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Dance Artists Deliver Powerful Statements at 2016 Philly Fringe Fest

by Lewis J Whittington
September 28, 2016
Fringe Arts
140 N. Columbus Blvd.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 413-1318
Nick Stuccio, co-founded the Philadelphia Fringe 20 years ago and in the years since has not only changed the performing arts and theater communities in Philly, the festival has become a destination for artists and collaborators internationally.

As a former Pennsylvania Ballet dancer, Stuccio is dedicated to dance forward programming and this year’s festival was exemplar of the artistic range that the festival has established.

CITIZEN - Reggie Wilson | Fist and Heel Performance Group, FringeArts, Sept. 8

Reggie Wilson’s “Citizen” was a strong festival opening as it explored the experiences of artists having to emigrate to escape from both physical and psychological oppression.

Behind the dancers images of slavery in the U.S. were projected. The dancers scrambled around with fragments of movement that they each formed and developed in solos. In the first of those solos, Yeman Brown expressed not anguish but an existential resistance to the hell that he must live. As he sank into a deep plie pose he began to turn and pivot quickly in opposite directions, establishing a singular vocabulary of moves.

Anna Schon followed with an equally compelling solo expressing personal menace and mental escape, her movement became double tempo with even more precision, as she twirled over the stage at mach speed.

Dancer Raja Feather Kelly is seen running backward in the opening mosaic of movement. He started his solo oscillating his hips and it looked sexual and androgynous. The music was a spiritual anthem that kept building, and fueled Kelly’s fluid vocabulary of arm geometry and foot patterns that kept evolving. He dropped to the floor with his arms raised, enigmatically, moving around the stage. His repeat movement and phrase variations were hypnotic and seemingly endless. They wore him down in real time. Symbolic of so many things, this solo was challenging choreographic territory. For Kelly it was a transcendent tour de force.

Next, Clement Mensah entered with a series of locked in steps repeated with such stoicism they were disquieting. Annie Wang then entered in the denouement and performed an amalgam of the movement vocabulary seen from the other dancers. It hinted in its stylizations that she represented a choreographer. The ensemble joined her and locked into unison patterns with her sending the work in a whole other direction.

The repetitious group movement at the end similarly moved from dynamic expression to something else.

As in his previous work "Moses," to my eyes, some of the sections were overlong, detracting from their impact. Kelly’s extended solo however, was a demonstration in real time physical exhaustion and had contextual purpose and power to it. But the last group segment in contrast, with its repeated formations by the group without variation, struck as unnecessarily static.

Those indulgences did not erase Wilson’s gripping choreographic template nor the commitment of the dancers to deliver his powerful artistic statement.

LEVÉE DES CONFLITS (Suspension of conflicts) - Boris Charmatz
Drexel Armory, Sept. 9


For "Levée des conflits," choreographer Boris Charmatz created a field of perpetual motion for 24 dancers performing 25 movement phrases and improved variants within their torrent of collective perpetual motion on the silvery floor of the Drexel Armory.

The choreographic template was built on a canon of movement, with one dancer picking up the phrase just completed by another dancer. These 24 dancers accumulated one by one in staggered patterns that clustered, accelerated and broke apart creating a huge movement canvass that brought to mind a Jackson Pollock abstract in motion. But this hypnotic dance marathon stripped away any outside narrative guessing.

It was pure movement, moored to the concept of dance dialogues, imparting dance phrases one to another evoking so much meditation for the viewer to connect to the action, the mystery and the dynamic of the performers individually and collectively. It stripped away any decorousness or dance under glass allure. At various times it spun into a monolithic movement canvas reminding one of a Pollock splatter painting. As the swarm of dancers started to move in a swirling tide, tumbling and hurling around each other, they conjured up thoughts of the ethos of humanism.

