On May 13, 2016, I had the privilege of attending the 28th Inhale Performance Series held at CHI Movement Arts Center in South Philadelphia. Whether you are a dance aficionado or a first time attendee, this series presents a wide variety of dance artists (students and professionals) in a showcase format which anyone can readily enjoy. I have attended the Inhale series many times in the past and I always find it a bit disconcerting that the majority of the audience is comprised of dancers, friends and family, and that more Philadelphians do not take advantage of this inexpensive smorgasbord of dance delights that highlight just how much this community has to offer to the arts scene in Philadelphia.
The evening opened to a packed house with an excerpt from a work in progress by Sam Tower entitled Strange Tenants. This was developed under PhiladelphiaDANCE’s new residency program, In Process. Billed as a “dance theater, psycho thriller”, the piece seeks to explore the bizarre ways in which we inhabit our bodies. Dancer, Katie Coyle enters from the audience accompanied by guitarist and live sound composition by Alec MacLaughlin. She marks the space and hauntingly gazes outward until eventually joined by fellow dancers, Nia Benjamin, Emilie Krause, Merri Rashoyan and Anna Szapiro. Their movements, gaze, facial expressions and breathing was indicative of a fear of the unknown and what lies beyond, but also a fear that is markedly inward and self-directed. We hear whispers of “is that her” in the background. Of course with any good psycho thriller there is a bit of comedic relief as the music cuts to a version of “Mr. Sandman”, which eventually leaves Katie Coyle solo to fix her hair in ponytails and adorn a backpack to “Unexpected Stranger”. On her journey, she is joined by the remaining dancers, all with backpacks and hitch hiker outfits, only to square off and shoot each other dead as the stage goes to black. This exploration of phantom tenants, who haunt our genetic makeup, is scheduled for a full production by early 2017.
Next up was a solo by Brain Cordova called Seed. Brian is currently pursuing his BFA at Temple but has danced professionally with several companies, including Carbon Dance Theater and Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers. Costumed completely in white, he emerges doing floor work against the back wall of the space. His strong grounded presence is equally matched with flexibility that seems to combine modern dance and yoga-like movements. As this embryonic movement expands, there is a poetic and subtle beauty to the images and lines that Cordova creates, marking the seed’s maturation and embodiment of growth and living.
Loren Grenendaal’s Presence of Mass was a study in three parts. With partner Nathan Dawley, we view a series of contact improvisational movements in which this duet is constantly tumbling over each other, creating sculptural shapes, shifting and sharing weight, and passing movement between them. In part two, Dawley is replaced by an oversized stuffed male dummy with anatomically correct parts. As Groenendaal tries to replicate phrases and movement to this limp, unresponsive creature, we become more aware of how the “Presence of Mass” can effect the simplest of movements. Depending on your own reading, there also appears to be a subtle subtext and comedic characterization of the male gender. In part three, Groenendaal performs solo, where the only mass present to influence movement is the air itself and the ground beneath her. This piece is a work in progress and conceptually is brilliant, but the movements, transitions and flow need to be tightened to make the impact greater.
The last piece before the intermission was A Duet Study by choreographer Asya Zlatina, that paired Kevin Sullivan and Jessica Daley, and Andrea Romesser with Ms Zlatina herself. The seated duet of Sullivan and Daley commenced with a kiss and while their movements and gestures are sharp and distinct, there is an air of romance and a certain sultriness in their interactions. By contrast, the standing duet of Rosmesser and Zlatina, clearly have a love hate relationship marked by push and pulling motions and the occasional ringing of necks. There is a constant repetition of phrases by both couples with variations in expression and exaggerations of movements. I found myself completely drawn in by both couples and how minor variations in movement and phrasing could convey so much meaning about relationships. The piece ends with a final knock out bout between Rosmesser and Zlatina set to the theme of Rocky, which while comedic and amusing took me drastically out of the serious realm of what was previously conveyed. Nevertheless, this was a highlight of the evening and I hope to see more of Zlatina’s choreography and duet studies in the future.
Continuing after the break on the theme of duets, Jennifer Yackel and Janet Pila Marini offered a piece set to Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma entitled Unspoken. I am not sure if the program was printed incorrectly, but the choreography and music were reminiscent of a piece by Yackel I had seen two years ago entitled Unveiled. Nevertheless, it was a beautifully executed piece and Ms. Yackel’s balletic training clearly underscores the choroegraphy and movement in this duet.
Frame 5, and excerpt from Fram-ing 6, was presented by choreographer Molly Misgalla. This snippet was part of a larger investigation into how film techniques inform both the choreographic process and live performance. Throughout, solos and duets are framed by dancers, Shelby Glidden, Jace Gonzales, Chrissy Howard, Tunai Jones, Kareem Marsh and Tony Rhodes, creating a variety of ever shifting perspectives. While all of the dancers gave strong performances, it was the sheer emotional commitment and complete abandonment to the movement by Tony Rhodes that became the highlight of the evening for me as well as some fellow audience goers, who teared up with emotion as well.
Christina Eltyedt Margin’s solo Inflections of Doubt cast insight in to a paralyzing internal struggle with one’s self, marked by her wrists bound by a length of rope. As the rope becomes entangled, restricting her movement – arms, legs and torso, we can feel the tension and struggle to break free.
The final piece of the night, A New Page, was choreographed and danced by Liu Mo, a member of Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers, along with Wally Carbonell, Weiwei Ma, Brain Cordova and Emma Girandola. The professionalism, athleticism, fierceness and grace of this quintet in powerful syncopated rhythms, ending in a floor drop and change of pace to a slow and moving duet by Cordova and Girandola was a perfect ending to a great evening.