air of dance occasion and community as the audience members assembled in the lobby and the dancers from the eight troupes warmed up to Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ and Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass.’
CHI Mac is home of Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers, and Wally Carbonell, a longtime member of the company, curated an altogether spirited and substantive program of Philadelphia and New York artists. In her opening remarks, Carbonell (dazzling in a bellbottom jumpsuit circa 1969) expressed her appreciation to have “real bodies on the stage and in the audience tonight.” And most everybody made the most of it.
The Inhale series is loosely structured with ten-minute dance pieces, but on this night, some works extended to 15-20. Lighting and sound design by Daniel Belquer added visual and dimension to CHI Mac’s studio space. This return performance features an impressive range of narrative, abstract, neomodern, mixed genre, and multi-cultural dance.
Choreographer Yuki Ishiguro’s solo ‘Inaudible Crisis’ opened the concert in a high dramatic note and stunning performance by Olivia Wood. Set to mood music by Nils Frahn and Olafur Arnolds, Wood, seated on a folding chair, rocking and extending the body, expressing a range of emotions with each rise of her torso. At one point, she was folding her body through the space and between the seatback. The physicality struck as a primal movement scream, which Wood performed with steely control and technique.
Mijkalena Smith’s ‘The Burden of Two Souls’ is set to a Chopin prelude with Dancers Lindsey Gamhart and Destiny Nguyen, dressed in matching outfits. They begin a childlike duet mirroring each other’s movement. Then as the music gets more somber, the dancers take a turn in more intricate solos with the other watching or turning away. Eventually, they come close and move around each other bodies in more abstract choreographic language. Both dancers unlock their characters just enough to keep you guessing at their secret language.
Meena Chen’s solo ‘Hidden Dragon, The Awakening ‘is set to percussive techno music by Julius Balisanyuka-Smith. Chen starts in kneeled position, executing clockwork arm movements, and gestures and undulations the strike as a satire of Asia exoticism. The music shifts and Chen wields a wooden sword and executes a thrilling sword dance. With each pass, the choreography becomes more intricate. At times, Chen drops to the floor in sculptural frieze and then resumes movement into a mocking erotic dance.
French choreographer Faustine Lavie’s ‘Outburst‘ set to noir-alt music by Wardruna choreographed for the ensemble of nine dancers who stretched out in regimental formation in flowing lines over CHI’s studio space for the static opening, dancing regimental minimalist steps in ritualized repeats. One by one, the dancer breaks out in paroxysms of fury. The segment gives way to canon lines of ensemble leaps and tumbles. A lead dancer is singled out and seems to be trying to escape but is engulfed by the others, then rises out of the mound of bodies. The second act of male-female partners offers torturous lift sequences. The intensity of the Lavie movement continues to suggest a narrative. The story is hard to unpack. Still, the quicksilver thrust and ensemble energy in the end section make up the elusive plot.
Human Landscape Dance/ Malcolm Shute ‘Bookends’ opens with dancers dressed in bone white outfits. Malcolm Shute and Alexander Short are the bookended couple in semi-yogic variations on the floor and rolling around to music by Chopin. Their bodies are in dreamlike adagio movements. Their entwinement becomes fluid bodyscapes of such tenderness and intimacy. They suggest a couple that has been together through everything and are still discovering new human landscapes, physical and otherwise.
During their performance, unexpected, muffled thuds coming from above in moments sounded menacing, and one wondered if it was part of this scene. Still, it turned out it wasn’t and otherwise didn’t distract the performers from their moving duet.
Ani/MalayaWorks Dance/ ‘Sugod!!! consisted of excerpts from choreographer Ani Gavino collaborating with Malaya Ulan and E Fajardo Canlas for an upcoming combined dance-film and performance project.
The 15-minute vignette featured dances interfaced with film projections and voiceover conversations. Sugod translated to English, means dash, lunge, plunge depending on the context. Gavino’s dance scenes navigate their heritage and ‘otherness’ as first and second-generation immigrants. All three have soulful solos on these themes. A rainstick trio dance is symbolic of communal unity. An intimate mother and daughter duet between Gavino and Ulan rounded out this program.
Choreographer Doron Perk’s ‘Pedestrian Ballet’ is a quartet dance set to jaunty jazz music from the Danielle Friedman Trio and danced by Perk, Nat Wilson, Olga Rabetskaya, and Katie Meyers. Perk’s barefoot ballet is just as free-flowing as the music. The quartet tosses off a breezy pas de bourrée or a round of group jetes with some classic and feral. How about a tap combination or two that sets up unfussy partnering and joyous pas de deux just for the fun of it.
That same free spirit extended to the final group, Checkmate Experience/’Move for Move’ by choreographer Eric Wood (Mr. B Eazy), dancing to generic (uncredited) rap. The Hip-Hop trio consisted of Wood, Kevin Harris (Azari), and Stephanie Vasta. Wood mixing old-school break and pop/lock with wave moves. The trio’s sweet Hip-Hop flashdance was just a bit too brief.