Brian Sanders’ JUNK and the Philadelphia Orchestra made that happen when they opened Thursday night at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. It’s not to everyone’s taste to see Juliet and her Romeo flying on straps above the horn section, but from a dance perspective the odd combination works.
The Kimmel Center warns about partial nudity, but it’s nothing dance audiences don’t regularly see. The bedroom scene is the one time most of the clothes come off. But the dancers’ stage is high above and behind the entire orchestra, so audiences are unlikely to see details, even from the best seats in the house.
The dance is a series of suites, and JUNK and the orchestra, under Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s baton, take turns in the spotlight. It’s nice not to have to multitask between watching dancers and musicians, although there are some minor distractions out of turn. For example, it’s funny to see a rope for the next aerial scene snaking down from the rafters while we are listening to an intense section of music.
As Mercutio tells Romeo in the play, “Borrow Cupid’s wings. And soar with them above a common bound.”
And soar they do. But for all the high-flying, athletic work, some of the movement in Sanders’ interpretation resembles the traditional ballet choreography, especially the beautiful lifts in the bedroom scene pas de deux between Julia Higdon’s Juliet and Teddy Fatscher’s Romeo.
It’s fun to interpret the translations from ballet to JUNK. Sanders gives a nod to the full-length classic when a man in a tutu and bare chest performs a midair variation of echapés, arabesques, and passés. He even bourées in place while hanging upside down.
A jousting scene is fought with aerial poles shaped like long swords that the dancers aim at each other, leap on, and spin.
The danger level is breathtaking at times. Higdon does a delicate dance on silks that seem to be held only by two men leaning over the side of the balcony. She climbs and walks in a sort of tightrope routine amid the Verizon Hall seats and banisters, and sits in the silk like it’s a hammock. Later, she shinnies up a rope to take her poison on a landing near the ceiling, her hair illuminated and dangling over the scaffolds as she submits.
Even the sections performed on solid ground seem perilous on the narrow, elevated dance stage. And true to the Sanders style, the program includes dancers taking flying dives over one another, climbing upon fellow gentlemen from Verona, and convulsing violently on the ground before “dying.”
Along with Higdon and Fatscher, Darren Dash Robinson and Jared Cutler each dance dual roles. Other Sanders dancers step in to play numerous parts regardless of gender, which is both fun and occasionally confusing. The suite of dances, even with supertitles, doesn’t tell the entire story.
Romeo and Juliet
The Philadelphia Orchestra repeats the program with Brian Sanders’ JUNK at 2 p.m. Friday, April 5, and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 6, at the Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St. Tickets: $79-188. Information: 215-893-1999 or philorch.org.