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Philadanco! (The Philadelphia Dance Company)

Dark subjects danced by excellent, personable performers from the Philadelphia-based company in four recent works, three of them New York premieres.

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Janine Beckles and Joe Gonzales in a scene from Philadanco’s production of Thang Dao’s “Folded Prism” (Photo credit: Julianne Harris)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Philadanco! (why that pesky exclamation point?), the Philadelphia-based modern dance troupe directed by its founder, Joan Myers Brown, reappeared with its dark-hued repertory for a short season at the Joyce Theater.

The theme running through the four works presented, three of them New York premieres, was of sadness and anger.  Even “Folded Prism” by Thang Dao, an abstract dance work, had an unsettled ambiance.  The cast of nine, dressed in Natasha Guruleva’s pale, form-fitting costumes, were initially found in a tight group, occasionally breaking up into quick solos and duets, but always returning to the cluster of performers.  The work ended when one recalcitrant young lady is carried back into the fold.  The ever-changing, but quiet score of John Levis and the somber lighting of Nick Kolin helped sustain the mood.

“New Fruit,” a multi-sectioned work by Christopher L. Huggins, dealt with some painful aspects of Black life in America, beginning with a section accompanied by the song “Strange Fruit,” about the tragic lynchings that plagued the South.  Joe Gonzalez, dressed in a raggedy shirt and pair of pants (costumes by Guruleva) is first seen in silhouette (lighting by Clifton Taylor) personified the suffering of all the victims with his vivid, twisty movements.  The second part, “Looking for Something,” featured Victor Lewis Jr. and Jameel Malik in colorful street clothes performing hip-hop style movements amongst the other company members.

“New Fruit” grew darker through its remaining sections dealing with darker and darker material, including violence.

The Company of Philadanco! in a scene from Dawn Marie Bazemore’s “A Movement for Five” (Photo credit: Julieanne Harris)

“A Movement for Five” by Dawn Marie Bazemore, choreographed to a compilation of various vocal artists dealt quite literally with the arrest and subsequent exoneration of the Central Park Five.  It included the image of five men lying on the floor, their hands held as if handcuffed behind their back.  It was unsubtle—including a shout out from Martin Luther King Jr.—but passionately danced.  Again the lighting and costumes of Mr. Kolin and Ms. Guruleva helped bring the passions of this work into stark relief.

The final work was “With(in)Verse” by Tommie-Waheed Evans.   The choreographer, in his notes, claims that the gospel-tinged score is not gospel as evangelism but “gospel as desperation.”  Indeed, this agitated work, using music by Signal, Loscil and T.L. Barrett, was little more than an extended expression of convulsive sadness, full of sudden light shifts, thanks to Clifton Taylor.  The movement palette combined lots of ballet with pulsating contractions, stomping and lots of contrasting of tight movements opening expansively making for waves of

steps across the stage.  In one section the dancers wandered about as if lost only to find comfort with each other.  Throughout the faces of the dancers were basically expressionless.  The overall impression of “With(in)Verse” was sustained bleakness with no obvious cause.

Despite the darkness of the program, the dancers acquitted themselves well.  It’s a very individual kind of troupe, each dancer a complete individual both physically and emotionally, somehow made into a vibrant unit by Joan Myers Brown.

Philadanco! (The Philadelphia Dance Company)(June 12-17, 2018)

Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.Joyce.org

Running time:  two hours including one intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (275 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

1 Comment on Philadanco! (The Philadelphia Dance Company)

  1. Hi Joel! This is Dawn Marie Bazemore the choreographer of A Movement for Five. I just wanted to clarify that there is no mention of or reference to Martin Luther King Jr. in my ballet. If you are referring to the opening text, that is actually the introduction to the first section of music entitled “Fight The Power” by the rap group Public Enemy. PE sampled that speech which was delivered by activist Thomas N. Todd at the Nation of Islam Temple in the late 70’s. I appreciate the review!

    Thanks!

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