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Flash Journal, 9-5:
Fringing, Philly Style
Stalked by Stilt-Walkers, Hit by Hip-Hop
By Anne-Marie Mulgrew
Copyright 2000 Anne-Marie Mulgrew
PHILADELPHIA -- Surprise,
mind-blowing fantasy, human-defying physicality and moments of heart-wrenching
tenderness hovered throughout the opening of the 2000 Philadelphia
Fringe Festival in Olde City on September 1. The mix of First Friday
at the galleries, Labor Day weekend and the hot muggy weather brought
big crowds to the events I attended. Deciding what to see is a daunting
task! The Fringe Guide is 60 pages filled to the brim with eye-popping
images and very tiny print, hawking 200-plus dance, theater, and
music acts in 40 venues over 16 days.
The Philadelphia Fringe
Parade kicks off the festival with a "shameless self-promotion"
cheerleading campaign where artists are invited to bring costumes
and flyers and strut their stuff. Fringe types such as the man who
puts a nail through his nose, the faux muscle woman, and the crab
and lice bulletin board lady joined stilt-walkers, a marching band,
dancing girls/boys, monsters and other characters that defy definition
in a march through the streets, taking the sidewalk crowds with
The parade comes to a
dead stop at 3rd and Race, interrupted by the momentous appearance
of the Stalkers, two drop-dead compelling ten foot tall Australian
stilt walkers dressed in luminous teal blue-hooded spandex full-bodied
costumes with slits for eyes, arms extended by six foot poles built
into the fabric. The Stalkers corral the audience to their performance
site in an empty asphalt lot, under the Ben Franklin Bridge. As
two drummers play, the two performers seductively move to and away
from the audience, spreading their fifteen-foot arms like exotic
sci-fi creatures/aliens, divinely out-of-place in this urban jungle.
You sense their delight in shifting weight from stilt to stilt.
These masters of illusion strut, perch, leap, squat, and swing their
arms wildly, poking and punching the earth and the sky, creating
fantastic shapes and consuming space while blurring worlds -- aborigine
and contemporary, future and past, male and female.
A battle ensues; the
female, then the male loses the teal blue costume, exposing black
costumes underneath and freeing hands. Another Stalker enters. The
three work the crowd, somersaulting on stilts. They balance on their
hands, shoulders, and heads, ending in straddles that stretch a
city block. They leap from stilt to stilt. The crowd is smitten,
totally enraptured by their fearless risk-taking acrobatic moves,
otherworldly partnering, and dangerous backbends off the stilts
into the ground, sometimes collapsing off the stilts, arching into
the copra on cement. I wonder what are they made of to endure such
physical tests of stamina, balance and flexibility? They tease the
crowd -- do a line dance with a chorus line kick that gives new
meaning to the term extension. They crawl on the ground like predators.
They connect, morphing into a wild creature with six humongous legs,
pedaling, searching. One fun moment is when the two men balance
on their heads stilts against the skyline and the female squeezes
between them seated on the top of her stilts as if posing for Spin
magazine. They pick up long sticks with a rubberized edge. By now,
the audience can believe and imagine anything! They stab the sticks
into the earth; I hope these warriors don't try to pole vault wearing
stilts! They don't. Instead they lean, fall, and grope, becoming
a wonderful machine.
.... There's an air of
anticipation as the crowd lines up at Arden Theater's Arcadia stage
for the world premiere of "The View From Over Here," choreographed
by Netherlands Dance Theater's Jorma Elo for eight Pennsylvania
Ballet dancers. Jorge Cousineau's sparse set construction, designed
by Elo and consisting of white boxes and two screens, is in place
as the chiseled dancers in black tops and trunks enter. The mood
is uncomfortable -- restless, dark, foreboding. There's shifting
of weight, silence and the sound of kids' voices. One dancer is
lying on the floor prone, his head hidden by the box. The audience
is still arriving.
Meredith Rainey enters
from the back of the audience. I can't see him but hear body sounds
-- thumping, slapping. He dances an introspective, somewhat tormented
solo, sliding his hand down his forearm, feet parallel, forced,
and arched, and body contracted, accented by tiny detailed movements,
moving onto the stage. He slams himself against the wall. Others
enter; there's a sense of repression, tiny gestures, whipping legs,
hands caressing/touching the body, and slamming the wall. The long-limbed
beauty Amanda Miller moves the screen, a repeated motif in this
hour-long narrative work about relationships. A video clip projects
abstract textured fluid images -- water/fabric?
