By Walter Rutledge
Philadanco offered five performances at the Joyce Theater from March 29th to April 3rd. The company celebrated its 40th anniversary season with a program of four varied works. Each work showcased the energy and vitality that has became the trademark of the company.
To the credit of Artistic/Executive Director Joan Myers Brown and Rehearsal Director/Coach Debora Chase-Hicks the company approached the material with a high level of artistic understanding. The company understood where technique ended and real dancing began. All were proficient dancers; and many were exciting and very capable young performers.
Ray Mercer’s Guess Who Coming To Dining was billed as a tribute to the classic film starring Sidney Pointier and Katherine Hepburn. The work did not conjure images from the film, nor did it address the deeper social issues. Instead the work was a dance a la Carte tour de force.
A large square platform dominated the center stage. The dancers performed with great abandon underneath, around and top of the platform. The score provided a non-stop audio exhalation, which complimented the daredevil movement, thrilling risk taking lifts, jumps, and gravity defying falls. Lindsay Holmes’ extremely pliable body and strong, but feminine attack made her a standout.
Dance maker Christopher Huggins offered two works Enemy Behind the Gates (2002) and a premiere entitled Bolero Too! Enemy Behind the Gates is a company favorite. The work was performed at the 2010 Joyce season and is an audience-rousing group work with a futuristic mechanized look. Although the work is void of overt emotion the dancers performed with a cool, yet unreserved energy. This remained true to the choreographic intent and produced a strong kinesthetic dynamic.
In 1928 the Ballet Russe commissioned Maurice Ravel to compose an original work for ballerina Ida Rubinstein. The work, choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska, was originally entitled Fandango; but Ravel renamed the work and the music Bolero. The music is an ostinato; a phase of sixteen bars repeated twice, before the entire phase is reintroduced with a different instrument in the forefront of the melody. The repetitive rhythm produced by one or more snare drums creates the underlying tension in the work.
The music was an immediate success and remains Ravel’s most recognizable composition. Due to the popularity of the music creating a dance has always challenged choreographers to see past the obvious and literal. In the case of Maurice Bejart his 1959 interpretation of Bolero became a career defining moment.
Huggins opened his work with the full 14-member company upstage in a tableau. The work quickly became a series of duets set primarily to the melody line. Huggins extensive use of intricate partnering exuded virility and an unabashed bravado was initially quite impressive and engaging. In contrast to the slow, subtle and sustained heat of the music Huggins started on such a high note it left him nowhere to go. When we finally reached the crescendo the tricks and razzle-dazzle no longer dazzled, despite a valiant effort by the cast.
Choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar made the definitive statement of the evening with By Way of the Funk. We all have experienced a meal, seen a painting, or listened to music which outwardly seemed so simple yet completely satisfying and inventive that we thought to ourselves, “I could do that”. This was the feeling Zollar gave to the audience.
The work was a fun, free wheeling ride on the mother ship of funk. Technique was apparent; but it was artfully concealed behind an effervescent, and earthy rendering of natural looking vernacular movement. The dancers were having so much fun we forgot we were watching a dance concert. We could have been guests at a backyard barbeque in West Philly “back in the day”.
LaMar Baylor was a debonair master of ceremonies, whose inviting stage presence and ease with the audience went beyond pure dance. At one point, aided by a hand held wireless microphone, he involved the audience in a call and response moment. This was the only work to incorporate spoken word; which extended the artistic range of the performers, and the experience for the audience.
We congratulate Philadanco on achieving its 40-year milestone. The company has cultivated an individuality and reputation making it a modern dance standard-bearer. In December the company will celebrate another milestone when Joan Myers Brown becomes an octogenarian. She will mark this occasion with the release of a new book based on the evolution of black dance in Philadelphia.
In Photo: 1) Micheal Jackson Jr. 2) Chloe O. David and Joan Kilgore 3) Rosita Adamo and Micheal Jaskson Jr.
Lois Greenfield Photographer