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Almanac Dance Circus Theatre's I Hear You and I’d Like to Respond accidentally acquired some extra drama when it debuted. It headlined Almanac’s Cannonball Festival, which offered some of the most engaging performances in our packed September. But after the first show, several others were cancelled. Those of us who came on one of the few remaining dates were greeted with signs that told us why: Covid-19 had broken out among the cast. Cast members wore masks and kept their distance from us. Still, the show was stunning. Seeing a person launched high into a mid-air flip, you hold your breath. Even after they land safely, you remain on high alert—and that’s a great time for big ideas to burrow into your imagination. The return of this thrilling and thoughtful show, part of the Miniball Festival, is a great chance to see what many missed in September.
Close your eyes and see
I Hear You engages us as fellow travelers on a flight to an imagined, ambiguous destination: does it represent human progress or climate apocalypse? Two narrators compete to guide us there. The Facilitator, played by dancer Rhonda Moore, encourages us to follow our instincts. “Close your eyes,” she says. “What if you were to trust your body to sense, to gather the information it needs—to know, even when you cannot see?” The Professor, played by Almanac member Nathan Alford-Tate, insists on a more intellectual approach. “Open your eyes to this: all things are constructions, and all things, therefore, can be deconstructed and rebuilt.”
Their torrent of words is periodically interrupted—and amplified—by acrobatic sequences that are exciting, but not showy. I Hear You lets us notice how the ensemble carefully sets up. “To me, that’s what’s interesting about circus work: the cooperation, the ways that human beings have to put down their individual experience and say, how are we, collectively, going to achieve this?” says Almanac cofounder Ben Grinberg, who directs the show and wrote much of the script. And we feel the risk as Moore—an iconic dancer not previously trained in circus skills—rises to stand atop the shoulders of her younger colleagues. That too is an Almanac signature: “A lot of times, a circus performance tries to be flashy and smooth,” Grinberg comments. “But for me, what’s really at the heart of circus as an art form is watching a human being come up against limitation, face that, and overcome that.”
I Hear You takes on not just climate change but also, subtly, race: Alford-Tate and Moore are the two Black cast members. And it pokes fun at how our words fail to communicate big issues. While Grinberg says he often tries to limit scope—“I usually say that a work can’t be about everything”—the joke this time around was, “Actually, what if it was about everything?” In this show, surprisingly, that works.
What, When, Where
I Hear You and I’d Like to Respond. Created and directed by Ben Grinberg. Presented by Almanac Dance Circus Theatre. $5-$50. December 15 at 7:30pm, December 16 at 6pm, and December 17 at 3pm, at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American Street, Philadelphia. (856) 441-2837 or cannonballfestival.org.
Christ Church Neighborhood House is ADA Accessible, with an elevator to the theater level. Proof of vaccination and masking required.
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