Philadanco

Philadanco
Joyce Theater, NYC
October 7, 2006
Reviewed by Nancy Wozny


Philadanco's Corey Baker and Elisabeth H. Bell
Photo by Lois Greenfield, courtesy Philadanco

 

Philadelphia is known as the city that loves you back. So it only follows that its beloved modern dance company, Philadanco, danced with a generous heart and robust athleticism during its recent showing of works. This handsome company has been a mainstay of the Philadelphia dance scene for the past 37 years. (Founder Joan Myers Brown will receive a Dance Magazine Award this year.) The family-friendly matinee featured works by notable choreographers who are especially adept at revealing the company’s strengths.

No brakes were allowed in Daniel Ezralow’s Pulse. Dancers spilled onstage as if running downhill and slid backwards, arching their arms as if to use the airspace to slow down. Snazzy footwear facilitated smooth sliding and gliding across the stage. The kinetic excitement built to a crescendo as the dancers slid into each other as if attracted by a center-stage magnet. Exhilarating momentum created a sense that the dance was traveling past our field of vision. Ezralow’s illusion conjured a tipping stage as the dancers pummeled through space. Tricky, and fun to watch.

Ronald K. Brown’s excerpts of For Truth, set to the mellow songs of MeSchell Ndegeocello and Femi Kuti, synthesize movements from African dance, street vernacular, hip hop, and modern dance into a steamy whole. Brown’s seamless fusion creates a recognizable yet inventive vocabulary. Although Philadanco’s style is more tightly wound than that of Brown’s company, the increased muscular edge revealed a different dimension of the richly textured choreography. For Truth contains both celebratory and contemplative qualities; one minute it exudes a party feel, the next, a moody internal dialogue. Odara Jabali-Nash embodied this paradox in her delicate solo in “Section One: The Chosen.” Her earthy performance mined the subtleties of Ndegeocello’s sultry songs. There’s so much to watch in Brown’s work. Each dancer seems to take hold of his idiosyncratic style in their own way, leaving ample room for their individuality to shine through.

In Cottonwool, Christopher L. Huggins created an effective vehicle to display the troupe’s technical chops and charisma. Huggins explores the play between balance and stability in his rousing romp for the whole company. Dancers teetered as if poised on a tightrope in an exploration of risk taking and the energy at the edge. Daredevil partnering spiced up this otherwise mainstream modern dance. In the end though, it seemed that the Philadanco crew was just too sure-footed to make the wobbles believable. Chalk it up to Philly pride. See www.philadanco.org.

Ashley Wallen's choreography brought The Greatest Showman to life. (Photo by Niko Tavernise, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox)

The 2018 Oscar noms are here. Which is fun and all; we'll never not get excited about a night of glitz and glamor and, when we're lucky, pretty great dancing. But we'd be a heck of a lot more excited if the Academy Awards included a Best Choreography category. And really—why don't they?

Last year, La La Land's Oscars domination (FOURTEEN nominations) made the fact that Mandy Moore couldn't be recognized for her fantastic choreo—a huge, indisputable part of the film's success—seem especially cruel. This year, it feels weird not to recognize the dance contributions of Ashley Wallen (The Greatest Showman), Anthony Van Laast (Beauty and the Beast), and Aurélie Dupont (Leap!), to name just a few.

Read the full story at dancespirit.com.

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Breaking Stereotypes
Ash in Rochester, NY. PC Thaler Photography by Arleen and Daryl Thaler for the Swan Dreams Project

Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.

"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.

After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.

Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org

In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."

She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."

Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.

Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.

Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

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