HATCH (Birds on a Wire): The expressiveness and diversity of contemporary dance

Birds on a Wire’s HATCH, featuring Sarah Warren in “Terra” (Photo credit: Plate 3 Photography)

Birds on a Wire’s HATCH, featuring Sarah Warren in “Terra” (Photo credit: Plate 3 Photography)

The second installment in Birds on a Wire’s incubator series, HATCH, gave eight of Philadelphia’s emerging female choreographers the opportunity to showcase their new work in a three-night run. The weekend of public performances followed eight months of developmental support and design consultation in a creative group environment with the company, which also provided the use of professional lighting, sound, and video equipment, along with skilled technicians to operate them (including lighting design by Camille Gamble). Featuring world premieres by Lora Allen, Belle Alvarez, Marie Brown, Mawiyah Dowd, Corey Melancon, Katie Moore, Nandini Sikand, and donia salem, the mini-festival of short pieces highlighted each of the women’s individual styles and thematic interests in a mixed-bill of contemporary dance.

Opening the show were the powerful lifts and intricate moves of Allen’s “Viewpoint,” performed with strength by CrystalNicole, Alexis Dispenziere, and Ashley Lippolis to the dissonant original music of Bob Lanzetti and Ross Pederson. Works that followed in HATCH’s diversified program further underscored the expressiveness inherent in physical movement to communicate the thoughts, emotions, and concerns of the choreographers and dancers. They included Moore’s seamless fusion of classical ballet with modern techniques in “Terra,” danced with grace and beauty by Aurora Jensen, Marina Kec, and Sarah Warren (whose long-limbed extensions were especially captivating); the falls and rolls of Melancon’s “Unfulfilled,” with Rebecca Brodowski, Julee Mahon, Joanna Martin, Brianne Scott, and Molly Woytowicz moving in harmony with the bittersweet classicizing “cello rock” of Break of Reality’s “Drift Apart;” and Brown’s wildly uninhibited and absolutely exhilarating “Primal,” in which she and dance partner Melissa Chisena explored the chaos within by referencing moves from the martial arts and animals from Brazil’s Amazon jungle, set to the heavy-metal tribal beat of Sepultura’s “Ratamahatta.”  

A few of the pieces also incorporated spoken, written, and signed language in conjunction with the themes of the dances. Alvarez’s “Passport” employed direct-address segments of storytelling with interpretive choreography, in which she and dancers Laura Baehr, Allie Linn, Talia Mason, Sarah McWilliams, and Rachel Winograd were accompanied by a live excerpt from pianist/composer Julian Hartwell’s “In Flight” to convey in movement the episodes from their personal backgrounds. Dowd punctuated her relevant urban piece, “Depths of Equality – Part II,” with the noise of city traffic and a beginning voice-over of comments indicative of social disharmony and bigotry, as brought to life by dancers Amanda Edwards, Isaac Lindy, Brendan Tetsuo, Harlee Trautman, and Haylee Warner. It concludes with an impactful vision of the exclusion of one dancer, perceived as the “outsider,” from the rest of the group in the spotlight.

Perhaps the most profoundly moving of all the works was “Gestures of Longing” based on Linwood Smith’s poem “The Dream Song of the Deaf Man.” Choreographed by Sakshi Productions’ donia salem and Nandini Sikand, they, along with fellow dancer Jubil Khan, combined the gestural vocabulary of American Sign Language with classic Indian odissi dance and videos of words and phrases by Fabian Rogers. Performed in silence, with just the sounds of the dancers’ breathing, sighing, and foot stomps, the piece gave the audience a glimpse into the experience of the deaf and hearing impaired, and the importance of facial expressions, postures, gestures, movements, text, and vibrations to illuminate what cannot be heard.

HATCH’s concept of expression in its varied forms–the entire program was translated by a live ASL interpreter–was supplemented by snippets of paper on each seat in the audience, inscribed with different words and phrases. Mine said, “restless hands” “moving inwards”—a telling message about the power of dance to touch us all.

[The Performance Garage, 1515 Brandywine St.] June 9-11, 2016; www.birdsonawire.org.

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About the author

Debra Miller

Debra holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware and teaches at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ. She is a judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent for Central Voice, and has served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and President of the Board of Directors of Da Vinci Art Alliance. Her publications include articles, books, and catalogues on Renaissance, Baroque, American, Pre-Columbian, and Contemporary Art, and feature articles on the Philadelphia theater scene.