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Robert Abrams
Performance Reviews
The Joyce Theater
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

Philadanco - Elegy, Sweet in the Morning, Steal Away, Back to Bach, A Place of Peace, Blue

by Robert Abrams
May 18, 2004
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011

Philadanco - Elegy, Sweet in the Morning, Steal Away, Back to Bach, A Place of Peace, Blue


Presented at
The Joyce Theater
New York, NY



The dancers are revealed on stage in a strong pose. Placed as a group, they look almost Indian: six arms but one person. They are set against a star lit backdrop.

The dancing is characterized by power and angularity. The movements are fast paced. The pace of the dancers is faster than the pace of the music, which is full and soaring. This mismatch in pace feels intentional and creates a sense of urgency.

The dancers have expressive faces.

The choreography seems to be going for the sort of mythic grandeur of which Martha Graham was so fond. Philadanco's style, in this work, was midway between Martha Graham and DanceBrazil, and just as good, in its own way, as either.

There were a few spots where the dancers perhaps should have come to rest for a fraction of a second longer. The lack of rest is part of what created the urgency in the work, but some slight additional rest within the work might help the audience have a fuller awareness of each section.

The ending of the work featured a section where the group leapt in turn in a big circle. The final group pose echoed the opening, but included the entire company and resembled an upside down centipede.

Overall, I thought the dancing and the choreography was very impressive.

Choreography: Gene Hill Sagan
Reconstruction: Kim Y. Bears-Bailey, Debora Chase Hicks
Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams
Costume Execution: Natasha Guruleva
Lighting Design/Execution: William H. Grant III
Dancers: Zane Booker, Antonio Sisk, Dawn Marie Watson, Hollie E. Wright, Roxanne Lyst, Odara Jabali-Nash, Elisabeth H. Bell, Tommie W. Evans, Ahmad M. Lemons, Gary D. Jeter II

Sweet in the Morning

This dance opens with a red stained glass window projected on the backdrop that immediately reads church or sanctuary. A single pew-like bench is set in the middle of the stage. A lone dancer appears. His movements are slower than the music. His movements are careful, deliberate and flowing. He performs full rotations on one leg while standing on the bench. Sometimes he shakes. The movements speed up a little. "Sweet in the Morning" is sung over and over. The ending is silent. This was a well danced representation of the state of devotion.

As an aside, it would be correct to say that both Elegy and Sweet in the Morning are not rhythmically attentive works. They both show, through opposite means, that a dance can work superbly without rhythmic attentiveness if this choice is made intentionally.

Choreography: Leni Wylliams
Directed by Eleo Pomare
Restaged from Labanotation score by Patty Harrington Delaney
Costume Design: Eleo Pomare
Costume Execution: Natasha Guruleva
Lighting Design/Execution: William H. Grant III
Dancer: Zane Booker

Steal Away

This was an endlessly inventive work. I liked most of the sections. I thought the dancers always danced well. As a whole, though, I didn't quite get it. The guiding idea behind the macro-structure wasn't clear.

In the beginning, two women are on stage in ribbed yellow dresses. Smoke fills the stage. High pitched tones sound like they are played on a set of water glasses.

The movements are rapid and elastic.

A man appears and the music changes. The still moments are well done. The dancers are always compelling to watch.

A drum section starts. This section is more rhythmically attentive to clearly percussive music.

Several dancers are on stage who windmill their arms most impressively, like a propeller moving so fast it appears as a disk even though it is just a blade.

A line of dancers push a woman soloist slowly off the stage.

Two men dance to heavy breathing.

Two men dance with a woman in orange. The women in yellow return. Red petals fall from the rafters. The orange woman is either distraught or deliriously happy.

As you can see, there was much of interest. I was not sure what it added up to, but there was more than enough good work in it to make it worth a second look.

