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Amidst the offbeat, hard-to-categorize performances in the 2023 Fringe Festival lineup are several interesting options for lovers of classical dance. Two of these drew from tradition while incorporating modern elements. Local favorites Klassic Contemporary Ballet Company (KCBC) and its pre-professional company KCBCII performed their Summer Series at Cherry Street Pier on Sunday, September 10, blending ballet with modern and contemporary dance. And Aylin Bayaz and Raúl Mannola’s Flamencodanza lands in Philly September 9-16 at Brewerytown’s Sound Space Performing Arts.
At Cherry Street Pier, KCBC and KCBCII explored the boundaries of classical ballet. A series of works incorporated different styles of dance to spotlight the strengths of dancers of various ages and skill levels. The first two dances focused on members of KCBCII, many of whom are younger than those in other junior companies. I did not expect this, but the diversity of dancers was inspiring, and several young performers shone.
One standout was apprentice Taylor Johnson, whose sky-high kicks and precise arm movements indicated mastery as well as potential. A solo by company founder and director Kimberly Landle-Corbett simultaneously embodied the airy grace of ballet and the fluid earthiness of modern dance. Yet the youths’ movements and tempo were not uniformly crisp, and their sometimes-confusing use of the space made it difficult to identify a focal point. Nevertheless, I was charmed by a section featuring the tiniest dancers, whose bodies formed a little pile on stage before they rose for a simple routine.
The program closed with a piece entitled “It’s Beautiful, But What Does It Mean?” Performed by company members and apprentices, the jazzy, abstract work was a highlight. Clad in solid, jewel-toned outfits, dancers resembled moving sculptures as they entered the space. The choreography again played to the dancers’ strengths. Magnetic and athletic, Em Godfrey demonstrated great control of their momentum and balance. Promise Smith lent elegant grace to a lovely solo. Olivia Amato, Haylie Jost, Athena Mattingly, and Johnson also danced well. The piece concluded with a terrific quartet for Godfrey, Landle-Corbett, Smith, and Blythe Smith-Kudla.
Bayaz (a dancer) and Mannola (a guitarist) tour the world, sharing traditional flamenco with a contemporary flair. Though they have performed around the world, this Fringe presentation of Flamencodanza is their first visit to Philadelphia. Flamenco is both a style of Spanish folkloric music and the dancing that accompanies it. In 2010, UNESCO recognized flamenco as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Bayaz and Mannola demonstrate extraordinary skill in their respective art forms, and Flamencodanza is riveting when they perform together. Mannola punctuates the complex rhythms of his guitar with percussive sounds from his fingers and hands. Bayaz’s movements match the passion and yearning of the music as she whips and twirls her full skirt, then lifts it to show off her intricate footwork.
The dancer’s rapid steps and finger castanets add layers of sound that duet with the music. Bayaz’s feet, arms, and body interpret the dramatic notes and patterns of the guitar. As Mannola explained between sets, flamenco music consists of structures rather than songs. Similarly, there is no single flamenco dance. Instead, the dancing combines various palos, or styles, with personal interpretation and improvisation. In American dance, it is rare to see dancers and musicians collaborating and improvising for a live audience.
Mannola expertly performed several solos, including flamenco-inflected arrangements of songs by American jazz great John Coltrane and Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell. I found myself waiting for Bayaz to return to the stage during these (though in full disclosure, I am the type of viewer who gets restless at the orchestra, wishing for the appearance of singers or dancers). Ultimately the dancer reappeared, and Bayaz’s movements took Flamencodanza to its climax. Her rapid steps resemble a drum solo, and her fringed mantilla, or shawl, spins and whirls. Flowing movements of Bayaz’s arms, wrists, and feet contrast with the fury of her footwork and the comparative stillness of her torso and hips. She left me wanting more, and Flamencodanza would feel more complete if it included discussion of the dancing as well as the music.
As always, the Fringe Festival’s diverse offerings include moments to delight dance aficionados. Flamencodanza engages with dance’s past, present, and future as Bayaz and Mannola bring traditional flamenco to a global audience, while KCBCxKCBCII looks toward the future of ballet while training the dancers of tomorrow.
Above: Em Godfrey of KCBC. (Photo by Brandon Wyche of Müvment Photography.)
What, When, Where
Flamencodanza. Created and performed by Aylin Bayaz and Raúl Mannola. $18. September 15-16, 2023, at Sound Space Performing Arts, 1501 N 31st St, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or phillyfringe.org.
Summer Series. By KCBCxKCBCII. $20. Sunday, September 10, 2023, at Cherry Street Pier, 121 N Columbus Blvd, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or phillyfringe.org.
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