There's an obsessive/possessive/territorial
solo where a male dancer picks up boxes, takes them apart, changes
their positions, and moves them within a six-foot square area. The
stark lighting design by John Hoey causes his shadow to be projected
on the wall. I'm on the edge of my seat. It's a thrill to watch
at close range Amy Aldridge, Christine Cox, Tara Keating, Amanda
Miller, David Krensing, Kelly Moriarity, Matthew Neenan and Meredith
Rainey digest and project with sublime authority Elo's strikingly
personal contemporary movement vocabulary. It's a phraseology characterized
by low parallel lunges, released arms, natural gestures, contact
lifts, parallel extensions, crouches, weightedness, impulse initiated
movements, and punctuated phrases loaded with details and dynamics.
The dancers speak, whisper. Music is by Ligetti Gyorgy, Einsturzende
Nebauten, Gustavo Santaolalla, Carl Stamitz and Juan Rodrigo.
The video screen flashes
a human landscape -- faces and distorted hands crossing a face.
There's a wonderful section
when the dancers form a straight line, making small gestures, changing
places, and working in unison. A solo emerges, and then a duet.
Elo's remarkable use of forming and moving lines takes me on a journey
through the life span of a relationship: solid, crumbling. fragile,
focused, determined, splintered, static, and evolving. There's a
fabulous moment where the group is standing and Matthew Neenan explodes
into an emotional solo. One stunning section ends with the dancers
running upstage; backs to the audience, they stop and lower themselves
backwards to the floor. Even relationships need down time -- rest.
A female dancer whispers,
"I can't stand it" and "It's making me sick" as she draws patterns
on the floor. A male dancer replies, "Gone too far." Throughout,
Elo weaves many fine partnering moments, fabulously executed --
male-male, female-male, and female-female where aggression, tenderness,
confrontation and cool/hot sensuality interface. I hear Neenan state
"you can look all you want but you won't find it" as he does an
awesome triple attitude turn. Miller comments, "I cut off your face
on all the pictures." The screen shows two people sipping a shared
ice cream soda through straws. "The View From Over Here" provided
Philadelphia audiences with a hauntingly fresh take on contemporary
ballet. Kudos to the Fringe for bringing this partnership together
and to Pew Charitable Trusts for its support.
....On my way with five
minutes to spare to Zone Fringe, an art gallery transformed into
an 80-seat intimate space, I encounter the Tutu Fairy with, yeah,
tutu and wand bringing wonderness to the crowd. Zone Fringe is packed,
sold-out for one of Philadelphia's favorite choreographers, Myra
Bazell, with "Quiescence." I'm sitting on the floor. Talented musicians
Gloria Justin, Joe Falcey, Tony Smith and Eric Merkle are warming
up. The space is white with columns in the center. Head shaven,
extremely lean, and sharply defined Myra Bazell warmly welcomes
the crowd, noting that some views may be intentionally obstructed.
She encourages us to see what we can see. There's a scaffold imbedded
into the wall, a Bazell trademark. There's a buzz about this piece
and understandably: It boasts a live band, a film and an incredibly
strong, fluid, give-all and more troupe of female dancers -- Emily
Hubler, Brenda Kunda, Katie McNamara, Rebecca Sloan, Megan Bridge,
Heather Mc Ginnis and Jane Gotch.
The astonishing beauty
of the opening moment refreshes me like a cool drink on a hot day
-- dancers float forward clad initially in white smock dresses,
revealing muscled midriffs to sonorous sounds taking the audience
to a peaceful place. Their movements are luscious, weighted yet
weightless, moving (slowly shifting weight from foot to foot) through
the fog and draping languishingly around the poles. Some are speaking
-- I can't decipher what. It builds into a film clip (by Bazell
and Joel Ludovitch) that reinforces the dream scene -- featuring
the same dancers, costumes and moves enhanced by the magic of technology
-- Is this a deja vu? Gobo lightning appears, McNamara performs
a compelling, quiet, intense solo, with little quirky fragile moves,
taking us to a deeper personal space. Is she reawakening? Testing
her mortality? Recalling memories? Other dancers appear speaking
about butterflies. One says "I remember what it was like to feel
my head on my mother's lap." The piece progresses from personal
to interpersonal, building to very physical partnering, wild but
smooth caring catches and releases to the floor with lots of inverted
moves, like straddled handstands that slide back to the floor only
to rise for more. The lighting is cool blue.
