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Waheed Works' Botch Flawed but Fabulous

by Lewis J Whittington
April 14, 2015
The Painted Bride Art Center
230 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106-1293
215.925.9914
In the last half-dozen years, Philadanco dancer Tommie-Waheed Evans has been dividing his time as choreographer for Eleone Dance Theatre and Complexions Contemporary Ballet among other troupes along with establishing his own company, Waheed Works.

In 2014, Evans choreographed Philadanco dancers in Poulenc's "Aubade," a retelling of the myth of the goddess Diana, onstage with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Evans' narrative skill captivated the classical music audience.

His newest work Botch, was at the other end of his aesthetic. It stands as Evans' most ambitious work to date. Evans' Waheed Works premiered at the Painted Bride Arts Center, April 10 & 11. The troupe of 11, mostly dancers from Eleone and Philadanco, performed cohesively throughout this demanding, long-form piece.

Botch's huge theme of everyone existing chaotically in darkness and hoping for light, inspired Evans' most explosive choreography to date and came at you like a runaway freight train.

Set to a metronomic soundtrack that careened from sonorous atmospheres, to industrial sonics and baroque arias, the ensemble pulsed and attacked in a gushing mosaic of contemporary idioms punctuated with casual balletics of precision and abandon. The relentless piece had the dancers communicating expressions of anger, trauma and raw emotional power that reflected the work's broad theme.

Air-slicing jetes and mach-speed turns were laced into group scrambles and stylized dancing. A club milieu was evoked with pulsing communals one second, and with a change of light, sudden desperation.

There are repeated checkpoints in Evans' choreography like petit backward piques or the dancers with arms trying to ward off an impending dread.

Within the mayhem, dancer Gary W. Jeter (BalletX) slid across the stage looking mythic in a silver skirt and launching into a seismic solo. Gorgeous sculpture started to melt down into a 'to be or not to be' dance soliloquy. 

Act II however had a more ponderous start. The dancers costumed in leather and lacey fetishista moved in self-conscious slo-motion pausing for a couple freeze frames a la the 1980's "Solid Gold Dancers." This was followed by another arresting solo danced by the dynamic Joe Gonzalez set to a baroque music club mix.

Evans' choreography was just as inventive in a series of duets as it was in full-company configurations. Of note was a hypnotic duet by Colin Heininger and Dara Stevens-Meredith danced to Stevie Nicks' song "Edge Of Seventeen" and Eleone Dance Theatre dancers Anthony Rhodes and Kareem Marsh in a central duet packed with intricate lift patterns and sensual bodyscapes. The electrifying Rhodes is a bigger dancer than most, but was nonetheless front and center in several duets with both men and women. For his part Marsh possessed incredible articulation and litheness, not to mention a diamond hard penche arabesque.

The work's final section was set to the scorching lyrics of Gil Scott Heron's song "Who Will Survive in America." It was choreographic lightning and led to a finale with dancers Jeter and Teneise Ellis (both formerly of Philadanco) hinting at a survival at all costs motivation. But Evans' gorgeous, lyrical and haunting coda with intricate lifts and anguished sculpted phrases did little to moved the work toward any narrative resolution.

Act II had a disjointed feel with Evans packing too much into it. Some of the literalness of the work reads as overwrought, distracting from its many sublime subtleties. Despite those excesses Botch is destined to be a signature piece for Evans and Waheed Works.
Tommie Waheed Evans. Photo courtesy of Tommie Waheed Evans.

Tommie Waheed Evans. Photo courtesy of Tommie Waheed Evans.

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