What some say we shouldn't see

Philly Fringe 2023: Ben Grinberg and Hazem Header in Fix Me

3 minute read
Grinberg, on his knees, faces the shirtless Header in a moment of sexual tension, next to a single lamp.

In the right upstage corner of Fidget Space, a standing lamp sheds light on two intertwined bodies. Each partially obscures the other: here an extra leg, there two unmatched arms. Neither face is visible. Against the leftmost wall, a couch sits empty. A duet unfolds in the space between, formally separated from the audience only by a structural post at downstage center. Seated mostly on pillows and couches, sipping drinks, the Philly audience watches from the other side of what feels like one large living room. And that private feel may not be a coincidence.

Fix Me, produced in the Cannonball Festival hub of the Fringe, was created and is performed by Ben Grinberg of Philly’s Almanac Dance Circus Theatre and Hazem Header of NÜT Dance Company, based in Cairo, Egypt. If you focus solely on what’s put in front of you—my usual approach—you’ll see a charming, sometimes angsty boy-meets-boy story. But as Grinberg points out in an email to the Almanac and Cannonball audience, in Cairo, this show can’t be performed publicly. That backstory hangs over the proceedings as Header and Grinberg deliver striking performances, ably mixing contemporary dance and acrobatics with strong gesture and characterization.

They make their way along the back wall, maintaining touch most of the time as they stretch into handstands one atop the other. Percussive music gains momentum as the two dip and surge in weighty, interdependent moves. They tussle, then retreat like fighters to their corners, eyeing each other.

Grinberg recruits an audience member to take his photo as he fools around on the couch, maybe searching for the perfect IG pose. Meanwhile, stage right, Header prostrates himself as if in prayer, then launches into a frantic bobbing dance. Their cultural signatures are clear, if a bit heavy-handed.

There's some high-energy fun (with an undercurrent) as the Bangles’s “Walk Like an Egyptian” plays. Header dives off the couch, aiming for Grinberg, who fends him off. They play cat-and-mouse, then switch roles. They position their faces close together, then break the stare with a shove. Sometimes, Header pitches into a fall, and Grinberg rushes to catch him. Late in the game, the work begins to broadcast each narrative turn, mostly casting Header as lover and Grinberg as beloved. Grinberg casually announces, “I have to go to work.” Header, left solo, broods, pushing through the space in various directions. Eventually, he strikes a fist. Once Grinberg returns, they mime a sex scene, after which Grinberg brings a bucket of water and repeatedly washes himself. Header keeps launching himself at Grinberg and slipping on the wet floor. Here’s where that backstory comes in: these moments feel unsubtle within the theatrical experience, but they may serve a political purpose—showing what some say shouldn’t be seen.

In the closing, Fix Me is again at its best, drawing on the artistic chemistry you can see between Grinberg and Header in Chain Dance, an Almanac piece that Grinberg shared as part of a residency in Egypt. Chain Dance “evokes everything about an intimate relationship of mutual commitment, from the parts that feel stifling to the ways in which unexpected delight and surprise can come from an unwavering connection,” Grinberg wrote in his audience email. In common with Fix Me, the dance is a reminder that though the characters and plots of our lives may vary, love requires us all to walk an emotional tightrope.

Above: Ben Grinberg (left) and Hazem Header in Fix Me. (Photo by Johanna Austin.)

What, When, Where

Fix Me. Created and performed by Ben Grinberg and Hazem Header. Almanac Dance Circus Theatre and NÜT Dance Company. Through September 30, 2023, at Fidget Space, 1714 N Mascher St, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or phillyfringe.org.


Fidget Space is accessible only by several flights of stairs.

Masks are required.

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