Girls and women; water and war

Anne-Marie Mulgrew & Dancers Company presents From the Female Gaze’

4 minute read
Unspooling and remaking a universe of time: The ensemble in a selection from ‘One-Minute Dances for Small Spaces.’ (Photo by Anne Saint Peter.)
Unspooling and remaking a universe of time: The ensemble in a selection from ‘One-Minute Dances for Small Spaces.’ (Photo by Anne Saint Peter.)

Anne-Marie Mulgrew & Dancers Company returned to the Performance Garage for a concert inspired by the centennial of the 19th Amendment. A series of dances created by Mulgrew (the company’s founder and artistic director) as well as work by or with guest artists engaged with this momentous anniversary, reflecting on time, subjectivity, and the female experience.

One-minute dances

The performance began with One-Minute Dances for Small Spaces, a work about time and place comprised of 16 sections lasting 60 seconds each: “a micro-universe in itself,” according to the program notes. Indeed, its universe unspooled and remade time, inviting the audience to ponder the subjective and situational experience of temporality. Minutes fly past when we are entertained and engrossed, but drag when we are uncomfortable or disinterested.

One-Minute Dances kept things fresh with variety: Often, I was surprised when the minute ended and the next dance began. Circles of light projected onto the stage contained the movement performed by solo dancers and groups, beginning with the pairing of Kate Lombardi’s automaton gestures with robotic sounds. The third dance introduced nature with bird sounds and Leslie Ann Pike’s avian-inspired movement, such as a balance resembling the asana called Bird of Paradise.

Winfield Maben followed in a standout solo, his body seeming charged as he raced around his circle of light before it wound down like a battery losing power. Another highlight was Mulgrew’s solo with a white umbrella that appeared to fill with light. She created a beautiful image when she balanced on her tailbone with the upside-down umbrella between her knees. In the final sections, dancers moving together to their own rhythms suggested the ways experiences of time also vary according to who is with us, even as those sharing our time and space perceive things in their own ways.

Watery rhythms

This theme relates to Neptune, a duet by Asya Zlatina, performed by guest artists Ashley Searles and Colin Murray. A stunning work set to music from Gustav Holst’s The Planets Suite, Neptune portrayed a couple struggling for control over the self, the beloved, and desire, a force with the power to bring lovers to their knees. Zlatina’s choreography combined with cool blue lighting to depict the watery environment of the Roman sea god who is Neptune’s namesake.

Prone and twisted upon the stage, Searles’s body resembled a gasping fish tossed ashore. She and Murray joined in a slow-motion embrace that appeared to take place underwater. Gestures of tenderness—a gentle hand, a near-kiss—alternated with violence. The couple bumped chests and mimed chokeholds, and they scuttled away from one another like crabs after a passionate moment.

Searles, a dancer of notable strength and control, always impresses. Murray matched her in power and intensity, and this well-paired duo was striking to watch. Murray’s pale-blue costume evoked a merman. Searles tossed a leather belt onto the stage, and after a struggle, wrapped it around Murray’s neck. A collar? A leash? He continued to fight against the belt and his partner and his defeat, seeming to choke. I was breathless myself when the lights went down.

Commanding and fluid: Kate Lombardi in ‘Quiet Power.’ (Photo by Anne Saint Peter.)
Commanding and fluid: Kate Lombardi in ‘Quiet Power.’ (Photo by Anne Saint Peter.)

Buffeted by time

After intermission, women’s perspectives came into focus. Alissa Johann, Tamaki Serizawa, Olivia Wood, and Pike formed a quartet in constant motion. Their kicks and whirls combined with gestures of diving and swimming to reflect fluid femininity. Dancers seemed buffeted by time and tide when they fell forward and formed planks with their bodies. Next, Lombardi danced an empowering solo in a gorgeous black costume with a blue sash. Set to music by Ramin Djawadi that viewers likely recognized from Game of Thrones, Lombardi was as commanding as Cersei Lannister from that series.

In the following dance, Johann, Maben, Pike, Serizawa, and Wood moved asynchronously, twitching their hands and feet. They also formed pairs and groups to execute a series of lifts, including a dazzling assisted dive. The piece concluded with a formation of three dancers moving laterally across the stage on hands and knees with a fourth balancing across their backs. Afterward, Mulgrew returned for a solo in which the black hood pulled over her head riffed on Little Red Riding Hood. If Red is a tale of innocence, Black could be a dance of experience. I saw images of loss and aging in shaking hands and the repetition of scrubbing gestures. Beneath the hood, Mulgrew wore a long white skirt that she removed at the dance’s end, stepping out of the spotlight in an image of finality.

No single experience

The company performed the final dance, Skirting. As a noun, skirt is traditionally associated with women’s clothing; as a verb, it refers to keeping to the edges, passing, or avoiding—things our culture often rewards girls and women for doing. There was military flair in the dance’s percussive footwork and thigh slapping as well as its costumes, reminiscent of uniforms. Yet it also suggested girls at play, with clapping and gestures resembling schoolyard games.

Interesting ideas, standout performances, and Mulgrew’s signature inventive yet thoughtful use of props contributed to an enjoyable and entertaining evening of dance. From the Feminine Gaze contained multitudes, challenging notions of a single, unified female experience.

What, When, Where

From the Feminine Gaze. Choreography by Anne-Marie Mulgrew and guests. Anne-Marie Mulgrew & Dancers Company. June 14 and 15 at the Performance Garage, 1515 Brandywine Street, Philadelphia. (215) 569-4060 or

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