Sunday, August 30, 2015

POSTED: Friday, June 1, 2012, 6:40 PM

With dance all over reality TV, in movies, and on music videos, one might think the interest would translate into theater as well. But concert dance still struggles.

Jerome Robbins’ 1958 piece N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz is a fine starter piece for hesitant viewers, a ballet in sneakers. Performed in casual street clothes, its format is that of a plotless ballet, with group sections, a pas de deux, several small solos, various patterns across the stage, and all thoroughly accessible.

Pennsylvania Ballet named the final program of its season for this company premiere, which opened Thursday night at the Merriam Theater. If you like West Side Story, Opus Jazz shares its choreographer and has a similar look and feel (minus the brawl). Dancers snap their fingers, shake their hips, shuffle around the stage in a circle, and strike a pose with a leg in the air in second position. (New York City Ballet’s filmed Opus Jazz, performed in gritty urban settings, aired in 2010 on PBS’s "Great Performance" series.)

POSTED: Friday, June 1, 2012, 6:11 PM

By Merilyn Jackson
Dance of the lower-case companies! Kate Watson-Wallacer, and Jaamil Kosoko are dancer/choreographers who recently formed anonymous bodies, and Megan Bridge and Peter Price, who make up a team they call fidget, have paired up this weekend at Christ Church Neighborhood House. Both partnerships engage in dance theater, live music, on-site installation, multi-media, social justice and political themes, and audience involvement. In a trend that’s been growing, if diminutively, they titled their show “us.” 
Another trend that’s been around for awhile has the performers on stage in costume and going through their paces before the show actually starts. Watson-Wallace, in a red jumpsuit, and Kosoko, in crimson-sequined crinolines around his neck instead of his waist, wore tinselly wigs that made them look, appropriately enough, like July 4th sparklers. The program notes said they were attending a funeral for the United States. But although they looked solemn, danced with flags, and Watson-Wallace took a series of violent death drops, there was little to suggest a funeral. 
They better reached their intention to defy genre, gender and identity when, Kosoko changed to a white suit, Watson-Wallace returned to the stage in a black suit, and both rolled their T-shirts up over their heads. Hiding their faces made them anonymous. Exposing their chests — black male skin in white and white female skin in black — made quite a nice statement, but not enough to flesh out this unfinished piece. Prior to the show they invited the audience to check out the scant “installation” on stage, but it piqued no one’s curiosity.
In Kosoko’s solo, other.explicit.body, he wore a cut-up sweatsuit graffitied with slogans: “Black Power” across his bottom. To live music by Brandon Shockley with a voice-over NPR interview of novelist and essayist Touré, Kosoko shadow boxes, drags a netted basketball around chained to his ankle, and writhes on the floor. Whether in defiance of or compliance with all these stereotyping props, he picks up books on black dance and the black body from a stack and reads their titles before slamming them to the floor.
Fidget’s Subject in Two Parts was reprised from four years ago, when I reviewed it at Community Education Center. Bridge, as ever, is a riveting dancer, whether deconstructing Jack Cole’s choreography for Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, projected and distorted behind her by Price, or standing naked pulling ticker tape from her mouth. In the second part, the electric presence of Annie Wilson joined John Luna, Lorin Lyle and Rebecca Sloan, recharging the group dynamics and the 
By Merilyn Jackson


Dance of the lower-case companies! Kate Watson-Wallacer, and Jaamil Kosoko are dancer/choreographers who recently formed anonymous bodies, and Megan Bridge and Peter Price, who make up a team they call fidget, have paired up this weekend at Christ Church Neighborhood House. Both partnerships engage in dance theater, live music, on-site installation, multi-media, social justice and political themes, and audience involvement. In a trend that’s been growing, if diminutively, they titled their show “us.”

POSTED: Friday, June 1, 2012, 6:01 PM

By Wendy Rosenfield


Michael Ogborn’s new musical Tulipomania, commissioned by the Arden Theatre, has been through six years of development, several scripts, plus the addition and eventual subtraction of playwright Michael Hollinger (Opus, Ghost-Writer). Its story, pegged to the 17th-century Dutch tulip craze, remains a topical match for any number of parallels: subprime mortgage crisis, real estate bubble, Facebook IPO.

POSTED: Monday, May 21, 2012, 3:07 PM

By Wendy Rosenfield
Playwright Mac Rogers wants you to let him entertain you, and New City Stage Company’s world premiere of his spy thriller, Asymmetric, offers the kind of entertainment that’s usually enjoyed while lounging on the sofa, holding a remote. A quick-hit 80 minutes, this drama takes us from a back-room interrogation at the CIA to a techno-driven chase through Reykjavik, Iceland, sending us into the night to play Rashomon and figure out who knew what, when.
Want romance with that adventure? Rogers provides a pair of ex-spouses, Josh (Kevin Bergen), and Sunny (Kim Carson). He’s a disgraced ex-agent called in to get answers from her, both ex-wife and former protégé, accused of selling state secrets. Want violence? Meet Ford (Eric Rolland), a sadistic government inquisitor who specializes in finger-removal via hedge clipper. Comedy? Here’s Zack (Ross Beschler), a bumbling agent with the heart, comb-over and mustache of a born middle manager.
Care to plumb the motivations that lead a person to lose him or herself in this sort of personal and professional labyrinth? Look elsewhere. This is a playwright who once said he doesn’t like “sitting through something like Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” though he really wishes he did. 
Thus, Rogers’ characters spring fully formed from his head and into government service. For all their quippy dialogue — upon seeing Josh, Ford sneers, “Nice to see you, Josh. Gives me that peaceful August 2001 feeling” — they have no background, no family. While there’s more than enough circumstantial exposition, there’s no mention of the external tethers that connect them to real life. Even double agents and CIA sadists come from somewhere.
Carson’s Sunny, handcuffed and bleeding, but always taut, fares better under these circumstances; Bergen’s Josh seems adrift. Director Russ Widdall no doubt has his reasons for leaving Josh soft and amorphous, some of which probably have to do with plot twists I won’t discuss here, but nonetheless, Bergen just doesn’t project the sly intelligence or propulsion of a character described as being “on Thursday while the rest of us are on Tuesday.” 
Bloody escapism is nothing new onstage, and this thrill-kill variety shares a noble lineage, stretching from McDonagh to Shakespeare and beyond. But Rogers’ hermetically developed characters don’t earn it. On TV, you can wait for the next episode to explain special agent Sunny’s attraction to a man like Josh. Onstage, you get your 80 minutes — go ahead, take 90 if you need to — and if you want your audience to go home and puzzle over what happened, you’d better give them a reason to care.

