Willingly welcoming new dance companies and new choreographic voices with passion and zeal, Philadelphians often offer support in numbers by attending performances at high profile venues, community centers, karate studios, and even in living rooms.
Where the more heavily resourced dance companies have the capacity to produce shows with lofty sets, high tech lighting, and flashy costumes, some of the less popular, under resourced companies, work with very little to be able to share the fruits of their labor.
Relatively new on the Philadelphia dance scene, Beyond Dance Company (BDC) presented a night called “Evolution of Women” to enthusiastic viewers at The Painted Bride.
Upon entering the space, the voices of Whitney Houston and Beyoncé could be heard in songs like “I’m every woman” and “Freak Um Dress.” Promoting female empowerment, I assumed these songs were being used to set the tone for a night of girl power and lady liberation.
Themed showcases usually have good intentions but sometimes fall short when blending multiple genres, several choreographers, and varying levels of performance experience. If these elements fail to converge, narratives are usually unclear and the themes rarely successfully explored. With twenty-nine pieces on the program….yes twenty-nine, the pieces I saw in the almost 3 hour show felt more like an end of year recital and less like a company concert.*
While the program was billed to include works from Andrea Mychaels Dance Project, Femme Collective, and the 609 Dream Team, the night was jam packed with pieces by BDC – most choreographed by Renee Johnson, presumably the director of the company as nothing was written in the program to clarify her role.
Watching the dancers of BDC, one could not help but notice how young some of the dancers were. The future of dance? Perhaps. But their youthful presence and limited life experiences made it very hard to believe they could deliver a fully developed message about the “Evolution of Women.”
Pieces like Child’s Play choreographed by Noel Sarachilli and Kids Having Fun choreographed by Johnson stayed true to their titles by having the dancers wear their hair in pigtails and simulating playground frolicking. Other works like Pretty Hurts and Like a Boy, choreographed by Johnson and Deondra Kinard and Briyanna Latimer respectively, were pantomimic as dancers touched their heads, hearts, and lips after being prompted by the the lyrics in the songs with the same titles. Yes, these pieces were well received by the audience, but sometimes when choreographers use pop songs as their soundscape, I find audiences are tempted to engage with the narrative of the songs instead of what is happening onstage. Piece after piece, the support and cheers from the audience made it easy to see past the technical flaws, in order to appreciate these young, eager performers, sharing their love of dance with sparkling enthusiasm. And while the dancers were effervescent in their delivery, I questioned if the director thought to seek expert choreographic mentorship, in an attempt to receive feedback throughout the creative process.
Given that no mission statement was provided in the program, I was unsure of BDC’s objectives. The performance may have been evidence that pure love of movement is sometimes all that is needed to introduce aspiring performers to dance as an art form. Such exploration exposes them to technical rigor and professional commitment, proving that hard work can possibly lead to a life on stage.
With continued training and some choreographic mentorship, I have no doubt that Johnson and BDC will contribute to the dance scene in Philadelphia.
* The show started at 7:00 (maybe later), and I left the theatre at 8:35 after viewing fourteen pieces. With fourteen pieces to go, and leaving 1.5 hours into the program, I estimated the length of the show.