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The founding mothers of modern dance

Philly Fringe 2021: Dancefusion and Movement Migration present Dance Voices

In
3 minute read
Dancer Kate Lombardi, a white woman, holds out her arms onstage. She wears a long, flowing red dress with long tight sleeves.
A Graham sensibility: dancer Kate Lombardi in Mary Anthony’s ‘Gloria.’ (Photo by Randl Bye.)

In May, the Philadelphia Ballet gave us the living history of its art from Petipa to Balanchine, to Wheeldon. In Dance Voices, Dancefusion director Gwendolyn Bye brought the history of modern dance to life in this year’s Fringe. Bye, who was mentored by revered choreographer Mary Anthony and also worked with Martha Graham, is reconstructing her mentor’s repertoire and presented three excerpts from Anthony’s Gloria, set to Francis Poulenc’s choral work by the same name. Anthony was herself a student and dancer of Martha Graham and this work reflects a Graham sensibility at its most ritualistic and emotional.

It began with Kate Lombardi in red, backed by three women in more subdued colors. Costume designer Christina Giannini gave the women dramatic and flowing long skirts characteristic of Graham’s style. They walked forward at a slow pace, then skipped, but the drama was in the outstretched arms and the dynamism of the contract and release of the core. The three men entered for their own section in costumes by Martha Chamberlain that evoked Medieval knights. When the women returned in a powerful dance of lamentation over the men’s still forms, the contemporary technique, set to music written in the 1960s, felt ancient, as if it held within those uplifted arms the grief of the ages.

In good hands

Choreographer Jennifer Yackel has worked with Bye and one feels the passing of the torch to a new generation. In Ghost Island Suite, three women in calf-length white dresses and gray ankle boots moved forward and back hypnotically, like the pull of the tide. In the second part, they bent as if working at manual labor, pounding a hammer or pulling in nets. In the third, dancer Lombardi shed her boots and the measured control that had gone before. Her movement opened up and seemed to flow, as if her burdens had been cast aside. The music, by Kronos Quartet, added to the otherworldly feel of the dance. The tradition is in good hands.

A Space Between, choreographed by Omar Fredrick Pratt, could have used a bit of editing, and was not well-served by the dancers, who seemed to be having some trouble with the dance surface in the fast-paced choreography.

Revive and Untamed

The Philly-based Dancefusion shared a double bill with the Charlotte and New York City-based modern dance company Movement Migration, a collective of “mature dancers” directed by Kim Jones. The two dances they presented were inspired by kinetic sculptor Jean Tinguely’s Santana and created in collaboration with composers Mark Lewis (for Revive) and Craig Bove (for Untamed) and the Bechtel Ensemble. Of the two pieces, Untamed, choreographed by E. E. Balcos and Masha Dashkina Maddux, is the most gripping.

In costume designer Wendy Yang’s leotard, blue shapes floating on an illusion background, dancer Jacqueline White seemed to re-create the kinetic sculpture in human form. Balcos, on the floor beneath her, represented the arcs over which the sculpture moves. But the dance, mostly floorwork, seemed primal in its intensity—the moments when the sculpture gyrates wildly out of control before finding its stable center. It might have been too literal, but instead it felt almost animalistic in the best way. I wasn’t sure whether White was going to have sex with Balcos, or devour him.

Revive, a contemporary take on a tango, seemed less in tune with the theme and suffered a bit from a late change in partnering, as Kim Jones stepped in for Amy Claugus.

The founding mothers of Modern dance, like Mary Anthony and Martha Graham, have left us rich movement traditions. By reconstructing those influential dances and creating new works inspired by them, Dancefusion and Movement Migration are keeping the tradition alive.

What, When, Where

Dance Voices. $30. Choreography by Mary Anthony, Jennifer Yackel, E.E. Balcos, and Masha Dashkina Maddux. Dancefusion and Movement Migration, presented by Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American Street, Philadelphia. www.fringearts.com

Proof of full Covid vaccination was required for audience members. Masks were worn inside the building.

Accessibility

Christ Church Neighborhood House is a wheelchair-accessible venue, but the cobbles on the surrounding streets can be difficult to navigate for those with limited mobility.

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