Puck-like, bare- chested
and footed, the tattooed bassist, Eric Merkle, moves to center stage
front carrying a captivating one-of-a-kind standup bass. It's not
enclosed in wood. It has what looks like an hubcap/speaker attached
to it. Merkle unleashes a phenomenal, emotional, lamenting solo
for bass and voice. He disappears. The film shows a visually arresting
sequence of a dancer in white on a tombstone, still yet with her
painted hands moving. Others are consoling her, paying her respects.
Is it a near-death, post-death experience, or drug-induced ritual?
The scene shifts to another
time. Dancers appear in pastel camisole tops, long maroon sarong-like
split skirts, and black protective footwear. They fearlessly stomp,
run, dive, and attach themselves to the scaffold. The action and
sound are rhythmic, relentless. A thrilling moment is when the dancers
are hanging (it seems like forever) and the agile daredevil Rebecca
Sloan weaves through them. The action becomes dangerously physical
as they crash into the walls, floor and scaffold -- never cautiously
avoiding the center poles. The action resolves to a resting place.
Violinist Gloria Justin solos with pleasing arpeggios. Falcey, Smith,
and Merkle join in. The music is full, lilting, inviting. Bazell
enters singing, somersaulting through the poles. "Quiescence" ends
with Bazell leaning against a pole in a fit of hilarious laughter.
Catch it if you can tonight at 8 p.m., at Zone Fringe, 141 S. 2nd
.... Eric Schoefer, Co-director
of Scrap Performance Group, is no newcomer to the Philadelphia Fringe
Festival. In 1997, he was a co-founder. He created two Fringe hits,
"Icarus" and "Strung." Schoefer's newest performance work "Corymb"
(one meaning is "flower") occurs deep inside the warehouse space
at National Showroom. Just getting there, the audience senses a
journey. We are greeted by the smell of incense and by soothing
music, before being seated in the round (or should I say square)
on hard low gray benches. Ten Scrap performers are walking meditatively
around the perimeters of Hiroshi Iwasaki's startling white diaphanous
fabric square set (an outer and inner square) with long low trapezes/ropes
hanging from the rafters. The fabric is raised and/or lowered by
additional ropes as the piece progresses. The music is composed
by Yanni Papadapoulos, and played by Peter Wilder, John Papadapoulos,
and Rick Iannacone, all placed on a loft structure balcony within
the performance arena.
The piece unfolds like
a delicate flower or some might say a late bloomer. Gradually, the
performers penetrate the inner square. Larger than life size shadows
(of the performers) are reflected on the outer square. A performer
grabs a trapeze, suspends, spirals, and dismounts. Others roll sensing
every pore against the floor as they climb onto the center black
square performance space. Somehow, I feel as though I'm back in
the seventies at a fabulous loft contact dance jam. "Corymb" appears
to be constructed to encourage individual choices based on release
technique, and improvisation. The audience likewise can select what
to see, or whom to follow. I'm torn: Do I look at what's immediately
in front of me? Bypass the view to watch the couple in the back,
rolling on top of one another like waves? Or focus on the woman
deliciously suspended from a rope? The performers are so committed,
focused, and aware, it's pleasurable. I get into how they reach
for the ropes and the shapes they make; i.e., Cypher Zero loves
to hang upside down and has a primal quality, while Katharine Livingston
places her foot into the trapeze and moves away from it -- sometimes
softly, other times slicing it. I suddenly notice there is sand
along the edges and wonder how it feels to be rolling or landing
in it when the performers dismount.
There are moments of
intense tenderness, a look, an assisted lift to descend higher on
the trapeze/rope, a touch on the chin, a gentle push, and when needed
solid support. The tempo builds like a rising storm, Zero (I think)
sprints wildly around the space, diving onto a rope and causing
a chain reaction of bust-out movement activity. It's riskier teetering
on violence. Two or three dancers collect on the same rope/trapeze.
