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Hatfield House is one of the historic homes that dot the Fairmont Park landscape. In 2017, it underwent some renovations and became a home for the arts in Strawberry Mansion. I’d never been there, and I love the Fringe Festival’s outdoor community-participation events, so Imagination Playground was a natural pick. It promised an evening of dance and sculpture and puppetry that invited its audience to join in and explore the grounds.
The event capped a three-month collaborative artistic residency. Choreographer and artistic director Christina Castro-Tauser, of Expansions Contemporary Dance Ensemble (working with the International Ballet Exchange), joined forces with visual artists Roger Wing, Bariq Cobbs, and Santi Castro for an interdisciplinary outdoor event. Then it rained. And rained some more. It was rain or shine, though, so off I went.
Shining through the rain
Director Castro-Tauser adapted on the fly. The show began with artist Castro’s wonderful giant puppets—the sun, the moon, a cloud—carried on posts by dancers who kept to the broad covered porch. I imagined how much fun it would have been to follow them dancing in the sunshine, but alas, the real sky did not cooperate. Still, we had a chance to see them, and it was an imagination playground.
Traditional African dancer Angela Watson followed with a performance that turned the rain to liquid sunshine. Dressed in white, and with her son on drum, she led the ensemble and a group of local dancers in a traditional wedding dance, arms swinging in the tight porch space. We clapped our hands to keep the beat, but the rain kept us in our seats beneath a tent roof that seemed to spill a cascade whenever we considered venturing out to join the fun.
A live performance of an excerpt from La Guagua 47, a short film choreographed by Castro-Tauser, also lit up the cloudy day with social dance to a Latin rhythm. The film tells the story of the 47 SEPTA bus route through the Latin community. Castro-Tauser introduced student choreographers, with a guest performance by hip-hop dance artist Nah-Keith Turrentine. The performance ended with a last appearance of those dancing puppets.
By then, the rain had let up, so we were able to explore the other part of the event: 10 sculptures on the grounds. Working together over the course of the residency, Roger Wing had carved his sculptures out of tree trunks, while muralist Bariq Cobbs painted the carvings in vivid colors.
Introducing the works at the sculpture tent, Wing said that he usually refines his carvings, finishing them to reveal the grain, but with Cobbs’s painting, he preferred to leave the surfaces rougher, highlighting the paint as well as the shapes. My favorite was a sculpture of a couple, which I likened to a Brâncuşi on acid. Wing enjoyed the comparison.
The weather kept away the children who would have performed and those who would have loved the show on a sunnier afternoon, but all in all, it worked out well in spite of the weather.
What, When, Where
Imagination Playground. Choreography by Christina Castro-Tauser, visual arts by Roger Wing, Bariq Cobbs, and Santi Castro. September 11, 2022. Hatfield House, N. 33rd Street and Girard Avenue, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.
Hatfield House grounds and first floor are wheelchair accessible, but the restroom is not.
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