URBAN SCUBA: RETRO DIVE (Brian Sanders’ JUNK): A fresh take on old JUNK

Republished by kind permission from The Dance Journal

Photo credit: Steve Belkowitz

Photo credit: Steve Belkowitz

A hurricane fan was going at full blast on the second floor of Shiloh Church in South Philly, home base of Brian Sanders’ JUNK and it was surely needed for this almost capacity crowd on the sultry June 1st opening night of Urban Scuba: Retro Dive. The fan otherwise fit right in with the show’s junkyard set that framed Sanders’ reshuffled collection of excerpts of previous JUNK hits and some interludes welded or whimsically thrown together.

The apparatus and set pieces that are made from salvaged materials by design team John Howell, Pedro Silva and Sanders. Aside from Sanders always wry and wonderful mix of music, sterling precision lighting design by Jay Madara conjures a magical arena.

JUNK’s cast if of six- Regan Jackson, Peter Jones, Theodore Fatscher, Tommy Schimmel, William Robinson, Kelly Trevlyn and William Robinson- all in top form for some of JUNK’s most fearless moments of acrobatic-dance fusion.

Here are some random highlights-

The opening “Submersion’ set to rhythmic novelty tune by Sub Swara is a full on dance number that even careens close to Fosse-esque jazz hands with the troupe decked out in burlesque bowlers and tails. The showdance duds come off and everyone is among the detritus in au courant swimwear.

Jones digs up a snorkel and dives into the dumpster at the back of the stage to retrieve a long bent metal bar with wheels on either side. Jones and Robinson rig it to a harness and whirl in the air executing a see-sawing gymnastic duet. Later, Jones and Schimmel are similarly swinging on either ends of a ladder, making it swing like a pendulum or rotate like propeller, as they scale the rungs.

There are a lot of spinning objects in Urban Scuba and the effects easily hypnotize, but can involve a high degree physical difficulty. All six are paired off and aloft on suspended and spinning on three metal pipe cubes and moving inside and outside the structures.

In contrast Sanders meditative movement can be just as captivating. Schimmel mounts the zigzagging 14ft ladder and scales it in ever daring positions through the rungs and steely positions often anchored on only one foot.

Robinson performs an aerial on a dangling car muffler and tail pipe- executing adagio moves with his body entwined around the metal in series of inverted yogic poses. A garment rack becomes the traveling frame for Fatscher in which to execute silk and steel strength moves that you usually just see at this level on Olympic rings. Again Sanders hypnotic acro-dance musicality most inspired here with 80s instrumental classic from Art of Noise.

Comedic interludes included a manically clumsy masked man dancing on his hands (we think) to the equally manic Klezmer Conservatory Orchestra. Fatscher in a headstand in old round wooden tub out of the wild west, not flinching when buckets of water are poured in over his head. Robinson is a pumped elite swimmer, flexing his beefcake muscles and flaunting his breast and backstroke to the beat and leaving the crowd panting.

Kelly Trevlyn the lone woman, more than holds her own among the men. In ‘Patio Dining Table’ a duet with Jackson, in an intimate series elegantly sculpted strength moves and precarious lift sequences. Trevlyn also performs Sanders aerial solo in a bungee cord hammock set to the Swingle Singers Bach vocalese.

Speaking of funsies Sanders musical selections are a mix of martini lounge music and late night propulsive club mixes. There are a few industrial strength rockers, one with the troupe on bounce their bodies off of pogo-sticks and during heavy metal tune in ‘6 Doors and 4 Warehouse Lights’ a dizzying torrent of perpetual motion with the dancers tossing around doors or dodging them with somersaults, vaults and squirrely layouts.

The finale was a comedy take from the 80s megahit “Flashdance” with Irene Cara crooning and the cast using a ‘porcelain chaise’ instead of a stripper cabaret chair. At one point Fatscher diving headfirst into the bowl, then whipping his head back so an arc of water flies over the stage. No body doubles here Jennifer.

Sanders is on a roll, he is choreographing a work for Pennsylvania Ballet next season and he will also premiere Carried Away, inspired in part by homoerotic photography of Robert Mapplethorpe, which already looks like a centerpiece for the upcoming Live-Arts Festival, based on the excerpt he unveiled at Shut Up & Dance earlier this year. Without being gratuitous Sanders’ doesn’t shy away from sexual explicitness on the dance stage, but he’s got the artistic goods (and humor) to back it up.

URBAN SCUBA: RETRO DIVE
June 1-5, 2016
briansandersjunk.com

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About the author

Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal

Lewis Whittington’s articles on the performing arts have appeared in several print and online publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Advocate, Dance Magazine, American Theatre Magazine, Huffington Post, Playbill and Stage Directions.