Spring performances promise rare moments

Philadelphia Dance Projects’s Dance Up Close continues

3 minute read
Wilson’s image imposed on a greenhouse area. She wears a shirt with an ‘athletic toned male’ upper body printed on it
Annie Wilson’s 'Always the Hour' promises ‘unusual content.’ (Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Dance Projects.)

Philadelphia Dance Projects’s Dance Up Close series opened in February, appropriately, with a premiere in an intimate space within Christ Church Neighborhood House. There, the Putty Dance Project treated its audience to richly layered jazz movement and music, against a projected backdrop of the performers’ family photos. In Glimpse, smiling children looked on as Lauren Putty White led three other dancers in structured improvisation to similarly designed music played live by her husband, jazz composer and trombonist Brent White, and five other musicians. From their syncopated feet to their angled limbs, you could see the music move through the dancers’ bodies like an electrical charge so strong it frayed at the ends. The compact, precise Putty White and the long, languid Sarah Warren made a striking contrast. I’d love to see how Putty White’s truly original vocabulary would play out in set choreography.

Rural perspectives

The series will continue with two very different programs of new work in the small, informal Icebox Project Space. Where Glimpse paired dance and music in an inventive rarely seen form, Paige Phillips’s The Tale of the Slaughtered Hog and Annie Wilson’s Always the Hour bring us unusual content. With the performing arts concentrated in urban areas, these performances, under the umbrella title Rural Legacies, offer audiences a rare chance to encounter perspectives almost entirely absent from our usual diet—and to explore social issues that are hidden connectors between rural and urban people.

First up is Phillips’s interdisciplinary piece that interweaves her memories of growing up in coal-country West Virginia with radical Appalachian histories such as the Coal Wars, armed labor conflicts led by a multiethnic, multiracial group of miners. In response to questions from BSR, Phillips writes that the work is “a call to action, to come together in solidarity around urgent issues" such as labor exploitation and wealth inequality.

“I often encounter folks who assume it would be impossible to work with Appalachians,” she comments. “During the performance, I question why these biases exist and ask who might profit from continuing to push such narratives.” Phillips hopes to counter tropes such as Hillbilly Elegy, which in her view “pushes the idea that the working poor are morally corrupt.”

In April, the series closes with Wilson's durational installation work that traces her personal mythology—the influence of her rural New York grandfather, Gub—and evokes icons such as Prometheus, Jesus, and, in a local nod, the Eagles. Wilson never knew Gub, who was a bomber pilot and POW in World War II and later developed alcoholism. She writes that, to her, he too is a mythological figure: “one I’ve never seen, who exerts enormous power over my life from behind the scenes. … I invoke mythological figures to double underline that my grandfather was a human who needed real support from a country that weaponized him and then disposed of him.” Always the Hour, Wilson comments, probes “how we are haunted by (family) history, and how we might turn to the liver (yes, that giant organ in the middle of our body) to show us how to metabolize stories that we thought we needed to survive—but don’t.”

What, When, Where

Dance Up Close series. Tale of the Slaughtered Hog, by Paige Phillips (March 28-30, 2023, 7pm). Always the Hour, by Annie Wilson (April 4-6, 2023, 6pm). $20. Icebox Project Space, 1400 N American Street. (215) 546-2552 or philadanceprojects.org.


Icebox Project Space is wheelchair accessible. Both of these works are recommended for mature audiences only.

Mask-wearing is requested at all performances.

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