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Live Arts/Philly Fringe Festival Vibrates Throughout Philadelphia

by Merilyn Jackson
September 12, 2006
Crane Building
Painted Bride Art Center
Community Education Center
Wilma Theater
Of the first twelve shows I attended at the festival last week these are what I wanted most to write about.
SUBURBAN LOVE SONGS 9/1

Nowadays, it's salsa, chips and Salsa. Back in 1968 in the burbs, it was cocktails, canapés and Cha-cha. On September 1, Suburban Love Songs opened the Live Arts/Philly Fringe Festival with actors dancing this textless but tasteful 50-minute work about the 60s socio-sexual transformations that infected every strata of American Society, even the middle and upper classes. Of course, the music mesmerized us all back then and Karen Getz's score took us through the soft-sex tunes of Sergio Mendes and Herb Alpert, ending with Jose Feliciano's Light My Fire. Getz conceived, choreographed and directed the larky piece for eight. They danced admirably in a comedic style that mostly resembled Latin dances.

Identifying the icons of the period â€" marijuana and the Tupperware to store it in, beehive hats, martinis, a hi-fi, the Twister game â€" made me anticipate a key swap, but Getz didn't go that far. She kept it light, tight and amusing. You could get your brain around it, even if you couldn't twist your body around the Twister mat. Performed by Jen Childs, Mario Fabroni, Dawn Falato, Getz, Dave Jadico, Mary Jackman, Fred Siegel and Kelley Jennings.

CHRISTIANE MULLER ZIEHT UM TWO FISH, 9/6

In my nine years covering the Philly Fringe, I cannot recall another more intimate audience experience, nor a work more intricately meshed with its space. Two Fish, a small company from Berlin arrived fresh from Warsaw with its Live Arts presentation, Christiane Müller zieht um performed in a Northern Liberties home. Lived in by artists Scott Thorne and Janet Fitch, this home has been preparing itself all its life to host this piece. With a menagerie of surreal or kitschy objets exquisitely displayed, the house is itself a performance. Collections of chrome coffee pots, tourist trash plates and china figurines dance on the walls. And what does a master bedroom say when it sports oilcans and landmines and pitchforks frame gilt paintings? Yes, Master?

I couldn't help wonder what the artist/homeowners hid away and what they left out for us to see. Four tomatoes. A wrought iron epergne held Seckle pears on top and bulbs of garlic below. Accident or design?

Costume designer Heidi Barr lives next door and, knowing this was a perfect space for the Berlin troupe, obtained it for the festival. One by one, Two Fish's five dancers wordlessly led the way upstairs and somehow, lemmings or curious creatures we must be, we knew to follow. A whirl of movement ensued, as we went from room to room watching an urchin-like boy spanking his backside as if riding a pony or a boy, dribbling a girl as if she were a basketball, and then two guys whipping her up and around like a jump rope, all within inches of the audience. They even sat on some of us on a couch to have a comically nonsensical conversation.

BALLET X, 9/6

Good things must come in sevens. That was the number of dancers in each of Ballet X's two programmed works Wednesday evening by company co-director, Matthew Neenan and a commissioned work from Finnish choreographer, Jorma Elo, Boston Ballet's current resident choreographer. Similarities may not be avoidable when both works are receiving world premieres. In this case, they are coincidental, but mentionable. The length and the dark, atmospheric lighting by the estimable lighting designer, John Hoey, were not strongly diffierntiated and the somber, spare costumes were close enough in each to give some viewers the feeling they were watching two halves of the same piece.

The choreography, musical choices and atmosphere,however, easily made them distinct. Elo's close-to-the-bone movement economies to a Bach Partita in Scenes_View_2 had his seven dancers down in deep, quick-turning pliés, arms thrust back shoulder blade to shoulder blade. James Ihde and Amy Aldridge, (all the dancers were "on-loan" from The Pennsylvania Ballet) seemed to be thinking through each movement, stage whispering the counts to each other. Tara Keating, whose back and neck are arcs of triumph however she sets them, and the gallant Neenan danced a tightly-coiling duet that had them slinking through each other's upraised arms. Ballet X co-director, Christine Cox pensively paired off with a flaring Francis Veyette. At least a couple of times, the seven swept into naturally-forming diagonals that disintegrated into couples and trios, leaving Jermel Johnson as odd-man-out at the end of this cool and angular ballet.

Neenan's Broke Apart contrasted more fulgently after intermission. Songs by Joanna Newsom, Cynthia Hopkins, Martha Wainwright, Cyndi Lauper and She-Haw lent the work the lilting charm of female vocalists. Philip Colucci made up Neenan's seventh dancer as the choreographer stepped back from dancing his own work. His dancers continuously, sometimes perilously, arranged and repurposed four ballet barres planted sturdily on criss-crossed footers. Colucci added to the brilliance of the work, lightly stepping up onto Veyette's knee and shoulder and over one of the upended props.

My favorite section, and it seemed the audience's as well, was during Lauper's wrenching version of La Vie En Rose. Keating and Cox swing the props around, lining them up like old-fashioned telephone poles, telegraphing us to another, softer, era.

