Anne-Marie Mulgrew and Dancers Company 30th anniversary concert

Art invited me in

Part art installation and part tribute, the performances of Anne-Marie Mulgrew and Dancers Company’s 30th-anniversary (AMMDC) celebration were assortments of nostalgic delicacies and newer movement explorations. Each still helps to define the company’s decades-long existence.

From the work Anywhere/The Big 30. (Photo by Bill H.)

Highlighting the company’s longstanding commitment to cross-discipline collaborations, founder and artistic director Anne-Marie Mulgrew, appropriately titled the opening installation “The Prelude” (2016). By unleashing a slew of memorable excerpts from three past works, Mulgrew prepared the audience for quaint props, comedic deliveries, and lasting visual images.

Part of the show

Faux flower petals fell from overhead, as viewers entered the performance space. Wearing a blue suit, company veteran Joseph Cicala (in his final performance with the company) used his hands to palpate the hard surface of the walls to the right of the house, as if searching for a soft spot. I had to adjust my body to make room for a woman in white, who traipsed around with an umbrella in hand. I had become part of the show -- a performer in a sea of selected AMMDC’s pieces inspired by Philadelphia sites, such as the Rotunda’s sanctuary space, or Old City gallery windows.

Dressed in black tights and leotards, the dancers in the premiere “Anywhere/The Big 30 (2016),” huddled downstage right shouting numbers in increments of five. Jutting out from the group, they appeared to be carving the yelled numbers with their appendages, before reacquainting themselves with the huddle. In this ebb and flow, the vocabulary was simple -- a lunge, fourth position, relevé, attitude turns, and arabesques. But within this simplicity there were shaky executions, awkward transitions, and a less than urgent approach to each movement phrase.

An unteachable maturity

For those who enjoy Mulgrew’s eccentricities, the show’s second act offered quirky, visually enticing treats from Mulgrew’s repertoire. “Unknown City” (1999) was a moving sculpture that brought the space to life as Cicala created shapes by allowing his body to make molds from the stretchy red fabric in which he was wrapped. Reminiscent of Martha Graham’s “Lamentations,” Cicala’s struggle distorted the fabric, offering graphic silhouettes that disappeared as soon as they were formed.

Mulgrew continues to dance with her company, tackling her own choreography with unteachable maturity. In “Dig” (2012), she danced an immigrant’s story; could it have been her story? With her suitcase beside her, she performed paddle turns while pounding her open palm with her fist.

Mulgrew’s maturity revealed itself in her natural ease and organic flow. But even with the subtle nuances of her ripened artistry, I wondered if there will someday soon be a baton pass. Will Mulgrew hand over the dancing to other members of her company or will she continue to physicalize her creative calling?

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