Choreography: Alonzo King
Music: Miguel Frasconi
Costume Design: Robert Rossenwasser
Costume Execution: Natasha Guruleva
Lighting design: Axel Morganthaler
Lighting Execution: William H. Grant III
Dancers: Dawn Marie Watson, Roxanne Lyst, Odara Jabali-Nash, Bellamy F. Eure, Monique Smith, Mora-Amina Parker, William V. Credell, Marc Spaulding, Gary D. Jeter II, Tommie W. Evans

Act II was entitled We Too Dance and featured the African American men in the company.

Philadanco - We Too Dance
Photo courtesy of Deborah Boradman

Back to Bach (excerpt)

Six men took the stage in white outfits. They danced in a flowing style to classical music. They were pretty, but still masculine. There was much ballet style partnering.

The second section of the work featured a lot of in sync ensemble dancing. Plus one very long one foot hold with the other leg raised about 100 degrees above the floor.

While it wasn't my favorite work of the evening, it was well danced and it was important because it showed the range of the company.

Choreography: Eleo Pomare
Music: Sebastian Bach
Costume Design: Eleo Pomare
Costume Execution: Natasha Guruleva
Lighting design/execution: William H. Grant III
Dancers: Marc Spaulding, Warren B. Griffin III, William V. Credell, Corey Baker, Gary D. Jeter II, Ahmad M. Lemons, Tommie W. Evans

A Place of Peace

Guest artist Christopher Huggins performed an impressive solo. Three candles were set on stage, dividing the space. Mr. Huggins appeared in silence dressed in a brown skirt. Music began to be played, probably on a thumb piano. The music had a very warm and resonant sound. The choreography worked both the foreground and the background as defined by the candles.

The music changed at one point and reminded me of a planetarium show. A bright light appeared from off stage.

Mr. Huggins had great control, and sharp transitions between movements. He has immense stage presence. Mr. Huggins executed a one foot spin well. By and large the choreography was very grounded. He was never off balance.

Choreography: Nathan Trice
Music: Peter Gabriel
Costume Design: Nathan Trice
Costume execution: Natasha Guruleva
Lighting design/execution: William H. Grant III
Dancer: Christopher L. Huggins


There was something to like in every work presented, but if I were forced to pick a favorite, it would have to be Blue.

The dance started with a stage filled with smoke that striated the light. Fluffy clouds were projected on the backdrop. The all male cast wore outfits that looked like pant suits with long skirts also, colored aqua to purple.

The movements were frenetic. After some ensemble sections, one main dancer was repeatedly pushed back by pairs of dancers.

The overall effect, in this section, was very solemn. It felt like a group of very energetic ministers dancing in blue frock coats. The final bell of this section sounded like a church bell too.

In the next section, the lighting was dark. The dancers stamped their feet a lot. Dancers left the stage to return wearing only long, tight, pants. There was much rubbery shaking to plucked strings. The section ends with a leap.

In the next section, the dancers appear wearing nothing but underpants, except for one dancer who also was wearing socks. There were many great leaping spins. The choreography let them let loose in a series of short solos as well as ensemble segments.

The lighting changes again to something you might find in a club. The dancing gets faster but the still moments are still sharp. The work ends with a big finish.

This dance worked so well in part because it played to the dancers' strengths (one of which is their strength). The dancers were always assured. The dancers got better and better as their costumes and choreography were stripped to their essentials, which is saying something since the beginning of the work was excellent.

Tonight's presentations showed that Philadanco has an admirable depth of talent in their company, and perform a range of styles with skill and flair.

Choreographer: Christopher L. Huggins
Music: Arvo Pärt, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Steve Reich
Costume Design: Christopher L. Huggins
Costume Execution: Natasha Guruleva and Maria Walles
Lighting design/execution: William H. Grant III
Dancers: Marc Spaulding, Warren B. Griffin III, William V. Credell, Corey Baker, Gary D. Jeter II, Tommie W. Evans, Ahmad M. Lemons

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