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Risky Business program quintessential Philadanco

by Lewis J Whittington
December 11, 2014
Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
300 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
215-893-1999
Philadanco has had a very tough year financially and for their fall series at the Kimmel Center titled Risky Business by artistic director Joan Myers Brown, might have more than one meaning. Brown was definitely referring to a program packed with risky, athletic moves. The legendary Brown, has piloted the company for 45 years and her school for 55. The winner of virtually every arts accolade around, Brown's Philadanco does Philadelphia proud on tours all over the world but the "City of Brotherly Love" doesn't return that love with financial support. Brown has had to furlough dancers for the first time this year and go into the new season with a reduced roster.

But despite these hardships, the company opened its 45th home season with a theatrically thrilling, choreographically exciting, program of five works.

"Pulse" (2000) by Daniel Ezralow, had dancers sliding across the stage with precarious velocity. The dancers dressed in bluish iridescent dance togs and socks slid in and out of dramatic pools of light. The deceptively simple work was Ezralow's visual representation of the spacey electronica music by David Lang the work was set to. The music built to a sonic matrix as the dancers pulsed together in floaty ensemble configurations that quickly gave way to breakaway solos. Dancer Jah'Meek D. Williams was suddenly the center, in mach speed spins and later Victor Lewis, Jr. locked into a plie with a spellbinding hand dance like he was trying to capture atoms.

Next, "White Dragon"(1982) choreographed by Elisa Monte for six dancers had a modern-primitive feel, with the dancers costumed in colorful skimpy outfits that could have been part of a cultural rite. They moved in agitated angular patterns. The music, by Glen Branca got more 80s clubby and the ensemble sections got more fluid in the back half of the piece ramped up by athleticism and double-tempo phrases. A central duet danced with stunning precision by Rosita Adamo and Joe Gonzalez entranced with sculptural and acrobatic intensity.

Ray Mercer's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (2011) featured a 5 foot high table that Philadanco's dancers danced on and dove off of, and otherwise used as a metaphoric relationship cliff. Mercer's dynamic movement ideas beautifully anchored to couples' "figuring it all out". Like "Pulse," this full ensemble piece, has shown more refinement every time out and is much more than its dazzling dance effects. Elyse Browning was brilliant in a scorching solo ontop and underneath the table. Roxanne Lyst, always with gorgeous athleticism, was fearless in flight vaulting into breathtaking lateral splits. In one of the sizzling duets, the towering Adrian Moorefield and Janine Beckles showed steeled litheness and intimacy in their partnering.

Set to Natalie Cole's rendition of "Good Morning Heartache," "Ghettoscape with Ladder" (1990) was classic by Talley Beatty. Four men carry in an eight foot ladder and on it is former Danco and Ailey star Deborah Manning St. Charles (who now teaches at Danco). She reprised her role from 15 years ago, dancing Beatty's precarious precision steps with as much theatrical power and balletic grace than ever.

The premiere piece "Latched" by Christopher Huggins had its dancers in black tops and tights and was set to pulsing music by British electronica band Sohn. Huggins, choreographically, is at his most witty and mysterious with this work. The theme of couples coming together only to be pulled apart is a simple physical play on the push-pull of relationships. Huggins' flowing choreography was also technically demanding with low to the ground lift combinations that displayed the dancer's dazzling athleticism and Huggins' vivid musicality.

Risky Business had such artistic depth and technical magic that, in fact, the repertory works on it felt more relevant than ever.
Photo courtesy of Philadanco

Photo courtesy of Philadanco

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