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Phlash Review 1, 12-11:
Ezralow Meets Danco
By Andrew Simonet
Copyright 2000 Andrew Simonet
PHILADELPHIA -- Strange
dance world trend #1: Once someone has an interesting color-outside-the-lines
idea, everyone else copies the idea, rather than trying themselves
to think originally. Example: Everyone starts making Alternative
Daniel Ezralow's "Xmas
Philes," performed by Philadanco at Philadelphia's Annenberg Center
Saturday, December 9, was an unconnected string of gags and dance
skits, several of which failed to deliver even the shallow pleasures
of a gimmick. (The award-winning title is an example of Philadelphians'
nutty habit of sticking "ph" in for "f". Go phigure.) The hard-working,
talented dancers of Philadanco seemed most alive during the let's-just-dance-around
curtain call. And the audience filled with children cheered for
each gag as the lights went up, but soon lost interest in dances
that did not develop.
In the generous spirit
of the holiday, I'll start with two of the stronger skits. In "Silent
Night," white-robed dancers enter from both sides, meet in the middle,
and then one lays the other down gently on her/his back. A gentle
acoustic version of "Silent Night" creates a poignant scene as a
prone choir of dancers is lifted from the floor and lowered back
down. Simple, surprising, and oddly evocative of the song and its
meaning. The audience is hushed. A subtle mood has been set and
we are ready to have it take us somewhere. Some dancers arise and
move through a series of gospel-looking gestures, and the skit ends.
It could have built more, and the space could have been used with
more artistry and intention, but it was a memorable image nonetheless.
In "NY Eve," Tracy Vogt
hobbles on as a disco ball fills the theater with stars. She takes
her heels off of her sore feet and, in a shiny after-the-party outfit,
slinks longingly though "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" Sexy
men in white dinner jackets with bowties undone saunter on to much
audience hooting and interact with Vogt briefly before turning and
walking off. One by one, they rattle off some simple sexy partnering
with her until the men enter as a group and catch the diving Vogt.
She ends in the air, seeming to be carried off by a poster for "The
Wood." The crowd loves it: simple idea, tiny little bit of development,
clear ending, men who know where their butts belong (see below.)
But that's about the high point because of...
Strange dance world trend
#2: Dances attempting to be "populist" will be shallow, undeveloped,
and condescending to an audience presumed to be stupid.
The emblematic non-moment
of the piece is a skit called "Store Wars," the pun apparently having
no reference to the movie at all. Two cheap-looking banquet tables
covered with gifts are pulled out to represent competing stores.
(Look, I don't even need tables. I'd prefer if the performers convey
"store" without any props. But if you're gonna have em, make em
look good.) One store is called "Piffany's" (I am relieved that
it's not "Piphany's"), and the other is called... Wait a minute...
"Totally Free"! Well, "Totally Free" switches his sign to "20% Off"
and all the dancers run over to his cheap-looking banquet table.
Then "Piffany's" changes his sign to "50% Off" and they all run
to him. This goes back and forth until "Totally Free" changes his
sign to "Totally Free." But hold on... that's the sign he STARTED
with.... The audience collectively realizes that we were not supposed
to see that sign in the beginning and we try to go back and retroactively
experience the joke. Unfortunately, I go back too far and retroactively
...the second skit of
"Xmas Philes": a jazzy version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"
plays as a group of sexy Playboy bunny reindeer enter in front of
bright red cyc. Sporting heels, gloves, and little reindeer tails,
they strut admirably through aimless choreography, a lethargic kick
line, and unrealized spatial arrangements. The audience, thrilled
at first, is subdued by the unspectacularness of this spectacle,
but still emerges ready to party.
In the next skit, a jazzy,
scatting rap of "The Night Before Christmas" plays as two men dressed
in wacky striped pajamas and caps do a series of sharp unisons set
to the rhythm of the words. This avowedly zany scene is closer to
popping than Rudolph, but the dancing doesn't get funky or funny
In "Druids," five large,
hooded figures appear silhouetted against a green cyc. But wait
a minute.... Those people are too tall; it must be...a dancer sitting
on another dancer's shoulders! The dance dissolves into mindless,
"sexy" partnering once the men get pooped out the bottom wearing
hot pants, but nothing else. The audience loves the trick, but nothing
Things get a little better
in "The Twelve Days of Christmas," as twelve dancers enter one at
a time introducing a short movement segment for each day. The segments
accumulate into a phrase that is danced in parallel space unison
as it grows in length and dancers. A simple idea (one that warms
my minimalist heart) that could have more connection to the song/words/accumulating
phrase. And the lyrics, sung by a manic choir, were difficult to
Did I mention the big,
cheaply-made "gift box" dragged on at the beginning of "Twelve Days"
and obviously containing a dancer? Well, it turns out that box contains
a dancer, Francisco Gella, who begins a slow, oozy dance on the
floor to "Blue Christmas." Gella's lovely released floorwork is
impressive in a company like Philadanco: his spiraling backwards
fall slides effortlessly to a straight-leg forward bend. This repeated
movement takes my breath away, but not the breath of the children
around me, who are too amused at seeing a man's butt in the air
and too relieved at finally having something to laugh at. When five
women join Gella doing backbends and giving some shocking crotch-shots,
the space gets muddy and the kids stop laughing. The coffin nail
is inserted by two men who enter in "Fed-Xmas" uniforms and slap
"Special Delivery" signs on Gella's Trojan gift box. One of the
signs doesn't stick, and the men flail at it desperately as they
schlep Gella off stage left. I consider distracting the audience
by putting my butt in the air.
You can picture the rest:
snowflake goboes, a huge styrofoam painting of mistletoe flown in
but not lit, six Santa Clauses peeling off their Santa suits to
reveal Men-In-Black suits and shades ("Mommy, I thought there was
only one Santa Claus..."), a strobe light, angel wings, and a green
and red gospel choir straight out of "Sister Act 2: Back in the
Habit." How did so many talented people come to make this? That
brings me to...
Strange dance world trend
#3: inspiration is used to make grant proposals, not dances. In
our curious age of big-name/big-project funding, eminently fundable
proposals should perhaps be exhibited as artworks unto themselves.
Here's the idea: Let's
get crazy-Momix-music-video-propmaster Daniel Ezralow to choreograph
an alternative-to-The-Nutcracker-Christmas-dance-cash-cow for African-American-community-based-modern-dance-company
Philadanco. A slam dunk. Frame it and hang it on the wall.
Philadanco and its director
Joan Myers Brown deserve unrestricted, constant funding. These are
gifted dancers led by a visionary. But funders want to fund projects,
specifically "innovative," "no more business as usual" collaborations.
It will be a truly merry
Xmas when funders trust companies and choreographers don't underestimate
Andrew Simonet is a dancer,
choreographer, and co-director of Headlong Dance Theater.
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