Review: Philadanco Showcases Dynamic Range with 'The Continuum'

by Lewis Whittington

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday November 4, 2022

A promotional photo for "The Continuum"
A promotional photo for "The Continuum"  (Source:Philadanco)

Philadanco opened their current season at the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater where they have been the resident dance company for two decades with "The Continuum," a program of new danceworks that showcased the company's technical and artistic range.

It is a pivotal time for the company. Earlier this year Joan Myers Brown, the founding artistic director of Philadanco, after 50+ years of leadership, turned the reins over to. Kim Bears-Baily as Artistic Director. Brown is continuing as Artistic Advisor.

Most dance companies are facing new challenges, fiscal and otherwise, as the industry is still trying to recover from two years of turmoil due to the pandemic.

Brown has always commissioned choreographers to create new ballets for their Philadelphia season before taking the company on tour dates around the country. All four choreographers are former Danco dancers.

Bears-Bailey was onstage to introduce the concert to an almost full house.

The curtain came up on the dancers in silhouette against autumnal lighting in choreographer Francisco Gella "Seasons," scored to Max Richter's recomposed work of Antonio Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" with scenes based on interviews with the dancers (ala Chorus Line) about what the seasons mean to them in Gella's five sections.

Gella's expansive choreography is brilliantly cohesive with elements of African diaspora, club moves and ballet. Modern idioms in dynamic fusion are set to Richter's propulsive counterpoint and lush baroque drama.

The ballet features a series of strong central duets by dancers Makaela Fenton and Jameel M. Hendricks; Brandi Pinnix and Lamar Rogers; Clarissa Wright and William Burden. The women's corps thrills in a series of quicksilver combinations with razor sharp unison jump and turn variations. Mostly though, Gella gave the full company scenes that showed all of Philadanco's ensemble strengths.

Along with the music, the costumes by Anna-Alisa Belous, were symbolic, with the dancers in mythic gold two-piece briefs, with flowy silk tunic panels, and hooded robes that they eventually cast off their bodies. Kudos also to Nick Kolin's sculpting and atmospheric lighting designs for "Seasons" and the other works.

Next, choreographer Bernard Gaddis' "Stolen Moments" (set to music by four composers) presents four male-female couples expressing the passion and turmoil of relationships. Gaddis choreographs beautifully sculpted duets and adagio lift sequences that keep evolving with different emotional truths. The dramas are scored to a soundscape mix of music by Hans Zimmer, Olafur Arnalds, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Jean-Christophe Spinosi. Christian Gonzalez performs an anguished solo about the pain of loneliness that's so interesting, being both expressive and mysterious. You only find out the source of his loneliness in the final duet.

Choreographer Hope Boykin's "My Time...Soar" is a harrowing introspective solo danced by Clarricia Golden, set to an improvisational composition by jazz pianist Jason Moran and voiceover narration written by Boykin about self-acceptance and moving forward. Golden scrambles around a fleet of chairs, upending them and expressing fear, anger, and anxiety. It is a primal dance scream and, in fact, at one point Golden lets out a chilling scream and collapses. But as Moran's laces in some ascending notes, the dance becomes an affirmation and Golden ends up on top of those chairs. Golden's riveting performance was reminiscent of Alvin Ailey's solo piece "Cry" danced by the legendary Judith Jamison.

The closer was Ephrat Asherie's hip-hop romp called "Outside-In" set to club mixes by Donovan Dorrance, FaltyDL and Joy Oribison. Asherie's high-octane mosaic of flowing hip-hop vernacular (past and present) is mostly untethered to narrative other than community jubilation featuring group circles, capoeira acrobatics, breakneck ariels, dives, and sexy street dance. The intricate footwork is not diluted for dancers trained in ballet and modern techniques. Philadanco brings precision, style, and hip-hop realness.

"The Continuum" ran October 28 - 30 at the Kimmel Cultural Campus. For more on Philadanco, visit the company's Facebook page.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.