VIBRATO - 3 Solo Dances
Group Motion Multi Media Dance Theater,
CEC Meeting House Theatre, Sept 12


There would be no Fringe Arts in Philadelphia without the efforts of Manfred Fischbeck co-founder of Group Motion, Brigitta Hermann and Hellmut Gottschild in the 1960s. Fischbeck’s "Icarus" was the first large scale work at the festival 20-years-ago. This year he presented "Vibrato," a concert of solos dances, original music and poetry by three female dancer/choreographers.

Silvana Cardell was onstage at the CEC for the Philadelphia/Buenos Aires affaire with partnering performers in Buenos Aires via Skype projected on a screen behind her. In turn, they were receiving her performance in their space.

Cardell in a red shroud explained that and the choreographer in Buenos Aires exchanged concepts and movement surrounding a theme of grief and human suffering. Cardell then began dancing in anguished movement that resolved into static poses. Two men their heads covered and seated in front of lockers embraced. Later they seemed to be involved in a locker room tryst when Stella Maria Isoldi entered the scene. Isoldi, a dance elder, moved between the two men creating a skin-to-skin sculpture of sorrow and support between all the dancers. Although Cardell's contribution to "Vibrato" had dramatic imagery and was dedicated to the victims of terrorism and refugees, the piece overall felt like an unfinished draft.

Next, Chloe Felesina (BalletX) was the dance soloist accompanied by Fischbeck on keyboard and synth for “In The Heart of Now.” Fischbeck played and recited his own poetry, distinguished by naturalist imagery and musings from “the canyons of the mind.”

Felesina in bare feet displayed gorgeous pointe battlement and exquisite carriage of her upper body in expressive movement phrases. During an all instrumental section she characterized the music's reflexive note clusters and wending runs. Her artistic polish and cohesive body articulations were first rate.

“Vibrato's” title work closer was by Liana Fischbeck, Manfred’s daughter, whose company D.E.A.D (Driving Evolutionary Artistic Dimensions) is based in Rennes, France. It was her tour de force musings on the physical and emotional implications of vibration in various permutations as expressed through the physics of her body and the sonics of Christophe Gateau's electric guitar. Fischbeck dissolved under Gateau’s shredding guitar riffs then suddenly vaulted into a perfectly still headstand until her body became reflexive of the music's bent notes, acid bleeds and trills. Later in the solo she sang a French art song madrigal in soprano stratosphere, danced a rather funky west coast boogaloo a la 1960’s flashback, and sang a baleful song of lost love a la Lou Reed.

GALA - Jerome Bel
Prince Theater, Sept. 13


Jerome Bel’s "GALA" also had a cast of trained and untrained dancers onstage together and doing the same moves. Bel's 20 locally recruited dancers, one by one introduced themselves during doing a ballet fifth position adagio pirouette, each owning their own level of execution and going for it. They leaped in a frenzied dash across the stage and were paired up for a waltz. The dancers were a chorus line of true American diversity with different ethnicities, physical abilities, gender identities and ages ranging from 7 to 70.

Classical ballet basics then gave way to the inescapable beat of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" and the performers one by one moonwalked over the expanse of the Prince Theater stage. There were some great backward moves and some ballet ringers including Anne White, former Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer adding micro-ballet carriage and attitude along with Julian Darden and Cameron Brits.

Dancer Egardo Colon led a mambo mix, his smoldering flair and precision footwork joyous with everybody following him however wayward. Performing to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” young Tristan Price ran everyone around the stage in frenzy. He disappeared momentarily only to slide back onto the stage on his knees a la Joe Gideon in "All That Jazz" with the other performers scrambling behind him.

There was a three minute improvisational segment with everyone dancing amuck and letting their private dancers burst out. Emma Marshall led the solos to George Ezra’s “Budapest,” and then the rest of the company joined in having switched costumes rendering gender identity by clothing moot. The group followed along with Marshall's interpretive slinky moves. Finally, Erin McNulty stole everyone’s heart with her liberating joy dancing to “Teenage Dream.”

