Joan Myers Brown, founder and executive artistic director of Philadanco!, still moves with balletic grace in spite of her 87 years. She spoke of her decision to use two choreographers, asking each for a piece from their past and a premiere, presenting, she said with a wink, “both old and new.”
The first piece, Pacing, by Milton Myers, had its Philadanco premiere in 1986. The musical soundtrack by Francis Bebey was both of an African suggestion, yet also used wooden flutes reminiscent of South America. The dance steps, including fearless leaps, had the dancers mirror each other perfectly, and this was reflected in the costumes by Natasha Guruleva, with cutouts either on the left or right of the male dancer – so that they, too, were mirrored. The first section had a few uneven measures, but Section two was superlative.
It was hard not to be mesmerized by Rosita Adamo and Joe Gonzalez in Christopher Huggins amazing piece, When Dawn comes, which the company premiered in 2013. Not only are both dancers amazing in their technique and timing, but they are incredibly strong and muscular. Mr. Gonzalez had no trouble lifting, throwing, and tossing Ms. Adamo about, but when the tables were turned, Ms. Adamo lifted him easily, making the audience gasp.
The world premiere by Milton Myers, Waves, a daring use of the Horton technique, used plain gym suit costuming. The starkness of both costuming and the more kinetic movements made it less appealing and the minimalist score by John Levis had a driving rhythm that seemed harsh.
The world premiere by Christopher L. Huggins, I Come as One, But Stand as 10,000, was a gut-wrenching view of rape. Inspired by the writings of Maya Angelou, this choreography incorporated dance steps which resembling writhing, screaming, and squirming. The dance and the music by Darryl J. Hoffman, was beautiful but wrenching. No skin was revealed and nothing untoward was shown, but the movements of the male and female dancers made it clear that there are times when physical force is a cruel and decimating weapon. To express that through choreography is genius and Mr. Huggins has created a masterpiece in this dance, no matter how hard it is to watch. The last movement, entitled “The Protest,” brought out a lively dance marathon in which the women seemed to win that horrific battle and come out whole. This finale took the edge off of the very blunt but realistic choreography of the preceding movements.
Philadanco’s has achieved a mastery of their brand of dance – a jazzed balletic and technically superb choreography which bridges the gap between classical and modern dance.
[The Kimmel Center presents Philadanco!’s Choreographers on the Move November 16-18, 2018 at the Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia, kimmelcenter.org, 215-893-1999.]