Painted Bride Arts Center
Philadanco dancer Tommie-Waheed Evans has been dividing his time as choreographer for Eleone Dance Theatre and Complexions Dance Theater among other troupes, including establishing his own company Waheed Works.
In 2014, Evans choreographed Philadanco dancers in Poulenc’s Aubade a retelling of the myth of the goddess Diana, onstage with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Evans’ narrative skill shorthanded captivated a classical music audience,
His newest work, Botch is at the other end of his aesthetic and in its premiere with two performances at the Painted Bride Arts Center, stands as Evans’ most ambitious work to date. The troupe of 11, mostly dancers from Eleone and Philadanco, performing cohesively throughout this demanding, long-form piece.
Botch’s huge theme of everyone existing chaotically in darkness and hoping for light, inspires Evans’ most explosive choreography coming at you like a freight train.
The troupe files in to a metronomic soundtrack that careens from sonorous atmospheres, to industrial sonics to baroque arias. The ensemble pulse and attack is a gushing mosaic of contemporary idioms punctuated with casual balletics of precision and abandon. Evans doesn’t let up on these dancers in communicating expressions of anger, trauma and raw emotional power, reflecting the broad theme.
Air-slicing jetes and mach-speed turns are laced into group scrambles and stylized dancing amok. A club milieu is evoked with pulsing communals one second, a change of light, suddenly reveals desperation.
There are repeated checkpoints like petit backward piques or the dancers’ arms raised not serenely ala Serenade, but a little closer to trying to ward off an impending dread.
In the mayhem, Gary W. Jeter(guesting from BalletX) slides across the stage looking mythic in a silver skirt to launches into a seismic solo. Gorgeous sculpture starts to melt down into a ‘to be or not to be’ dance soliloquy.
Act II has a more ponderous start, with everyone in leather and lacey fetishista garb, with the full company moving in self-conscious slo-motion, and a couple of Solid Gold Dancers freeze frames. But this ponderous though is followed by another arresting solo, danced by the dynamic Joe Gonzalez, set to a baroque music club mix. Later, Gonzalez continues this mis-en-scene on the periphery of the stage separate from the ensemble.
Evans is just as inventive with a series of duets as he is in the full-company configurations. Who would expect to hear Stevie Nick’s raspy vocal Just Like a White Wing Dove danced with hypnotic intensity by Colin Heininger and Dara Stevens-Meredith in a duet that starts out as a typical contemporary’ male-female dance, but taps the driving back beat, displaying Evans’ propulsive style.
Eleone dancers Anthony Rhodes and Kareem Marsh perform a central duet packed with intricate lift patterns and sensual bodyscapes. The electrifying Rhodes is a bigger dancer than most, but is nonetheless front and center in several duets with both men and women. A statement of dance artistry having little to do, finally, with a predetermined body type. Marsh possesses incredible articulation and litheness, not to mention his diamond hard penche arabesque.
The end section is set to the scorching lyrics of Gil Scott Heron’s Who Will Survive in America is choreographic lightning and leads to the finale with Jeter and Teneise Ellis (both former ‘Danco dancers) hinting at a survival at all costs, is Evans gorgeous lyrical and haunting coda, with intricate lifts and anguished sculpted phrases not moving toward any narrative resolution.
Act II has a more disjointed feel, with Evans tendency to pack to much in and some of the literalness is overwrought, detracting from some sublime subtleties. Even with a few excesses, not to mention the power of this ensemble, Botch is destined to be a signature piece for Evans and Waheed Works.