Cynthia Son performing a sacred Cambodian dance with the lyrical hand choreography, possessed eloquent power that was equally beautiful in the attempts by the rest of cast. Felice Jordan lip sunk to Liza Minnelli's version of "New York, New York" complete with all the diva moves that ended with all the dancers in a kick-line that had the audience going wild.

Profound in its artistic statement and bursting with populous dance fever. Everyone was a star in this "GALA" performance.

EXILE 2588 - Almanac Dance Circus Theatre Painted Bride Arts Center, Sept. 19

“Exile 2588” was a post-apocalyptic fantasy where an immortal race existed in a world without war. A place with the greenest environment and where a simple baptismal dip could "reset"’ a person who was feeling anxiety, fear, confusion or anger. This nirvana came with its own gorgeous folk music soundtrack in the form of two part harmonies, acoustic guitars and a banjo performed by Emily Shuman and Aaron Cromie, who also narrated the story of the rebel, Io, portrayed by Nicole Burgio.

Io is bored with this "perfect" world with its perfect fixes and decides to dance to a different forbidden drum. When a 500 year old friend gets her to pull his programming plug to end his life, she is banished from her galaxy and under guard by two robots a.k.a. The Gadfly, who dictate her every move forever, until she collides with Prometheus, the main galactic exile.

The story trips over its own conceits at several points. Not getting tripped up however was the fleet ensemble of acro-dancers. Nick Jonczak directed, but credited the acrobatic-choreography as a collaboration with all of the performers (Nicole Burgio, Ben Grinberg, Lauren Johns, Mark Wong, Nick Gillette). And despite the clunkiness of the story, the dance moves were high-octane and inventive acrobatics and dare-devilry.

Burgio’s trapeze artistry, like her reverse tumbles in space or arabesque that extended in a perfectly straight line toe to toe never looked static.

In repeated segments the ensemble’s mix of yogic and Tai Chi movements were engaging as was the velocity of their interlocked body sculptures and aerials that kept evolving, however precariously.

LE CARGO - Faustin Linyekula / Studio Kabako, Fringe Arts Theater, Sept 24

Faustin Linyekula’s “Le Cargo” had just one matinee performance on the last weekend of the FringeArts festival but it will be remembered as one of the dance highlights of the year. Linyekula’s dance memoir of growing up in the violent aftermath of colonial Congo and his reportage as he traveled back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo was moving.

He entered the FringeArts space with a sculpted gargoyle stool and sat very close to the audience and pondered why he toured the world as a storyteller recounting his previous life and the people who lived under repressive regimes. But, it was obviously a rhetorical question. He was witness to their struggles, defeats and triumphs of survival.

He narrated his own story, but questioned its import in today's world and to his compatriots in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He spoke of a percussionist who was banned from playing in the Congo, but whose music Linyekula remembered as vital information and inspiration. The dances he most wanted to explore and understand when he was a child were performed in his village at night after children were put to bed. The pulse of the drums flooded the theater as he gave into into the sonic matrix, his head swiveled, his body rumbled and he joined in the song chants. It was a rhythmic dance of transcendence within the veils of music. Linyekula continually moved to a shaft of light, his legs and feet sharply turned in.

His choreography and storytelling was never sentimental, but documentation of his culture carried forth, vitally, in song, text and dance.
Silvana Cardell in Philadelphia along with Buenos Aries cast & crew via Skype<br>taking bows.

Silvana Cardell in Philadelphia along with Buenos Aries cast & crew via Skype
taking bows.

Photo © & courtesy of Lewis J Whittington


Reggie Wilson’s “Citizen.' Courtesy of Fringe Fest.

Reggie Wilson’s “Citizen." Courtesy of Fringe Fest.

Photo © & courtesy of Lewis J Whittington


Courtesy of Fringe Fest

Courtesy of Fringe Fest


Courtesy of Fringe Fest

Courtesy of Fringe Fest


Courtesy of Fringe Fest

Courtesy of Fringe Fest

Photo © & courtesy of Lewis J Whittington


Courtesy of Fringe Fest

Courtesy of Fringe Fest

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