This month, Dance Affiliates, Philadelphia’s longtime presenter of international contemporary dance finished their 33-year run at the Annenberg Center on the University of Pennsylvania campus in West Philadelphia and will be changing venues to the Prince Music Theater in Center City Philadelphia going into the 2015-16 season aptly dubbed NextMove- Two favorite troupes – RUBBERBANDance Group and Pilobolus – capped off the final season at the Annenberg.
Every time out, RUBBERBANDance Group taps their growing filling fan base game for the adventurous choreographic mixes by artistic director-choreographer Victor Quijada. Quijada’s troupe of six dancers, from various contemporary dance disciplines, are currently touring Empirical Quotient- winner of Dance Magazine’s 2014 best Choreography award.
Quijada continues to develop and refine his movement styles and has won multiple awards along the way, including the prestigious Princess Grace Choreographic Fellowship and he is emerging as a prolific film choreographer and director.
Empirical Quotient is a long-form narrative with unexpected mise-en-scenes that flow into each other, hinting at stories without resolution. Less literal than Quijada’s previous lengthier work. Composer Jasper Gahunia, a frequent RBDG collaborator scores with the piece with a stream of electronica of staccato echoes, ghost train arias swooping in and strings with pings and bent notes inspire Quijada’s technique, reflected in the bowing bodies and precarious torques.
The opening scene has Anne Plamondon (co-artistic director) Lavinia Vago and Lea Ved in a series of intimate duets and trios. They gesture or tap another dancer, which sends a snakey ripple through their bodies, a standard hip-hop combination, but Quijada’s variants to such trendy movement makes it more compelling.
Then the men join them and establishes a series of interlocking phrases to build the ballet’s singular vocabulary, that freeze (stop frame) and underlines Quijada’s refined transitional phrases. There are a series of arresting reverse phrases, for instance and body puzzles that unlock in ways that only Houdini could explain.
Later, Ved entangled, almost threateningly, during an intense duet with James Gregg who has her bent backward off his body, she flips out of it and her pointed foot is on his neck. There are working something that lands him on all fours begging her and she just shakes her head. Later, Ved sculpts Gregg, Franklin Luy and Zachary Tang into a pile-up and they scamper like a centipede at her comic command.
Tang dazzled in fully pointed pirouettes with his arm over his head like a matador, for instance, adding to the laundry list of signature group moves with back vaults, inverted torso twisters, for instance, slowed up to mid-tempos and adagio movement. They may be less flashy, but impressively, aren’t leaning on movement velocity and are just as much about the critical transitional phrasing. All of the skills at points incorporating Quijada’s aesthetic as he continues to define a technique that careens to undiscovered country in its physicality.
The epilogue to the piece came in the street dance tradition of solo curtain call flash dances and this ensemble shows they have even more juice after over an hour of perpetual motion.
Pilobolus Dance Theater, the perennial favorite at Dance Celebration proved a fitting closer for the last Annenberg dance, with something for everyone, even if it was jarringly disjointed.
Full disclosure here, it was hard to come out of a dance stupor after seeing Pilobolus’ 2014 piece ‘On the Nature of Things’ which opened the concert. It is without doubt among their finest works, almost in a category by itself. It is a creation of the whole troupe, for one and a manifest artistic statement. One of those dance works that points up that at its best choreography is a language of its own & you can only approximate the real meaning translating the experience in words.
Three dancers on a small metal pedestal, in dance-belts, evoke images from Caravaggio and Michelangelo but rather than friezes, they were in melting motion, that metaphysical artistic component that lives in those paintings. The trio engages mostly with adagio movement, inversions, lifts, precarious falls, coupling that looks past any sexual intimacy, maybe a suggestion of a creator experimenting or giving way to the study of the human anatomy in motion. This flowing together in a powerful theatrical arc. The piece was danced with spellbinding artistry and skill by Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Jordan Kriston and Mike Tyus.
So interesting, first off, that Pilobolus that amoeba-esque dance troupe, inspired by fungus that morphs all manner of terrestrial other than human, has composed one of their most profound works displaying the complete majesty and mystery of the human body, mind & certainly dance spirit.
The marquee draw piece by magicians Penn and Teller called (esc) was cloying in the extreme. A woman duck taped to a chair with a plastic bag over her head, leather fetishista pole danseurs, pad-locked crates, Houdini escape magic or no, a little went a long way and P & T were nowhere in sight, most likely counting their money in Vegas.
Automation also had a violent edge of torrential action scenes involving a horror film doorway, wind tunnel movement and dancers throwing each other around. Physically very impressive, but stuck on repeat sequence.
The closer, ‘Day Two’<a created by Moses Pendleton in 1980 still has great power and early signatures- meditative strength moves and body sculptures, for instance. By now the length of it gives it a more dated look, but danced with renewed conviction by the always phantasmagorias muscled company.