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Live Arts/Philly Fringe Festival: Global Thinking; Local Acting

by Merilyn Jackson
September 1, 2006
Arden Theater
Painted Bride
Kimmel Center
Community Education Center
and various locations thoughout Philadelphia
Throughout its ten-year history, The LiveArts/Philly Fringe Festival has drawn dance and theater artists from New York, across the U.S. and from abroad such as Poland's Teatr Biuro Podrozy and the Silesian Dance Theater, London's Akram Khan, and New York's Troika Ranch, Jody Sperling and Tere O'Connor.

I've been privileged to see and write about this virtual travelogue of intriguing artists without leaving my city. Last week I wrote about Philadelphia artists who make up the heart of the festival. Festival director, Nick Stuccio knows the local dance makers and their audiences need constant new stimuli from around the world and he hosts some of the best to be found each year. It's what keeps the Fringe fresh and the locals on their toes.

This year's LiveArts headliner from abroad, Emio Greco/PC, takes the Kimmel Center's Perelman stage, a plum setting for dance that Stuccio has obtained for past featured artists like New York's Shen Wei and Berlin's Felix Ruckert.

Dancer/choreographer Greco, who is Italian, has worked with partner, Dutch theater director Pieter C. Scholten for the past ten years, creating as many dance works, an opera, a theatrical production and films that place them at the apex of Europe's dance world. They give their latest work, HELL, its U.S. premiere on September 14 through September 16. The inspirations for HELL range from Dante's Inferno to Beethoven's Fifth blended with a contemporary soundscape in what sounds like an emotionally jarring work.

The exchanges between visiting artists and our own can be remarkable. The 2006 collaboration between Holland-based Jérôme Meyer and Isabelle Chauffaud looks most promising. Pennsylvania/Dutch is the first phase of Nieuw Dans Nederland: Dance from the Lowlands of Philadelphia. Meyer who is Swiss and Chauffaud who is French are dance luminaries throughout Europe, and have been called electrifying by numerous critics. Each danced with Batsheva Dance Company, Nederlands Dans Theater 1 and other influential and renowned dance companies. The Painted Bride will present them at the festival with five well-established Philadelphia dancers in their cast: Kate Jordan, Gabrielle Revlock, Renee Robinson-Buzby, Daniele Strawmyre and Ben Wegman.

As an exploration of how dancers integrate movement into a totality, the duo says, "We hope our approach to movement can …foster a common responsibility in the group."

I was out-of town when Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group appeared at Bryn Mawr College a few years back and so can't wait to see them in their new piece, The Tale. Four dancers and four singers examine the rituals of coupling and sensual dances. Known for choreography of stepping, stomping and strutting that signifies the earliest fist and heel styles of the slave era, Wilson and his company have been invited to perform throughout the world. They deliver a raw, but technically flawless and elevated entertainment.

Swarthmore College is the only area institution with a longstanding exchange between dance artists in the former Eastern Block and the relationship has yielded riches on both sides of the fallen walls. Its Dance and Theater Programs worked hand-in-glove to send Swarthmore dance majors over for six-month study visits to Jacek Luminski's Silesian Dance Theater in southwest Poland. As the first dance company to emerge from the college's dance program, Green Chair Dance Group is familiar with Luminski's work. Luminski, who has held residencies and master classes at Swarthmore, greatly influenced the young group's work. For Emergency Use Only is their third offering at the Fringe. In it, they wonder how you'd dance on the way down if you pulled the cord on your parachute and it did not work.

Kick your habits - all of them - before you go to see Norway's Jo Stromgren Kompani in the U. S. premiere of The Convent. This harrowing-sounding dance-theater work requires a healthy mentality if you want to leave with your mind still intact. You'll hear voices, see double, maybe triple, feel ghostly drafts, and go barmy watching a seed grow. Watch that you aren't speaking in tongues as you leave.

Site-dance offers artists an opportunity to take audiences into the most bizarre spaces, sometimes small and claustrophobia-inducing ones. Berlin-based Two Fish performs a lusty enactment of adolescent love called Christiane Müller zieht um in a small apartment. Venezuelan multimedia artist Juan Souki packs a small audience into a 24-foot truck along with three dancers and assorted accoutrements and choreographs movement about dysfunctional relationships he calls U-Haul Trilogy. It's in three episodes on different dates, so if you like squeezing together with your fellow Fringers, you'll have three chances.

Russian performer Irina E. Andreeva is the soloist in Dybbuk at West Philly's Community Education Center (CEC). She and her Czech partner Alex I. Janak founded their physical theater company, Teatr Novogo Fronta (Theater of the New Front) in St. Petersburg in 1993 and relocated to Janak's city of Prague in 1994. They tour throughout Europe and won a Scotsman Fringe First award in 2004 for a work called Dias de Las Noches in which they are said to spew "violent emotions at the audience." Another first for the U.S. at this festival, they debut their American tour here. Freely drawn from Yiddish legend, Dybbuk's sound design underscores the atmospheric feel and intense physicality of this wordlessly expressive work.

Philadelphia-based artist-activist Jodi Netzer organized TNF's appearance here after attending an intensive workshop conducted by them earlier this year in Prague. Netzer programmed a double bill with TNF and her own work, Earthquakes. Netzer describes her work as a "lively, multimedia analysis of fear, waste and greed with gigantic puppet heads, a cocky, talky roach and garbage couture." An outdoor performance installation, Dissemination, starts an hour ahead of curtain time and is free and open to the public.

These are my Fringe picks this year, and I hope you can get to all of them, but if nothing else, at least go to HELL. See you there.
Emio Greco - PC

Emio Greco - PC

Photo © & courtesy of Philly Fringe


Jeb Kreager

Jeb Kreager

Photo © & courtesy of Philly Fringe


Jérôme Meyer & Isabelle Chauffaud

Jérôme Meyer & Isabelle Chauffaud

Photo © & courtesy of Philly Fringe


Jo Strømgren Kompani

Jo Strømgren Kompani

Photo © & courtesy of Philly Fringe


Reggie Wilson - Fist & Heel Performance Group

Reggie Wilson - Fist & Heel Performance Group

Photo © & courtesy of Philly Fringe


Two Fish, 'Christiane Muller Zieht um'

Two Fish, "Christiane Muller Zieht um"

Photo © & courtesy of Anna Van Kooij


Village of Arts and Humanities

Village of Arts and Humanities

Photo © & courtesy of Philly Fringe


Reggie Wilson's Fist and Heel Performance Group 'The Tale: Npinpee Nckutchie and the Tail of the Golden Dek'

Reggie Wilson's Fist and Heel Performance Group
"The Tale: Npinpee Nckutchie and the Tail of the Golden Dek"

Photo © & courtesy of Ibrahima Ndiaye


Emio Greco | PC, 'Hell'

Emio Greco | PC, "Hell"

Photo © & courtesy of Laurent Ziegler


Jo Strømgren Kompani, 'The Convent' Pictured: Guri Glans, Gunhild Opdal and Ulla Broch

Jo Strømgren Kompani, "The Convent"
Pictured: Guri Glans, Gunhild Opdal and Ulla Broch

Photo © & courtesy of Knut Bry

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