Philadanco brings the funk

Ferocious euphoria
By MARCIA B.SIEGEL  |  March 17, 2011

CLUB CATS The dance moods ranged from steamy to funky cool to elegiac to paranoid.

The four pieces on Philadanco's program last weekend at the Institute of Contemporary Art had different accouterments — musical, scenic, philosophical — but they still looked very much alike. The company, which just celebrated its 40th anniversary, originated as a professional opportunity for multi-ethnic dancers in the Philadelphia area. It's developed into a good-looking, medium-sized ensemble with affinities to Alvin Ailey. The dance moods at the ICA ranged from steamy to funky cool to elegiac to paranoid, but everything drew on a demanding fusion of modern and ballet vocabularies, with vernacular moves, expressive character, and supercharged dynamism, all of it kept in check by highly structured choreography. The idea of each piece, and cumulatively of the entire evening, was to catapult the audience into delirium, and it did.

The centerpiece of the program was Jawole Willa Jo Zollar's tribute to Philadanco founder/artistic director Joan Myers Brown, By Way of the Funk. (This was one of three funk-inspired offerings on the CRASHarts winter-spring season — Nicholas Leichter held forth a few weeks ago, and David Dorfman comes to the ICA in early April.) The 15 dancers — dressed in black and silver vinyl, fishnet and glitter — boogied and strutted to a funk-through-the-ages collage by Parliament-Funkadelic. This was club dancing, goosed up with leaping and egged on by the audience, and the dancers interpreted the rhythms in their own joyous ways.

They'd already pumped up attitude in Christopher Huggins's opener, Bolero Too (Ravel). Eleven dancers emerged from silhouette poses against the cyclorama to do sexy duets and small group numbers, the kind of thing where the rougher your partner is, the more you want him/her. Everyone looked grim all the time. I could see why the women were ticked off, since they had to spend the whole dance trying to look decorative while being hoisted around their partners' torsos like sacks of flour. I don't know why the men were mad.

Each torrid episode was watched not only by the audience but by the other dancers, who were seated or standing in their upstage line-up, eyeing one another moodily and underlining the relentless Ravel with a pulsing shoulder, a jutting hip, a throbbing ribcage.

Gene Hill Sagan's 1984 relic Elegy, to Ralph Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, was a throwback even when it was made. Seven dancers streamed in and out, pausing to adopt sacrificial poses, as if enacting a solemn ritual. The movement favored the contracted and angular bodies that Martha Graham invented to externalize deep emotions.

To finish, there was another juggernaut by Huggins, Enemy Behind the Gates, which the company danced here in 2008. Moving to the evolving rhythms of Steve Reich's The Four Sections, the dancers hurled themselves through faster, more-explosive, more-complicated movement phrases than ever, though they were still contained in linear floor patterns. Geometric shapes on the floor provided by lighting designer William H. Grant III specified where the dancers could go, and they looked regimented, even militaristic, in their semi-unisex costumes (short coats with flared black skirts over black leggings for the men, bare legs for the women).

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  Topics: Dance , Philadelphia, Dance, Dance,  More more >
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