NIEUWE NEDERLANDS DANS/Jerome Meyer & Isabelle Chaffaud 9/7

The Holland-based duo performed their Corps à Corps first, a short work in which each dancer kept tightly to each other's body, slithering up and around each other to an electronic soundtrack. They broke away from time to time with windmilling arms as they moved upstage and downstage before a large bank of changing lights that lit them with sculptural effect. Seed,their work with four local dancers, also used the backlighting. Gabrielle Revlock, Renée Robinson-Buzby, Daniele Strawmyre, and Ben Wegman danced with weight-bearing lunges and languishing backbends. By the end, they looked like seeds writhing to break through the earth's crust. But this work still needs cultivating to grow to fruition.

DYBBUK Teatr Novogo Fronta 9/7

There were so many astonishing elements in this Czech evocation of Ansky's play The Dybbuk, it really doesn't matter where I begin. I will give you highlights below and start with its Russian creator and performer, Irina Andreeva. She and AleÅ¡ Janák make up Prague's Teatr Novogo Fronta. An elfin, but tautly controlled powerhouse of a woman, Andreeva dedicated this work to "the feminine principle of the universe." Her dybbuks inhabit many female archetypes: a mystical earth goddess, a red-wigged disco dancer, a comical old crone who looks and moves like a creakily rheumatoid Nosferatu. Like a sorcerer, she changed costumes instantaneously using piles of leaves, a long cape, or momentary blackouts to camouflage her reappearances as new characters.

Andreeva and Janák, who designed the lighting and soundscape, filled the entire space. Smelly fish, backlit screens, bat puppets and ladders fell from above. A chair on wheels propelled Andreeva across the stage into another scene. Janák's lighting revealed props that were already there but unnoticed. His thrilling composite of classical, mystical, and popular music, new to many American ears, made me wish for a clue about the music credits in the program.

Most hair-raising moment: Andreeva revealing her howling, Butoh-whitened shaved head.

Most enchanted moment: Water falling in a stream from a hive up in the fly space as Andreeva regally dons a long headdress of leaves.

Funniest moment: The crone battling an elastic band diagonally stretched across the space with her hopelessly useless broom.

Most poignant moment: A serious and beautifully danced flamenco ends in a riveting ronde de jambe that transmogrifies into a grotesque tap dance.

The ending was also emotionally affecting as Andreeva climbs a ladder and claws through a paper screen. Is her crabbed hand asking us to come in deeper with her? Is it asking for help? Artworks that make you leave asking questions are formidable.

EARTHQUAKE 9/7

Earlier this year, Jodi Netzer studied at a workshop given by Andreeva and Janák in their home base, Prague. She worked hard to bring the Czech troupe to the Philadelphia festival and programmed her work, Earthquake, on a shared bill with them at Community Education Center. A collaboration with Project for Nuclear Awareness, the piece could use deeper study. Naïve and well-meaning, it attempts to cover too many issues at once â€" food, drugs, health, environment, war, violence and even psychological manipulation. Related issues they may be, but Netzer cants them, earnestly and ingenuously.

STILL UNKNOWN 9/8

More a stunning art installation than dance work, Still Unknown was conceived and directed by Niki and Jorge Cousineau founders of the company, Subcircle. Set in the Crane Arts Building in North Philadelphia, it consisted of six rooms with a foyer and center hallway. Audience members were given plus or minus cards that directed us to go right or left. It was as arbitrary as the SS sending people to the gas chambers or to the work camp. This and other similarities to the Holocaust era were probably not intended, but anytime I am herded around in tight spaces with other people it raises my hair on end.

Nevertheless, I was soothed and often amused by the clean and crisply executed environments we found in each room. In one high-ceilinged white room, Gin MacCallum swung on a swing and rolled about on a steeply slanted floor. On the wall behind her projected images by Francesca Woodman and Alan Mehlbrech provided color and movement. We walked into a bedroom strewn with clothing and peered out the "window" at a perfect square of grass upon which Christy Lee danced before falling off. Was she the dream of the guy(Matt Saunders)writhing in the bed?

The last space, a hall of mirrors, had Niki Cousineau whispering madly in a corner until the audience had had a chance to examine the space and anticipate a dance by her. She soon stepped onto a mirror and her reflection, refracted from the surrounding mirrors and the one above, multiplied her movements. At our last shepherding, we were directed up a flight of stairs that overlooked the vast "roofs" that covered the rooms. Their slubbed surface made them appear to be silk shantung and if so, I couldn't help but think of the cost.

Like the experience Two Fish gave us in Christiane Muller and Teatr Novogo Fronta in Dybbuk the audience left asking questions, filled with wonderment.

To be reviewed next week: Headlong Dance Theater's Cell; Nichole Canuso's Fail Better; Emio Greco's Hell; Jeb Kreager's Contest; Reggie Wilson's Npinpee Nckutchie and the Tail of the Golden Duck; Miro Dance Theater's Lie to Me.
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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