Between PA Ballet’s The Nutcracker and Walnut Street Theater’s Mary Poppins, there’s no shortage of family-friendly theatrical fare this holiday season. But if you’re looking for something different—something truly surprising—check out the latest from Brian Sanders’ JUNK.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t recommend JUNK for children (if you saw even just the promotional materials for their last FringeArts show, you’d know why) but the company’s 1.1 Holiday Revue Special is just fabulous. The program features nearly two dozen pieces, drawn in part from JUNK’s nationally touring Children’s Theater Program, SKINK; they’re strung together like a collection of Vaudevillian acts that run the gamut from totally goofy to breathtakingly beautiful.
One of my favorite pieces was Soda Pop, a quintet in which the entire company struts in perfect unison wearing safety goggles and plastic soda bottles attached to their feet. If it sounds silly, that’s because it is, but they do it so well, with deadpan expressions and synchronization despite the lack of music, even as they bust out a series of time steps, that I could have watched them all day.
The women of the company, Julia Higdon and Kelly Trevlyn, are impressive, weather spinning across the entire stage whilst carrying a tray of drinks, or vaulting up and down in a bouncing hammock (warning: do not try this at home). They also dance a quaint little duet comprised almost entirely of high kicks and rollicking petit allegro steps, proving once again that although Sanders’ dancers may look like circus performers on the surface, they’ve got plenty of ballet training to back up their acrobatic feats.
It is the men of the company, however, Theodore Fatcher, Tommy Schimmel and Peter Jones, who really shine in 1.1. In Underwater Study #5 and Candy Stick in particular, they defy gravity with glorious optical illusions that work only because of their sheer strength.
Although the program isn’t quite as festive as its title would suggests and lags a bit towards the end, JUNK has come up with something brilliant: a whimsical cross between Ok Go and MOMIX (the latter of which has featured Sanders’ choreography). And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the costumes: they get better and better as the show goes on, with dancers inverting themselves and walking on their hands, sometimes dressed as lizards, sometimes as old men and sometimes as walking smiley faces complete with eyeballs and silly grins painted onto their pants.
1.1 also makes great use of JUNK’s new home at 2040 Christian Street with aerial work aplenty and it is, quite frankly, one of the most entertaining shows I’ve seen in years. At just over an hour in length, it’s a perfect show for kids (or for anyone less familiar with concert dance), and between its silly gags, its wit and its unexpected grace, it will definitely leave you wanting more. [JUNK Studios, 2040 Christian Street] December 12, 2014-January 3, 2015; briansandersjunk.com.