For the fourth edition of DanceBoom!, the Wilma Theater's multi-program winter dance festival, curator Nick Stuccio built on the theme of "African Threads." Inspired by the work of Philadelphia-based author and dance historian (and DM senior advising editor) Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Stuccio drew on a deep and varied vein among Philadelphia dance companies. His bringing together of African and African American performers and choreographers with those steeped in jazz, tap, and other styles influenced by African American vernacular dance forms made for a rich and at times explosive experience. (A concurrent show of dance photography that I curated ran at a nearby gallery.)
Among the highlights: Lisanga Ya Bana Kin, a collective of Congolese performers (and a few Americans), offered a strong homebrew of African movement and drumming adapted from celebrations they grew up with. Along with Kule Mele, a venerable Philadelphia company of dancers and drummers that adapted traditions from Cuba, Ivory Coast, and Guinea, they grounded the festival in the hip-wielding, torso-flexing movement and heart-pounding beats of its African origins.
Choreographer Tania Isaac's work is similarly well rooted, in the movement styles of her native St. Lucia; but in her case, the roots give body to a postmodern collage. Her home is where I am: memories, dreams, and fantasies, which has shifted and developed over the last few years, has a quality of reverie, moving back and forth from island scenes to others conveying exile in a cold land. Zoia Cisneros added plenty of juice as a carnival-esque feathered creature, a winter snow-bunny, and the housedress-wearing matron who breaks out in a riveting, hip-swiveling solo.
The jazz-inflected Koresh Dance Company unveiled a sprawling, promising work-in-progress, Negative Spaces. In the context of this event, the dancers' makeup--whiteface with eyes and mouths outlined--had a disturbing edge, though as they moved they conjured more Weimar than minstrel show. With rictus smiles and humping hips, Koresh's dancers broadcast a knife-sharp sexiness as they moved through a dizzying range: from folk-dance parody through vacant, clubby frenzy to a kind of Hasidic ecstasy, all danced to the sinuous, Levantine sounds of Romany music. Even with too many parts and a second half that flagged among tonal changes, this piece shows Roni Koresh mining an energizing new synthesis of his personal sources.
Paule Turner/court's "Hitting Bottom," an excerpt front a longer work to be premiered later this year, blazed with a raging intensity, testing his audience with extensive nudity, explicitly sexual and violent film sequences, and four-letter language. Turner put himself on the line in a number of ways, not least in a white-hot personal monologue.
Charles O. Anderson danced in his own Parables of Mutants and Madmen, a satisfyingly big piece; he and the 4 members of his dance theatre X were joined by 10 guest performers. Half in white and half in red, they flowed around him with forceful snapping phrases. As he has in the past, Anderson projected a kind of ancient-priest persona, wandering with upturned face among the others. Though his themes of diaspora-induced "double-consciousness" (W.E.B. DuBois' term) and comic superheroes seemed too subtly refracted, his work conveyed the openhearted reach of an inner journey.
Rennie Harris Puremovement headlined the festival, and with good reason: Harris' galvanic mix of hip hop and contemporary dance theater has become an emblem of Philadelphia's dance scene worldwide. A group of Puremovement performers (others, along with Harris, were out on tour) offered a loose montage of repertory work. We still got the electrifying presence of Rodney Mason, who first found his voice as Harris' Romeo in Rome & Jewels. Here Mason unleashed a desperate flood of talk, shot through with intrusive voices, memories, and war-veteran-slash-homeboy's survivor's guilt, all balanced against his slow-flowing b-boy moves. Harris' own signature solo, Endangered Species, here performed by Brandon Albright, felt a little dated in contrast, though it is equally dark. A half-dozen male dancers knit the piece's parts together with on-the-dime semaphores of hip hop, including a few heart-stopping flying flips. The laid-back, improvisational weaving of the parts bore the confident mark of their maker, a choreographer in his shining prime.
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|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||May 1, 2005|
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