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Critic’s choice: Dance highlights of 2011BY: Merilyn Jackson 01.08.2012
Even with a six-month toothache, I took in countless wonderful dance performances in 2011. The programs I mention here especially stand out for the way they caught me by surprise and often left me flustered and panting for more.
A year of dancers
The year 2011 started badly for me. As I watched Jaamil Olawole Kosoko’s American Chameleons at the Painted Bride, I felt increasing pain in a molar that I just knew was a horrible abscess. At 10:30, I fled into the 14-degree iciness to find my car gone. Not until 2:30 a.m. did I find where it had been towed and retrieve it, and then only thanks to a kind Moroccan cabbie named Maloney. Six months of dental work followed.
Such are the thrills of life as a Philadelphia arts critic— a nasty job, but somebody has to do it.
Despite my aching molars, last year I attended more than 60 dance and theater events in Philadelphia and around the country; I took in many wonderful performances. Those dance programs I mention here especially stand out for the way they caught me by surprise and often left me flustered and panting for more.
Using what he knows
Even through that January weekend’s Oxycodone haze, I remember some of Kosoko’s performance, especially that it gave me my first insight into the stormy darkness of his early life, his mother’s addiction and all that it wrought. Kosoko brought his audience to tears of empathy one moment and made us laugh bitterly in the next. He’s a brilliant young performer and poet who fearlessly uses what he knows.
In March at Community Education Center, the dance-theater work Sonso, Simians & Pierrot introduced me to Marcel Williams Foster and his cast (Matteo Scammell, Hannah De Keijzer and Brandon Sloan), who pulled off some really delightful yet thoughtful monkey business. Scammell, who later landed the role of Jakub Katz in the Wilma’s Holocaust meditation Our Class, is sure to be seen frequently on area stages.
Koresh Dance Company’s Through the Skin in May and its 20-year retrospective sampler in December showed that the company had not only carved out its own dance niche in Philadelphia but deserves 20 years more.
They left me at a loss
Dance critics like to be confounded; and Lionel Popkin and Gabrielle Revlock did that for me in their November show at Performance Garage. Their pieces— There is an Elephant in this Room and Share— left me bedeviled, almost at a loss for words on how to talk about them in my Inquirer review. But I did, of course, although I’m still trying to figure out what the pieces are about. And that’s a good thing.
Brian Sanders’s Dancing Dead at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival took me to dark places. Really dark – like into the sub-basement of 444 North Fourth Street, where he used Americans’ current fascination with ghouls to work through his own grief over deaths close to him. He burst through his grief with his off-the-hook (and often on-the-hook) aerial antics that brought smiles of wonder to everyone present.
The Live Arts Festival brought Shantala Shivalingappa twice to Philadelphia— first at the Arts Bank, where her four solos were spellbinding. Her choreography and set design of Play that weekend (in which she performed with co-creator, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui) were equally spellbinding, but the ten-minutes-plus exposition Shivalingappa gave while seated with her legs dangling over the Prince stage broke the spell— it was too preachy and New Agey to engage me for long.
Back where they began
In September the veteran Philadelphia dancer/choreographer David Konyk’s residency at fidget space resulted in a terrific show with Hedy Wyland, Patricia Dominguez and Molly Jackson. After swinging from the rafters, the three donned bowler hats for Back to the First Place I Left You, a dance in seven parts that exited and entered between several partitions.
November’s Seed, by Nicole Cousineau and Gin MacCallum with a moody set design by Jorge Cousineau, still resonates for me as one of the year’s more mysteriously charming works.
At the Painted Bride in December, Nora Gibson’s choreography in Trinity – Phase II once again displayed her gripping style; it also demonstrated that her collaboration with Mikronesia’s Michael Reiley McDermott is a superb musical fit. Although Trinity is decidedly not derivative of Lucinda Childs’s work, it bears enough of a crisp and mathematical kinship to remind you of Childs.
As Philadelphia choreographers go, Gibson is unique in one respect: She’s not experimenting with gimmicks, trends, text, dance theater, interdisciplinarity or anything other than pure dance. Her work is so intensely interesting precisely because of its exponential function. I’d love to see a drawing of the patterns the dancers make around the space, with the points where the women’s toe shoes stab the floor in bold.
Acting as a judge at May’s A.W.A.R.D show at the Arts Bank. I don’t at all like the idea of awarding a $10,000 first prize while all the other contestants winners (except for the two runners-up, who receive $1,000 each) must foot the bill to perform. The program ought to cover some upfront expenses, even if that means reducing the first prize.
The contest included exciting surprises by Meredith Rainey, Raph Xavier and Zane Booker, all of whom I would have made a triple-play winner if I had my druthers. But I Made This for You, by Nicole Bindler and Gabrielle Revlock, was a shameless, shocking and on-target rebuke to the very idea of making artists compete against each other. Are they gladiators or are they dancers?
My husband and I drove up to New York in December to see the closing performance of Angel Reapers, by Martha Clarke and Alfred Uhry. Despite Clarke’s engaging choreography and staging, as well as brilliant dancing and harmonizing by the ten-person cast, the subject— the Shakers and their founder, the repulsive Ann Lee— left my skin crawling. As an antidote, we went Christmas shopping and out for a sensuous French dinner at Café Loup before gratefully returning to the relatively levelheaded Quaker City.♦
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