By Wendy Rosenfield


POSTED: Friday, May 18, 2012, 9:41 PM
By Merilyn Jackson FOR THE INQUIRER You could sum up the work of the genius stagecrafter and choreographer Moses Pendleton by saying he exceeds the influence of such peers as Alwin Nikolais, Elizabeth Streb, Mummenschanz, and Pilobolus, the now-41-year-old company he cofounded, then left in 1983 to form MOMIX. His inventiveness and artistry far surpass the popular Cirque du Soleil. A Dance Celebration favorite, MOMIX opened at the Annenberg Center on Thursday night to a nearly full house with its show “reMIX.” Instead of one of his evening-length works, Pendleton offered an exotic caravan of pieces — some new, some familiar — that drew oohs, aahs, and scatterings of applause throughout. I’d love to be able to see into Pendleton’s dreams just one night, but dreams alone don’t make theater like this. It needs imagination, an understanding of the laws of physics — inertia, centrifugal force, gravity, weight, velocity — and the grit to work out the precision timing that keeps his dancers safe, all of which someone like Streb employs with ease. But like Nikolais, Pendleton brings beauty, mystery, emotion, and uproarious fun to the table, too. In his and Karl Baumann’s piece TableTalk, Steven Marshall, a phenomenal gymnastic dancer who performed in many of the works, splays his arms out and, with head below the rim of the table, draws us in with a powerful rippling of his shoulder muscles. He proceeds through every possible permutation of stance until finally he twirls the table on his back and carries it off. In Tuu, with Rebecca Rasmussen, he holds and lifts her, with every press of the feet, lean of the body, fall, timed to perfection. In Dream Catcher with Cara Seymour, he commands a giant elliptically designed gyroscope, which the two pivot and swing around on in dangerous-looking variations. Two dances by the company’s women endeared with sensuality and wit: In Marigolds, Phoebe Katzin’s fabulous orange frills enfolded the women and allowed them to shimmy the dresses down their bodies till they were rumba-like sheaths. Baths of Caracalla, by the same five women, now in white by Katzin, harked all the way back to Loie Fuller, with the women rippling their white skirts like bath towels, flags, or clouds. Sputnik and Pole Dance were magnificent spectacles, using poles for balancing, vaulting, and flying, that Philadelphia choreographer Brian Sanders had a hand in contriving. By the concert’s end the ethereal, Asian-inspired ambient sound and lounge music grew tedious — my only complaint — so it was a great relief in the last piece, If You Need Some Body, to hear Bach, which I normally hate for dance. It made a perfect foil for the ebullient silliness of the company of 10 partnered by floppy dummies that ended up flying joyfully from dancer to dancer. Additional performances 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday at the Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St.
POSTED: Wednesday, April 11, 2012, 12:05 PM
Leaders of stage companies met Wednesday at the Wilma Theater on Broad Street to consider the fate of the Barrymore Awards and get an update on the closing of the Greater Philadelphia Theatre Alliance, the umbrella group that provided services for them.

By Howard Shapiro


   The Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia -- an umbrella organization that has served the region's stages through a period of record growth -- is dissolving.

POSTED: Wednesday, March 28, 2012, 1:03 AM

I looked both ways three or four times Tuesday afternoon before I crossed Broad Street at Ellsworth, en route to the Rock School for Dance Education.

That's the corner where, on March 18, Polina Kadiyska, 22, was fatally struck in an early morning hit-and-run as she left a Chinese restaurant. Kadiyska, from Bulgaria, was a student at the Rock School, on the brink of a ballet career.

My visit was to see the young dancers - Kadiyska's peers - in a practice performance. Some were preparing for the finals of Youth America Grand Prix, a prestigious competition. A large group danced the mambo scene from "West Side Story," which they'll be performing with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra in May at the Mann.

POSTED: Friday, March 23, 2012, 5:32 PM

Fela! is in town for just three more days, with the Broadway musical starring either the equally good Sahr Ngaujah or Adesola Osakalumi making an exuberant noise at the Academy of Music for one show on Friday night and two each on Saturday and Sunday.

My feature story about the production that run in last Sunday's Inquirer Arts & Entertainment section is here. An 11 minute version of "Gentleman," which gets across the Fela jazz-funk-trance vibe quite nicely is below, as is "I.T.T.," the Nigerian Afrobeat creator's attack on multi-national colonialism.

At the Thursday night appearance I attended with Osakalumi in the lead role, the pointed political viewpoint of the iconic personality whose adopted middle name "Anikulapo," means "I have death in my pocket, and I can give it to you at any time," came across loud and clear, with the help of Brooklyn Afrobeat specialists Antibalas, who are the house band.

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