There are near misses -- vicious yet sensual spirals, tosses, rolls,
flips, twists, pushes and eye-catching sculptures. The energy subsides.
The performers gather as if some inner force calls. There is anxious
anticipation. From the exit sign, a female dancer enters wearing
a long white skirt and long bow in her long hair on stilts. She
walks the perimeter, tracing the steps of those before. The stilted
dancer gently reaches for the trapeze/rope and begins a fantastic
trapeze dance. Her long legs/stilts scrape the floor, wrap around
the trapeze. She floats, suspends and then disappears, leaving the
audience wanting more. The others return to the square and the curtain
Scrap Performance Group/Eric
Schoefer performs Sept. 5-10 and 12-16 at 8 p.m., at National Warehouse.
.... Another packed house,
the audience sitting cheek-to-cheek in National Warehouse's black
box alternative stage for Triple Bill, an intriguing mix of modern
dance, hip-hop performance art and Middle Eastern dancing.
Megan Bridge, a recent
SUNY Purchase grad, opens the program with her debut of "Situation,"
a delicate abstract modern based work to a lush layered score of
kids' voices, squeaky toy sounds, circus-like music and pulsing
rhythms composed by Peter Price. I'm moved by Bridge's courage,
confident balances, long swooping legs, and extensive use of stage
space. I get tired of the entrance/exit motif and would like to
see it move out of academia and into life. Radically different,
"Beautiful Human Lies," choreographed by hip-hop master Rennie Harris,
confronts Bridge's hip-hop search. The sound score contains a powerful
dialogue in which Harris questions/interrogates Bridge's intent
and preconceptions while crossing social, political, gender and
race lines. Bridge commands her position (on tape and in Harris's
dance) with aplomb, passion and naked honesty. Wearing a baseball
cap, sweat shirt and pants, barefooted (Bridge doesn't relinquish
her modern roots) she deliciously stomps out Harris's dance with
joy and bravura. I admire the way she allows herself to go there.
Standout Harris dancer
Rodney Zoe Mason explodes onto the stage in his two part tour-de-force
"Origins of Man." He rants, raves, seduces, walks in circles on
his hands, slams his body into the floor from precarious breathtaking
balances. Mason dishes it out in any form he can -- a monologue,
a dialogue about his family in South Philadelphia, a hip-hop dance,
an aerobic dance to keep in shape less he die from heart disease
-- Mason honors his roots and Harris. He pushes every button on
the emotional chart, giving the audience no choice but to go there
with him. There's mean-ass talking about "pussy" and "fucking,"
juxtaposed with sharing moments about taking care of his grandparents
and questioning will he live to be 21. I love his standup comic
routine -- a play on words about genes (jeans) versus khakis and
the moonwalk (as he educates the audience with the moonwalk, AKA
the back slide), a leap forward for mankind. Like a wizard, he brings
it back home to the stage, pushing the limits of what is real. Mason
is a force to be reckoned with -- singer, rapper, poet, dancer,
comic, actor, a 100% 21st century vaudevillian.
Ying-yang -- what a
concert! And here's Tribal Bellydance. I am aroused by each artist's
stance and subtext. Tribal Bellydance director Fleur Frascella thinks
that Middle Eastern dancing deserves "a more sensitive presentation
than it currently receives in clubs and restaurants." In "Migration,"
four women enter in rich, colorful costumes -- skirts layered with
rhythmic tasseled dance belts, midriff tops, and wrapped headdresses.
Tattooed bellies of various sizes are exposed. They pick up fabric
from a pile to uncover Frascella, who performs an undulating, riveting
and surprisingly cool solo, balancing a sword on her head. Closing
the program, Tribal Bellydance returns with "Sota," a rhythmic ensemble
work, with music by Gypsophilia, consisting of hip rolls, luscious
back-bending solos, undulations, fabulous wrist circles, shimmies
and circular formations. I'm struck by how unerotic it is. Perhaps,
in this gym culture age, an exposed middle is BAU (Business As Usual).
The Philadelphia Fringe
Festival continues through September 16 in venues around town.
Anne-Marie Mulgrew is
the director of Anne-Marie Mulgrew and Dancers Co. She was the dance
editor of Main Times magazine.
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