A Philly dancer becomes a choreographer of note

Gary W. Jeter II presents Filaments

4 minute read
Against a white backdrop, Jeter, a Black dancer, poses on tiptoe, bending & gesturing to a black wicker object on the ground

Filaments, which explores connections between humans and the structure of the universe, is a work by Gary W. Jeter II, who has a rich history of dance in Philadelphia and beyond. Knowing Jeter as a dancer, I was eager to see his choreography in this presentation on Sunday, April 7, at the Performance Garage.

A graduate of the University of the Arts (UArts), he now teaches there. Jeter has danced with PHILADANCO!, BalletX, WaheedWorks, and Complexions. He also has choreographed works for multiple companies, programs, and events. This appealing show danced by a stellar ensemble, including Jeter himself, established him as a choreographer of note.

Filaments reflected Jeter’s experience performing diverse styles of dance and working with a wide array of artists: the movement drew from ballet, modern, contemporary, and more. Such breadth is rife with possibility, but it often yields a hodgepodge. This is not the case in Filaments, which conveyed a distinct choreographic voice.

A decade of movement vocabulary

In her pre-show remarks, Performance Garage cofounder Jeanne Ruddy noted that this performance came together in six months, but Jeter spent about 10 years developing his movement vocabulary. This was evident in the performance, a multifaceted work with depth thanks to terrific dancing by Jeter, Alexis Britford, Jayson Britton, Robert Burden, Mark Caserta, Aliyah Clay, Mikaela Fenton, and Andrea Yorita.

Organized into two acts, Filaments offers an abstract take on its subject matter. A memorable opening set the tone as dancers alternated between strolling through the space and performing a fast-paced, complex sequence with varied tempo, force, and focus. This melted into a synchronous section with all eight dancers, followed by a duet. Set to “Me and Your Mama” by Childish Gambino, the movement embodied the song’s shifting tempos and layered moods. It also reverberated through the performance as phrases from the first section reprised in the second act, from that first sequence to a low, sideways scuttle. Most sections included all eight dancers while featuring one or two. All were skilled and well-matched. Several of the dancers are current or former members of local companies, and a number of them have ties to UArts.

Watching them up close in the Performance Garage’s 105-seat theater was a delight, and duets were a highlight of Filaments. Caserta and Clay shone in the first act, seeming to be controlled first by Jeter and then by their own synergy. Caserta spun Clay, whose body gracefully gave way before slowly articulating back up. Jeter and Fenton captivated in both acts, with their second duet building on the first. They created the illusion of Jeter controlling Fenton’s movements as he tapped her limbs to set them in motion.

Britford also danced well with Jeter, and her face radiated joy throughout Filaments. This is another reason to love the venue, where viewers are close enough to see dancers’ faces and even hear them breathe. Britton and Yorita, two dancers with outsize presence, brought fleet energy to a cat-and-mouse game that culminated in them dancing amidst a mass of bodies.

A strong company

Sections danced by the whole company were strong as well. The first act featured kinetic lifts for pairs of dancers, in which one partner hoisted the other using only their clasped hands. Later, Caserta caught Yorita and tossed her to another dancer. The striking image of dancers appearing to be drawn toward something unseen, only to cringe away from it, concluded the first act.

Filaments reached its climax in a group dance set to Nina Simone’s “If I Should Lose You.” Dancers stood with their backs to the audience, then huddled on the floor as Fenton soloed until her gestures pulled them up. The second act was bookended by images of dancers’ bodies forming a rotating sculpture. When it repeated at the end of Filaments, Jeter’s touch freed individuals from the collective shape.

Jeter, in small white shorts & an open red shirt, seems to fly above the dark stage with his limbs outstretched.
Dancer/choreographer Gary W. Jeter II. (Photo by Sharen Bradford.)

Lighting by Julia Maggio added nuance to the space and movement. Costumes by Jeter and Megumi Oshikiri suggested potential relationships and allegiances. In the first act, costumes were uniform but differentiated by gender. The second act added to this by using color to create pairs of male and female dancers.

Hoping for more from Jeter

Filaments’s sequences raised questions about connection and control. At the same time, dancers portrayed individual humans as deeply intertwined with others. Like the bodies that made up the living shape, each was an autonomous part of a larger, collectively created whole. But these images were fleeting and only vaguely representational. If Filaments had a weakness, it was the realization of the theme. On the other hand, the show tackled a broad, metaphysical topic that is difficult to explore in any medium.

Ultimately, Filaments evoked fine threads woven together into a whole more dense, layered, and nuanced than its components. The dancers resembled strands of stars vibrating talent and energy as they brought Jeter’s movement vocabulary to life. Here’s hoping Philadelphia sees these eight dancers together again. And here’s hoping for more work by Jeter, a choreographer on the rise.

Above: Dancer and choreographer Gary W. Jeter II. (Photo by Jae Man Joo.)

What, When, Where

Filaments. Choreography by Gary W. Jeter II. $35-$40. April 7, 2024, at the Performance Garage, 1515 Brandywine Street, Philadelphia.

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