Monday, July 28, 2014
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Review: WOLF-IN-SKINS

Choreographer Christopher Williams and composer Gregory Spears bring beasts of the wild to the stage to howls and hallelujahs.

Review: WOLF-IN-SKINS

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By Merilyn Jackson

FOR THE INQUIRER

A full moon soared diagonally across the stage backdrop at Temple’s Conwell Theater Friday night for the opening of “Wolf-in-Skins.” Hounds and wolves bayed; the hair on my neck prickled. The animals loped in on all fours, knuckles fisted like paws. From the opposite fly, three consorts of the prince regent of Annfwin (Gwyn ap Nudd, a stag) danced across in vertical contrast, often in relevé. Their breasts were cupped loosely in petals, their diaphanous empire-waist tutus flared by acrylic. This tale, drawn from pre-Christian Celtic mythology, takes place when man and beast mated and procreated, if only in myth.

“Wolf-in-Skins” is the brainchild of choreographer Christopher Williams in collaboration with composer Gregory Spears, and this was but a preview — Act I, and a short excerpt of Act II. Terry Fox, director of Philadelphia Dance Projects, laudably brought this huge project to Philadelphia on her shoestring budget.

As a child, Williams danced the myths he read and locates the work in Prydein, yet it does not seem based on Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles even though it uses similar names.

Not since the gang rape by antlered men in Tomasz Wesolowski’s “Rite of Spring” in Warsaw have I seen costumes and movement this primal and erotic. Williams staged an equally savage disrobing of Bleiddwen, Kira Rae Blazek, by the hounds of the stag, Burr Johnson. Johnson (reviewed here last year for his poignant role in John Jasperse’ Fort Blossom)is a peerless Gwyn ap Nudd, his anguished, serpentine torso undulating in conflicted seduction of Bleiddwen even as he is banishing her for loving “the flesh of men.” Bleiddwen has whelped three bastard sons by Gwydion, the nephew of King Math; now she is turned into a she-wolf Gwydion cannot recognize.

Geoff McDonald conducted Spears' postminimalist, early music-influenced score for a small ensemble and a four-voice “Greek chorus” singing in polyphonic harmonies, with soprano or countertenor breakouts.

Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek and Anthony Roth Costanzo gave voice to Bleiddwen and her son Gwrgi. Matthew Flatley danced Gwrgi until he changed into a human who serves the king as a footman, at which point Costanzo took the role in a tour-de-force of movement, acting, and singing.

The great Caitlin Scranton, seen here in 2010 in Lucinda Childs’ “Dance”, and again in excerpts of Williams’ “Saints” project in 2011, is one of Gwyn ap Nudd’s consorts. Six Philadelphia dancers danced the roles of courtiers and mock courtesans in this cast of 30: Gabrielle Revlock, Gregory Holt, Beau Hancock, Drew Kaiser, Stuart Meyers and Alec Moss.

Even without the puppets and additional acts to come, Williams has realized his intention to create a Gesamtkunstwerk — a total synthesis of the arts. With lighting by Joe Levasseur, set design by Michael Wang and Tom Lee, and sensational costumes by Ciera Wells, Carol Binion, and Andrew Jordan, it’s a visual feast. If dance is looking for new directions, I say one way to go is on this lush, sensual, and primal path.

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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