Brian Sanders' 'strand': Not just any walk in the park

Some moments from “… strand …” by Brian Sanders’ JUNK as part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.

With many performance-art works, your task is not so much to “understand” as to be present with the event. Be there while it happens – and see what happens to you.

Surely that’s the way to approach … strand …, performed by that indelicately named troupe, Brian Sanders’ JUNK, which will be presented again from Wednesday through Sunday and Sept. 20 to 23 as part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Judging from the reactions of the bemused crowd that gathered Friday to behold the matter, follow instructions, and go from station to station trying to keep up with the dancers, the result was delight.

You can’t help being there; there’s a very specific place to be, and it takes some effort. It’s outside, near twilight, on the Dupont Crescent Trail, situated beneath the Grays Ferry Avenue Bridge, on a promontory named Forgotten Bottom. Friday at twilight was lovely, and the surroundings were good for a walk.

Or a scoot. You see, when you buy a ticket for … strand …, you select one of four immersive “tours.” The Rugged Primal Tour (“more walking, with possible sightings”) and the tour I chose, Nuclear Romance (“limited scooter rations”), are $35, while the Medieval Revelry Tour (“includes steins, gruel, and pickings”) is $45, and the Future Fancy Ultimate Tour (“includes serviced seated lawn repast avec fermented ichor”) is $75. Yes, I got a scooter and was even offered bug spray. A distant horn said go, and we went toward the first station, to be guided by running dancers along the trail.

JUNK has a dance vocabulary to fill a Webster’s library: classical, modern, po-mo, gym, spasms of hip-hop. Nuclear Romance features seven superb dancers evoking friendship, racial competition, sexual politics, parallel play, careless boogieing, engagement and abandonment, schoolyard high jinks, and pagan rituals. To music such as Caro Emerald’s “Liquid Lunch” and Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams,” plus classical waltz, various combinations of humans engage in fluid, complementary movements, awkward-on-purpose huddles, gymnastic wall-walking, and intense wrestles. Humor is never far away: A woman irons on an ironing board, another woman appears, and the first woman irons first her hair, then her entire body, and, suddenly, pow.

Sanders himself plays a homeless gent in an Arte Johnson-style soiled raincoat. He coaxes one lovely woman to a carefree pas de deux on a tire swing. Later, while six other dancers are in an expansive frolic in a meadow, homeless Sanders appears, wackily, with a high-pressure power-sprayer, and the dancers leap through veils of water in the air.

So there was something romantic to the tour, a taste of that first, fine careless rapture, the rush of finding connection or running through a field – undermining and reinforcing, amid isolation and suffering, as human beings rope-dance, sheet-dance, and make body-monuments in the park. There was also something nuclear in the unexpected sense of centered, concentrated, centripetal. In the end, folks were smiling in the sunset; an exhilarated fun prevailed. As in nuclear romance.

… strand …

Performed by Brian Sanders' JUNK as part of Philadelphia Fringe Festival. DuPont Crescent Trail, Grays Ferry Crescent Trail Park. Performances at various times Sept. 13-17 and 20-23. Four different “tours,” with specific instructions; consult strand.tours. Tickets: $35-$75. Some walking involved. 50 minutes. Information: fringearts.com/event/strand or 215-413-1318.