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REVIEW: The raw intensity of PHILADANCO! impresses

The program presented by PHILADANCO! was an impressive display of raw intensity and serious abandon within their work.

Last week at Jacob’s Pillow, Philadelphia dance company PHILIDANCO! performed at the Doris Duke Theatre. Their program was an impressive display of raw intensity and serious abandon within their work. You were compelled to watch.

‘Super 8,” choreographed by Ray Mercer, was the first piece on their program. It is a pas de trois—three partners. Mercer created three movements with the dancers telling three stories exploring love. The movement is short and sharp but continuous and fluid. To the trained eye, I noticed good usage of manipulation within the cohesive partnering. Manipulation is when you or another dancers move another limb or body.  It has true weight, as in moving the full weight of the limb or body. One thing was missing: connection between the partners.  That’s not to say that they weren’t able to tell the stories effectively, but I noticed more eye contact from the women than the men.  As a dancer, I am constantly reminding myself in rehearsals to make eye contact.  If you don’t have that with your partner, it loses an intimacy and thus has less of an impact on the audience. What you’re left with is someone who looks like they’re going through the movements, and there were a few moments where I noticed this.

Joe Gonzalez, top, and Janine Beckles, bottom, in ‘Super 8’ by PHILADANCO! at Jacob’s Pillow. Photo: Christopher Duggan

The next piece, “Endangered Species,” was fantastically raw and powerful. Anthony Burrell’s choreography for this piece, which focuses on negative themes of racial inequality, comes at you with fierce intensity. It was eight males (all of whom are incredibly delineated and muscular) and the costumes, crimson jumpsuits designed by Emilio Sosa, invoked powerful imagery. The movements were very grounded and there was strength in each of their steps. They impressively executed the choreography, which was seriously dynamic. There was an impressive abundance of incorporating the full use of the body.

Third came “Suite en Bleu,” choreographed by Gene Hill Sagan. This work is much more contemporary neo-classical ballet as opposed to the rest of the bill, which I would put in the realm of contemporary/modern. As a whole, it was a beautiful piece. I’m a big fan of cotemporary ballet. The movement was sharp, but supple and graceful. It moved and weaved within its patterns and was the only piece set to classical music (Handel and Bach). However, it did not fit the program. Alone, or as part of another program with similar neo-classical choreography, it would have fit better, I feel. It didn’t come at you with the intensity of the other pieces, possibly because the choreographic movement and tableaus they created weren’t as intense; there was a softness to it. I felt slightly deflated and less energized. Possibly they wanted to show the versatility of the dancers but, to me, at least, it was already evident these dancers were versatile.

Lastly, there was “Enemy Behind the Gate,” choreographed by Christopher Huggins. PHILADANCO! came back at you from “Suite en Bleu” with just as much energy, if not more, as from the beginning of the program. The dancers hardly stopped moving. When they would, it would be brief and gave you just enough time to catch your breath before they would leap up into the next phrase of movement. I love stillness in choreography—it focuses your eye for a moment and can make either the steps beforehand or afterward have that much more of an effect and impact. They also used an impressive amount of light specials, alternating throughout the piece red and white lights. Lighting specials is a clever tool in performance to use—it can create a sense a sense of structure, set a mood or provide another level of depth to the movement. However, I find it can distract from the dance, and there were times where I found myself missing the dance completely. Sometimes less is more.

PHILADANCO! is well worth watching in the years to come, and I think we can all learn something from Joan Myers Brown, the artistic director, who has created a fantastic opportunity for young dancers and choreographers alike and fosters the passion for dance that I saw in all the dancers.


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