The Joyce Theater
New York, NY
October 2–7, 2012
Performance reviewed: Oct. 2

The Joyce becomes a hothouse, sprouting whirling azaleas, when the men and women of Philadanco, clothed in hot pink and cranberry, showcase Suite Otis. This George Faison work, from three whole decades ago, seems as if it were made yesterday. Never mind the age of those Otis Redding classics or that any run-of-the-mill troupe could easily handle the sassy snaps, high kicks, hip-pumping, and skirt-swirling as well as the by-now clichéd, cutesy bickering between dance partners Chloé O. Davis and Justin Bryant. These dancers bring everything they have, everything they are, to each movement of this picturesque suite.

If there’s fun to be had, Philadanco will have it. But if there’s deeper purpose, these performers will clarify it, underscore it, and make you pay attention. I was pleased to see how they apply themselves to Gatekeepers, a Ronald K. Brown ensemble piece from 1999. For this work, Brown envisioned, he says, “soldiers walking toward heaven, searching for the wounded and looking-out to make a safe haven for others to follow.”  Philadanco’s dancers have got this figured out, managing to look both soldierly and heavenly. They take meticulous care with Brown’s complex, demanding musicality–an unpredictable, delicious way of timing and highlighting movement that erupts from anywhere in the body and works the entire body. It’s as if they troubled to clean all the windows onto this dance’s soul because they care.

But even one of America’s top troupes—and Philadanco is certainly that—can’t cover for uninspired design and choreographic infrastructure. Presenting the world premiere of Moan, an ensemble work set to Nina Simone songs, Ailey superstar Matthew Rushing (here in the role of choreographer) showed us fresh ideas and fully-developed drama in only one of its six sections. In “Don’t Explain,” a steamy duet for Roxanne Lyst and Justin Bryant, Lyst pours herself into her character, a wronged woman who knows all too well “what love endures,” holding nothing back. She repeatedly, pitiably abases herself, opening her body to her cheating lover. She is unable to resist pawing his back even as he glides away. Yet, in the end, she wins her gamble, reclaiming firm, if quiet, power over a man as shamelessly addicted to her as she is to him.
Last season, Rennie Harris’ Home hit a home run for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Now Wake Up, introduced to New York by Philadanco, argues for sending Harris out on a mission to inject new life into troupes of all kinds. Wake Up—which draws inspiration from the creativity and self-definition of Black and Latino youth, the phenomenon of hip hop, and the Afrobeat of Fela Anikulapo Kuti—has a funny way of restraining its dancers while freeing them. I noticed Harris’s tendency to hold them in place like a chorus line, aligned along a horizontal grid (a spatial arrangement altered, now and then, as some come or go offstage) while keeping their bodies bubbling to Fela’s irresistible rhythms. What at first seemed restrictive eventually struck me as being quite apt: Proud, foxy dancers, each one saying, “This is me” and “I am here” and “This is what grounds me.”

Photo by Ayodele Casel, courtesy Philadanco. Pictured left to right are Rosita Adamo, Ruka White, Lindsey Holmes, and Tommie- Waheed Evans in Matthew Rushing’s Moan.


Philadanco continues at the Joyce through Sunday, Oct. 7.

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Joyce Theater, NYC
October 7, 2006
Reviewed by Nancy Wozny

Philadanco's Corey Baker and Elisabeth H. Bell
Photo by Lois Greenfield, courtesy Philadanco


Philadelphia is known as the city that loves you back. So it only follows that its beloved modern dance company, Philadanco, danced with a generous heart and robust athleticism during its recent showing of works. This handsome company has been a mainstay of the Philadelphia dance scene for the past 37 years. (Founder Joan Myers Brown will receive a Dance Magazine Award this year.) The family-friendly matinee featured works by notable choreographers who are especially adept at revealing the company’s strengths.

No brakes were allowed in Daniel Ezralow’s Pulse. Dancers spilled onstage as if running downhill and slid backwards, arching their arms as if to use the airspace to slow down. Snazzy footwear facilitated smooth sliding and gliding across the stage. The kinetic excitement built to a crescendo as the dancers slid into each other as if attracted by a center-stage magnet. Exhilarating momentum created a sense that the dance was traveling past our field of vision. Ezralow’s illusion conjured a tipping stage as the dancers pummeled through space. Tricky, and fun to watch.

Ronald K. Brown’s excerpts of For Truth, set to the mellow songs of MeSchell Ndegeocello and Femi Kuti, synthesize movements from African dance, street vernacular, hip hop, and modern dance into a steamy whole. Brown’s seamless fusion creates a recognizable yet inventive vocabulary. Although Philadanco’s style is more tightly wound than that of Brown’s company, the increased muscular edge revealed a different dimension of the richly textured choreography. For Truth contains both celebratory and contemplative qualities; one minute it exudes a party feel, the next, a moody internal dialogue. Odara Jabali-Nash embodied this paradox in her delicate solo in “Section One: The Chosen.” Her earthy performance mined the subtleties of Ndegeocello’s sultry songs. There’s so much to watch in Brown’s work. Each dancer seems to take hold of his idiosyncratic style in their own way, leaving ample room for their individuality to shine through.

In Cottonwool, Christopher L. Huggins created an effective vehicle to display the troupe’s technical chops and charisma. Huggins explores the play between balance and stability in his rousing romp for the whole company. Dancers teetered as if poised on a tightrope in an exploration of risk taking and the energy at the edge. Daredevil partnering spiced up this otherwise mainstream modern dance. In the end though, it seemed that the Philadanco crew was just too sure-footed to make the wobbles believable. Chalk it up to Philly pride. See

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