BIGKid Dance

Review of BIGKid Dance Cannonball/FringeArts Show

I huddled with a group of people outside the doors of the Icebox Space, surrounded by books and pamphlets from other artists in and around the Crane Arts building. Posters for a myriad of other shows were glazed to the looming double doors we would soon enter, and the energy was palpable. People were already talking with one another about shows they’ve seen, or shows they plan to see – it is, after all, Fringe festival season, when September in Philadelphia is taken over by independent artists of all natures. Lending a huge supporting hand this year is the Cannonball Festival, an offshoot of Fringe managed by Almanac Dance Theatre Company, producing more than sixty-five full length shows between the two venues, the Icebox Space and the MAAS building, both located in Fishtown. Tonight’s show is one of theirs – Mark Caserta’s BIGKid Dance is putting on their evening-length piece, it’s better when you close your eyes. And not to go against what I’ve been cautioned, but this show is definitely better with your eyes open.

It’s better when you close your eyes is an hour-long frenzied sweep of athletic, gestural choreography interspersed with intimate and vulnerable moments that allow the dancers to shine. Even in their low points, the audience feels compelled to hold their breath, waiting and watching for the next crescendo. Save for the beginning and end of the pierce (and one shining moment in the center that I’ll get to later), the company – composed of Chip Alexandria, kira shiina, Emma Olivier, Roderick Phifer, Eduardo Jimenez Cabrera, and Mikey Morado – are only ever onstage in small groupings, pairings, or solos. Articulations of the body – “head chest shoulder chest shoulder,” duos yell in unison – are explored in varying duos, but nobody ever stays for long; the duets melt from person to person. Morado carries a wired telephone from place to place on stage, eventually mimicking the gestures in his body, making phone hands which transform into shyly covering or covertly revealing the body a la twentieth century pinup girls. shiina joins in, preening themselves in a self-conscious way before giving a winning smile to the audience. Phifer drags over a folding chair, settling down with a wide-legged stance as Morado and shiina pose for him – he throws blue paper hearts, a physicalization of love (or likes) in a more immediate form than currency, which the two dancers scurry to pick up. As they leave the stage, Morado hands a lone heart off to an audience member. “I love you,” shiina says later straight to the audience as a cacophony of movement happens behind her. “I love you. Love you. Love you. I love you.” But the audience – and the other dancers – stay silent. Out of fear? Or out of necessity?

Caserta’s piece, carefully choreographed by himself and the company, lays bare the relationship between the self and the other in our desperately-trying-to-be-post-pandemic world. It’s hard to be in community. It’s hard to see the other when you’re concerned with your own wellbeing. And it’s hard to connect when everyone is walking around, sliding from one phrase to the next with little to no eye contact. Alexandria embodies this sense of the isolated self so well in a beautiful moment that draws the whole company together. Adorned in a sequined-blue dress, she takes center stage with her arms wide above her head, spotlight shining off each sequin. She alone creates a cacophony – not of movement, but of sound, as her arms rub against the body of her dress, reveling in the possibilities of the self. Later, the party dress is traded for a simple blue unitard as she approaches the group. As they lay on the floor, gazing at her standing in their midst, hands delicately come to the podium she stands on and rotates it slowly. Alexandria’s gaze switches between her castmates and the audience – look, she seems to say. You too can have this sense of neverending love. But the company doesn’t stop her slow descent to the ground, just continues to spin until she’s prone on the floor, the pedestal unmovable. After a pause, they leave her there to find the next part of the dance.

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