REMIX FESTIVAL (fidget): The Unseen Hand

Chelsea Murphy and Magda San Milan in WE TOUCHED IT. Photo by Kate Raines, Plate3Photography.
Chelsea Murphy and Magda San Milan in WE TOUCHED IT. Photo by Kathryn Raines, Plate 3 Photography.

Unlikely though it seems, North Mascher Street, in a chancy section of Kensington, remains a destination for intriguing performance.

Housed there are sister venues Mascher Space Co-op and <fidget>. Mascher is a collective made up of some of Philadelphia’s most exciting young theater/dancemakers, such as Annie Wilson and Christina Gesualdi. Next door, <fidget> (or thefidget space) is a venue for celebrated artists Megan Bridge and Peter Price to create their own work, and to curate exciting new performances from Philly and around the country.

Remix Festival, hosted at <fidget>, is curated by Annie Wilson and Susan Rethorst, creator of the remixing concept (she calls it “wrecking”). The concept behind the festival is that on each of the four nights, three or four artists present original dance works. Then, after a short break, other artists present “remixed” versions these dances which they’ve had two days to prepare.

Thursday night’s performance was well-attended, and additional chairs and floor pillows had to be added to the thirty or so seats already set out. The first half of the night is the original pieces, followed by a break/catered social longer than the usual intermission, and then the remixes.

Though each night presents a slightly different set of dances, Thursday opened with Meredith Bove’s THIS EVERLASTING OCEAN, a sonorous, wandering, cobbling-together of stillness and muted balletic recital. The piece has an intentional informality to its construction, with long moments spent fiddling with sound equipment, and agitating, jagged edges to many of its phrases.

Wildly different is Chelsea Murphy and Magda San Milan’s WE TOUCHED IT, a pugnacious riff on childish self-touching and other-touching, interspersed with a glibly-recited conversation. Murphy and San Milan spend long periods of the dance with their hands in their pants, hopping around froggishly, and interacting via subdued slapstick. 

The first half closes with a piece authored by Susan Rethorst and performed by Meg Foley. A brief exploration of a few iconic gestures, Foley is at turns laconic and introspective, then frantic and violent. The program gives no title for the piece, pointing out that it’s “in very early stages.”

After the break, we get to see the “wrecked” pieces. Interesting though the original pieces may be, this is the real payoff.

Without giving much away remixing means shuffling around the pieces of the dance to create something that’s interesting in a different way, relying more on formal reinvention than new content. The same dancers are used.

Most interesting is the fact that the remixed pieces are, without exception, more focused and more engaging. Which is shocking, since they were constructed in just two days.

In a preview for the FringeArts blog, Annie Wilson says that Remix raises questions of authorship, collaboration, and “done-ness.” There is a sense that we are not seeing finished pieces, and that everything is meant to be seen as a work in progress which is actively, in front of us, being worked.

Wilson also points out that the remixing choreographer is not trying to “improve” the original piece, or even to make the piece “more clear,” and that “No one is responsible to the other for their decisions.”

Yet it seems that the remixed compositions are able to restructure the originals in a more interesting way, and to erase the bits that are no longer relevant to the whole, ending up in a piece which is more fully present.

There’s a rare joy shared here, where the having the choreographic process is exposed in a unique way, and a deep enjoyment in seeing a single dance presented by two unique authors. Reiterated movements and phrases bring a smile, a nod, a laugh to the viewer.

I took a stroll before going in to the festival, and this cluster of blocks is, literally, on the edge of development and gentrification. Two blocks east stands a manicured dog park populated by young-professional types, and right across Frankford Ave. there’s Palmer Park, lined with Cherry trees. If you haven’t taken in any of <fidget> or Mascher’s programming yet, get up there while you can, before rising rent prices threaten affordability, access, and the unique neighborhood charms. [<fidget>, 1714 N. Mascher St.] May 1-4, 2014.

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