Dancing through the pandemic

Anne-Marie Mulgrew and Dancers Company presents NOW! Three Years Later

3 minute read
A multi-racial group of 5 dancers in tight green and black clothes, standing in a circle and striking different poses.
From left to right: Tori Vincent, Em Godfrey, Arielle Ridley, Leslie Ann Pike, and Ava Pizzi in a tableau from ‘NOW! Three Years Later.’ (Courtesy of AMM & DCO.)

In a film running before the performance, company director and choreographer Anne-Marie Mulgrew said that it is never too late to start to dance. She herself did not dance until college, but she has been a mainstay in the Philadelphia dance scene since those college days: first working with the Philadelphia Dance Alliance, then working with impresario Randy Swartz to bring worldwide talent to Philadelphia. And for 37 years, her own small company, Anne-Marie Mulgrew & Dancers Company (AMM & DCO), has been part of an ecosystem of small companies carving out a creative niche in the shadow of the major institutions in the city.

AMM & DCO shares space as a resident company at Kun-Yang Lin’s CHI Movement Studio. Its dancers, like Em Godfrey and Arielle Ridley, move between companies during the season. It is fun to see them performing in different contemporary aesthetics, so I was looking forward to seeing what Mulgrew asked them to do.

The title dance

The program describes NOW! Three Years Later as a “response to the pandemic’s personal, political, and social impact on us as humans and how it transformed our world and our environment.” The title piece, with costumes in shades of gray by Leslie Ann Pike, consists of seven separate sections. I did not entirely understand how they fit together, but several drew my attention. Section 2, “Connecting,” began in darkness, with just the stamping of the dancers’ feet and their vocalizations, “huh, huh, huh.”

When the music began (Divan Gattamorta’s Canon), the lights came up to show the troupe of five dancers gathered tightly at center stage in a tableau of changing positions, a modernist version of an old masters painting. Section 3, “If Trees Could Talk,” introduced a theme that threaded through the piece: dancers miming an obsessive attention to cellphones while Ridley leaped across the stage, unnoticed by those with their heads in imaginary screens. Whether carrying a partner in a lift or making gravity disappear in a jeté, Ridley is a dancer to watch. A short film of a tree with a background of birdsong gave the small troupe a breather.

Godfrey’s solo to the layered cello of Zoë Keating’s “The Last Bird” gave us darting head movements that, together with a feathery skirt of dark grey tule, evoked a city sparrow. The final section (“Seven Waves of the Future”) tried to bring everything together, returning to bird song and music described as tribal dance music. Ridley again was a standout, as was one dancer seeming to rock like a seesaw in an interesting lift by the rest of the troupe. But it veered a bit between obscure and too on-the-nose. The call-out to cell phones seemed overused; the final scene, with the dancers miming selfie poses, was sharply observed, but the piece would have benefited from some editing and, like most theatrical productions, fewer cellphones.

Em Godfrey, in layered tulle, poses on one foot with the other leg and both arms aloft, looking back over their shoulder
Like a city sparrow: Em Godfrey in Anne-Marie Mulgrew & Dancers Company’s ‘NOW! Three Years Later.’ (Courtesy of AMM & DCO.)

Memories, a trio, and a reprise

The second half of the performance started with three short pieces. I wanted to like the opening duet more than I did, but the following solo danced by Pike, 2022’s Memories from Within, was a highlight. Set to Bach, it had a classical feel in spite of the wide-legged blue jumpsuit that evoked a denim overall with spaghetti straps. Pike had lovely extensions and a series of splits, so she had the tricks, but she also brought a touch of elegance to the performance.

Trio 2023 was perhaps the most interesting piece of the night. Godfrey lay at the center of a spotlight in a sleek one-piece of shorts and cami top in bright red. Tori Vincent, in a ruffled white hoop dress, circled the spotlight, a light in her upraised hands. The contrasts—sleek versus ruffled, Godfrey’s floorwork answered by Vincent holding her light aloft like a beacon—gave the piece texture and interest. Late in the piece, Ridley, in a black pants suit and described as “the mysterious stranger” in the program, passed across the back of the stage, but it was not clear why she was there. The piece seemed to work better in the duet parts.

The performance ended with a reprise of a section of 2022’s Beautiful Chaos.

What, When, Where

NOW! Three Years Later. Choreography by Anne-Marie Mulgrew. Anne-Marie Mulgrew & Dancers Company. $10-$20. June 23 and 24, 2023, at the Performance Garage, 1515 Brandywine Street, Philadelphia. annemariemulgrewdancersco.org.

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