Watching the dancers at Lily Kind’s Wolfthicket, I had to remind myself it was only August, and the Fringe Festival had not yet begun. It’s the kind of small, idiosyncratic vision that usually flies under the radar.
According to Kind’s press release, we were in for an evening of play, with children’s games and a taste of club culture mixed with a bit of contemporary. The performance took place in a space marked out by bits of yarn and ribbon strung between four pillars, with carpet squares on the floor and a kitchen in a corner in the back. The audience sat in two rows of widely spaced chairs around the pillars, reading the program booklet’s 11 pages of notes (with footnotes), while a recording of the 2016 Australian Open match between Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams played in the background.
The play-by-play soon gave way to the boombox sounds of the Pointer Sisters in a cover of the song “Dirty Work.” In this section of the show, called “The Door Joke,” the barefoot dancers, wearing sports pants with a stripe down the leg and stretchy patched-together tops, popped in one door and filed out again or darted out another, then again, and again. The notes gave a history of the vaudeville door joke, and a bit more on vaudeville, the printed words an integral part of the performance.
The dancers returned for “Life in Pink,” a waacking number full of arm movement and sashay with a samba beat set to Grace Jones’s bossa nova version of “La Vie en Rose.” But “Boom Boom Boom” was the hit of the evening. The dance included tight formations and breakout dances in a fast and joyful celebration of club life with the refrain, “we like to partay!” The audience went wild. (The notes described the history of the song and Grace Jones, and the roots of waacking as a popular dance in gay disco clubs in the 1970s)
Kind and the dancers choreographed some of the pieces, and improvised others. Between the numbers, the group engaged in clapping games, hopscotch, and children’s chants such as “Miss Susie Had a Steamboat,” which begins in a tight line of dancers acting out the hand motions as the child’s rhyme teases naughtiness: “Miss Susie went to heaven, the steamboat went to hell-o operator...” The evening ended with “Codex” to Photay’s “Outré Lux,” where the dancers slowly disappeared into the kitchen to change into black tunics, created by Lexi Lewis, for a bit of jazzy club dancing.
Some of the pieces worked better than others. I liked the “Little Sparrow” section of “Olio,” in which two dancers on hands and knees supported a third who lay on his back on top of them, legs drawn up, singing the “Little Sparrow” song, but did not find it funny, nor did it seem intended to be, though some of the audience did laugh. I’d have liked a bit less hopscotch and a bit more waacking, but one thing is certain: Lily Kind is a real find. Precise in her movement, she flirted with the audience, pulling us into the games. It was hard to take your eyes off her.
What, When, Where
Wolfthicket. By Lily Kind. Through September 5, 2021, at Merz Hall of the Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion, 2111 Sansom St., Philadelphia. www.lilykind.org/wolfthicket.
Seating is limited to 26 people per performance. All cast members are vaccinated, and audience members are required to wear masks.
Merz Hall at the Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion is a wheelchair-accessible venue.