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Lewis J Whittington
Music and Dance Reviews
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Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
United States
Philadelphia, PA

Dance Celebration's Finale at the Annenberg Center Featured Two Audience Favorites

by Lewis J Whittington
May 13, 2015
Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
3680 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
215 898 3900
This month, Dance Affiliates, Philadelphia's longtime presenter of international contemporary dance finished their 33-year run at the Annenberg Center on the University of Pennsylvania campus in West Philadelphia. They will be changing venues to the Prince Music Theater in Center City Philadelphia going into the 2015-16 season aptly dubbed NextMove. Montreal's RUBBERBANDance Group and Connecticut-based Pilobolus Dance Theater capped off the final season at the Annenberg.
In his statements to the press, Dance Affiliates artistic director Randy Swartz said the "new series affords us the opportunity to offer more performances and outreach activities," adding, "The Prince's 450-seat theater is similar in size to New York's Joyce Theater, and is located on the Avenue of the Arts in Center City where we have the potential to become a powerful player on the cultural landscape, and reach more diverse audiences." 

RUBBERBANDance Group - Empirical Quotient
Apr. 16-18, 2015

Everytime out, RUBBERBANDance Group taps into their growing fan base's thirst for the adventurous choreographic mixes of artistic director/choreographer Victor Quijada. Quijada's troupe of six dancers from various contemporary dance disciplines are currently touring Quijada's Empirical Quotient- made Dance Magazine writer Wendy Perron's list for Best New Choreography of 2014.

Quijada continues to develop and refine his movement styles and has won multiple awards along the way, including the prestigious Princess Grace Choreographic Fellowship and is emerging as a prolific film choreographer and director.

Empirical Quotient was a long-form narrative with unexpected mise-en-scenes that flowed into each other and hinted at stories without resolution. Composer Jasper Gahunia, a frequent RBDG collaborator scored the piece with a stream of staccato echoes and ghost train arias swooping in and strings with pings and bent notes that seemed to inspire Quijada's choreography and was reflected in bowing bodies and precarious torques.

The opening scene had Anne Plamondon (co-artistic director) Lavinia Vago and Lea Ved in a series of intimate duets and trios. They gestured to or tapped another dancer, which sent a snakey ripple through their bodies, a standard hip-hop combination, but Quijada's variants to such trendy movement make them more compelling.

Then the men joined them and established a series of interlocking phrases that helped build the ballet's singular vocabulary. , Frozen poses, intertwining bodies and a series of arresting reverse phrases created body puzzles that locked and unlocked in ways that only Houdini could explain.

Later, Ved entangled, almost threateningly, during an intense duet with James Gregg who had her bent backward off his body, she flipped out of it with her pointed foot ending up on his neck. He ended up on all fours begging her and she just shook her head. Later, Ved arranged Gregg, Franklin Luy and Zachary Tang into a chain and they scampered like a centipede at her comical command.

Tang dazzled in fully pointed pirouettes with his arm over his head like a matador adding to a laundry list of signature group moves that included back vaults and inverted torso twisters. The work's slower adagio movement may have been less flashy but was equally as impressive as the movement delivered with velocity. All of these skills at points incorporated Quijada's aesthetic as he continues to define a technique that careens into undiscovered country in its physicality.

The epilogue to the piece came in the street dance tradition of short solo curtain call dances and this ensemble showed they had even more juice after over an hour of perpetual motion.

Pilobolus Dance Theater
May 7-11, 2015

Pilobolus Dance Theater, a perennial favorite at Dance Celebration proved a fitting closer for the last Annenberg dance program with something for everyone, even if it was jarringly disjointed.

Full disclosure here, it was hard to come out of a dance stupor after seeing Pilobolus' 2014 piece "On the Nature of Things" which opened the concert. It was without doubt among their finest works, almost in a category by itself. It was a creation of the whole troupe, for one and a manifest artistic statement. One of those dance works that points up that at its best choreography and has a language of its own. You can only approximate the real meaning of it translating the experience in words.

Three dancers on a small metal pedestal, in dance-belts, evoked images from Caravaggio and Michelangelo. But rather than friezes, they were in melting motion like the metaphysical artistic component that lives in those paintings. The trio engaged mostly in adagio movement, inversions, lifts and precarious falls. Their body couplings looked past any sexual intimacy. Perhaps a suggestion of a creator experimenting or giving way to the study of the human anatomy in motion. This flowing together created a powerful theatrical arc. The piece was danced with spellbinding artistry and skill by Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Jordan Kriston and Mike Tyus.

So interesting that Pilobolus that amoeba-esque dance troupe, inspired by fungus has composed one of their most profound works displaying the complete majesty and mystery of the human body.

Between the dances, there were animations on a drop down screen such as leading into "The Transformation," the troupe's favorite macabre shadow play about a girl morphing into a canine. These apparently popular interludes strike as filler in concert dance.

The marquee piece by magicians Penn and Teller called (esc) was cloying in the extreme. A woman duct taped to a chair with a plastic bag over her head, leather fetishista pole danseurs, pad-locked crates, Houdini escape magic - a little went a long way and Penn and Teller were nowhere in sight; most likely counting their money in Vegas.

The work 'Automation" also had a violent edge with torrential action scenes involving a horror film doorway, wind tunnel movement and dancers throwing each other around. Physically a very impressive work but repetive.

The closer "Day Two," created by Moses Pendleton in 1980 still has great power with its early signature meditative strength moves and body sculptures. The movement felt dated but it was danced with renewed conviction by the always phantasmagorias muscled company.
RUBBERBANDance Group in Victor Quijada's'Empirical Quotient.'

RUBBERBANDance Group in Victor Quijada's"Empirical Quotient."

Photo © & courtesy of Michael Slobodian

RUBBERBANDance Group in Victor Quijada's'Empirical Quotient.'

RUBBERBANDance Group in Victor Quijada's"Empirical Quotient."

Photo © & courtesy of Michael Slobodian

Pilobolus Dance Theater in '[esc].'

Pilobolus Dance Theater in "[esc]."

Photo © & courtesy of Grant Halverson

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