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Last Friday, as the Kimmel Cultural Campus's Perelman Theater filled with the warm chatter of faithful PHILADANCO! followers, the atmosphere felt like a family reunion. The Continuum, the company’s fall season performance, featured three world premieres and one work new to Philadelphia, all choreographed by company alums. And the opening-night house was mostly full, despite the Phillies World Series opener happening on the same night.
The dancers displayed the technical excellence and expressive delivery the company is known for in a program offering three pieces that sit squarely in the company’s modern-dance tradition, which honors especially the contributions of Black choreographers. Two of these three were solid works. But I love to see a strong company stretch in new directions: to me, the closing piece by Ephrat Asherie, a fluid mix rooted in the idioms of breaking and house, was the high point of the evening.
In Asherie’s Out-Side-In, a pair of women opened the conversation in a daring dance language: sinuous transitions threaded together dramatic dips to the floor and stop-action poses, making their hybrid patois feel natural. The action built to a full ensemble onstage, but the 11 dancers joined together only occasionally. More typical was a moment when three men sat downstage, hands on hips, observing the antics going on upstage. And throughout the dance, there was plenty to look at. A pair of men echoed the women’s early duet: they joined hands and repeatedly pulled together then expanded, creating a sort of cool, contemporary take on the jitterbug. In a breathtaking solo, William Burden froze for a moment with one leg extended high, then, holding his position, plunged to the floor. The dancers popped up in high tuck jumps.
In a post-performance talk, Asherie described herself as a b-girl and commented that she created Out-Side-In during the height of the pandemic, when would-be clubgoers resorted to dancing in their kitchens. Yet even if it was inspired by parties of one, the piece does feel like a party. The dancers often employed a straight-up presentational style: they looked the audience in the eye as if to say, yup, I just pulled that off. The piece—though it ends abruptly, begging for expansion—let them enjoy the movement of their bodies and the sound they made as they bounded, pivoted, and stepped in heavy work boots.
A trio of premieres
Out-Side-In carries no symbolic or emotional burden—a contrast with the first three pieces. The opener, Francisco Gella’s Seasons, offered many lovely moments as it explored the feelings people associate with summer, fall, spring, and winter. This company premiere offered no literal, one-to-one correspondence in structure: there are five (not four) sections, ranging from “anticipation” to “jubilation” to “improvisation.” Still, the dancers had big ideas to communicate as they moved to Max Richter’s remix of Vivaldi’s famous music. They sometimes signaled emotion via obvious gestures—for instance, holding a hand to the face, then extending it longingly.
Both in this piece and in Bernard Gaddis’s romantic Stolen Moments, the dancers looked great and committed fully to the choreographers’ intentions. But the choreographic ideas felt a little heavy handed—a tendency that peaked with the third piece.
My Time…Soar, a solo work for the lovely Clarricia Golden, featured a voiceover by the choreographer, former PHILADANCO! star Hope Boykin, which is meant to inspire. “Who I strive to be changes with each day,” she says. Remembering Boykin’s brilliant dancing, I looked forward to seeing this piece. But as the dancer reflected Boykin’s aspirations and setbacks in literal terms—leaping then shrinking back—I yearned for more subtlety.
Looking back on the evening, the freshness and excitement of Out-Side-In is what sticks with me. I’m eager to see what kind of mix PHILADANCO! will show us when they return to the Kimmel Cultural Campus in the spring.
What, When, Where
The Continuum. Choreography by Ephrat Asherie, Francisco Gella, Bernard Gaddis, and Hope Boykin. PHILADANCO! October 28-30, 2022, at the Kimmel Cultural Campus’s Perelman Theater, 300 South Broad Street, Philadelphia. philadanco.org or kimmelculturalcampus.org.
Masks are not required at Kimmel Cultural Campus venues.
The Kimmel Cultural Campus is an ADA-compliant venue. Patrons can purchase wheelchair seating or loose chairs online by calling Patron Services at (215) 893-1999 or by emailing [email protected].
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