Is The Umbrella Dance a procession, a meditation, a film, or a dream? The latest iteration of the signature piece from experimental modern dance troupe Anne-Marie Mulgrew and Dancers Company (AMM & DCO) aims to inspire viewers, whether they planned to attend or stumbled upon the performance. The Umbrella Dance has been in the company’s repertoire for 20 years, and AMM & DCO has performed different versions in many locations. Artistic director/founder Anne-Marie Mulgrew explains that “each time it’s very different, because there are different factors” shaping the performance, including place, time of day, cast members, and audience response, and the piece always includes some improvisation as dancers respond to these factors. Endlessly adaptable and always new, this version of The Umbrella Dance will be a site-specific performance tailored to the natural beauty and architecture of Dickinson Square Park.
Dancing outside the box
Six dancers will wear white and carry white umbrellas as they travel slowly and silently through Dickinson Square, accompanied by roaming documenters. Gestures, movement tableaus, and choreographed phrases will accent the dancers’ progress through the park. Outdoor site-specific performances like The Umbrella Dance hearken to ancient traditions in which people performed outside. And this type of performance is particularly appealing during a pandemic. Public spaces such as parks have become more important as they provide safer opportunities for people to gather and interact.
But The Umbrella Dance has always met audiences where they are. It has been performed both indoors and outdoors at locations including the Wilma Theater, Dilworth Park, the Barnes Foundation, Cherry Street Pier, and Mifflin Square Park. “It’s a way to bring the art to where the people gather,” Mulgrew notes, and doing so introduces new audiences to AMM & DCO. Because it is accessible to audiences and fairly easy to stage, The Umbrella Dance is uniquely versatile. The performance does not require a stage, sound system, or special lighting. Plus, it can be performed with dancers wearing masks and maintaining social distance. Equally accessible for dancers, it’s been performed by people of all ages and levels of experience. A dancer recovering from surgery will join the cast in Dickinson Square.
The Umbrella Dance is conceived, directed, and choreographed by Anne-Marie Mulgrew, who has done site-specific work on various themes throughout her career. Mulgrew will perform in Dickinson Square, along with Sally Forester, Erica Isakower, Kate Lombardi, Leslie Ann Pike, and Olivia Wood. Francesca Costanzo and Anne Saint Peter will serve as "roving documenters."
The audience is encouraged to participate by following the dance, as well as by sharing images on social media. Viewers also can join in, and they have participated in various ways over the years. Once, a passerby dressed in black with a black umbrella joined the white-clad, white umbrella-holding dancers. Since Dickinson Square’s Farmers’ Market and Art Show will take place on the same day, this Umbrella Dance will have something for everyone. “You can see art, watch dance or not, walk through the dance, and buy vegetables,” Mulgrew said.
What, When, Where
The Umbrella Dance. Choreography by Anne-Marie Mulgrew. Anne-Marie Mulgrew and Dancers Company, September 19, 11:30am, at the Dickinson Square's Farmers' Market and Art Show, open 10am-1pm, 1600 Moyamensing Avenue, Philadelphia. Free and open to the public. The performance will follow Philadelphia Covid guidelines. For more information, visit annemariemulgrewdancersco.org.