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Philadanco's Global Artistry program thrills at Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts

by Lewis J Whittington
April 19, 2016
Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
300 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
215-893-1999
April is a busy dance month in Philadelphia with a slate of visiting companies performing at the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. Among them were our own Philadanco with their "premieres" program Global Artistry, April 15-17 at the Kimmel Center.

Philadanco artistic director Joan Myers Brown showcased the company's international connections by collaborating with young choreographers from around the world who tapped into the company's diverse aesthetic range.

The concert opened with “Labess,” a 'Danco classic from the 1990s by Jamaican choreographer David Brown. It proved a wonderful prologue to the disparate styles of the premiere works to come. "Labess" was scored to the rhythmic vocalese of the Afro–Euro a Capella group Zapp Mama.

Joyous would be the word to describe both this music and Brown’s choreography. Rosita Adamo was the central dancer in an ensemble performing sculpted movement that was delivered in canon (allusive to Alvin Ailey) and fused with ethnographic communal expression.

Choreographer Francisco Gella, originally from the Philippines, danced in "Labess" many times in his years with Philadanco. Gella is now an in-demand freelance choreographer. The world-premiere of his “Between the Lines,” scored to music by Philip Glass, highlighted Danco’s rigorous balletic prowess. The opening sequences were full of adagio movement on demi-pointe and then shifted gears to thrilling ballet athleticism within its duets and trios. Gella packed the work with duet mise-en-scenes, each distinctive to its performers.

Among the standout duet pairings were Adryan Moorefield with Rosita Adamo and Victor Lewis with Janine Beckles both of whose duets were punctuated by intricate lift sequences that only added to their stunning chemistry as partners.

Choreographer Thang Dao, from Vietnam, worked directly with composer John Levis to create the earthy soundfield for his world-premiere work “Folded Prism.” With its entrancing, percussive and harmonic mysticism, the soundfield played into the contemplative atmosphere of Dao's piece for the full company. In it, the dancers repeatedly clustered into sculpted movement phrases from various angles that evolved into meditative configurations and lyrical duets. Among them a cryptic and hypnotic pas de deux danced by Adryan Moorefield and Jah’meek D. Williams. Their hands locked together the pair executed agitated leaps, some of them looking like lock-limb marionettes. They then unfolded from hyper positions to supple classical bodylines.

“Super 8!” by Oklahoman Ray Mercer was the concert closer that set the theater ablaze with its full–throttle dancing. The world-premiere work's title does not refer to old film stock, but Philadanco dancers. In comments after the show, Mercer explained it is his admiration for the company dancers' committment and physicality that inspired him and the work.

Mercer's previous highly athletic "Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?" with dancers diving off an outsized table, is now a repertory classic. "Super 8," scored to original music by Bongi Duma and John Powell, was just as athletically driven, with tight unison work and a dramatic theatrical arc around four male-female duets. The concluding one danced with smoldering precision by Courtney Robinson and Williams.
Philadanco dancers in Francisco Gella's 'Between the Lines.'

Philadanco dancers in Francisco Gella's "Between the Lines."

Photo © & courtesy of Brian Mengini

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