Go Deeper

Headlong Dance Theater lets audiences (and each other) in on their Live Arts Festival plans

Posted May 7th, 2009

On Saturday, April 4, Headlong Dance Theater ( presented The Big Reveal to a packed house at the Arts Bank on Broad and South streets. Headlong’s three artistic directors–David Brick, Amy Smith, and Andrew Simonet–have choreographed as a unit for sixteen years. But for 2009’s Live Arts show, they have thrown their process out the window, and gone from working together to working separately and in secret. Under the guidance of choreographer Tere O’Connor (, each of them sought to create a work built solely from the exploration of movement, and letting what emerged dictate the outcome (as oppose to predetermining a structure and fitting the choreography to it). The Big Reveal was the culmination of this initial phase of this creation, and it was as much as revelation to the artistic directors, none of whom had seen the others’ works, as to the audience.

The show started with David Brick’s piece (the audience learned who staged what at the end of the evening), which was partly inspired by photographs of dead soldiers on a beach. A tiny wooden figure model stood downstage, and as each dancer emerged onto stage, she or he would imitate, consider, or juxtapose their body in relation to the form the model (dancers enjoyed moving its arms and legs in a position they like best). From these actions, the dancers, having gained movement and poses from the figure, now explored with those movements with each other. One dancer went around high kicking like a toy soldier, others found solace with a kiss, each defined her own space and as a group they created new meaning to the spaces in between.

The next piece, Amy Smith’s, opened with the dancers clad in white, their arms disappearing into furry hand-warmers, and jumping up and down. Funny, odd, and at times systematic movements had the dancers struggling to become individuals even as they worked in tandem. “The piece ended up being about loneliness and it has a very abstract setting–my fantasy version of Attu Island, Alaska [check it out on a birders site here and some WWII shots here], which is the farthest island on the Aleutian archipelago,” explains Smith. “It’s cold, it’s lonely, there are birds, there’s fog, and a few people manning a LORAN station and listening to radio broadcasts from far, far away.”

The final work of the evening was Andrew Simonet’s, and took place in a workspace, complete with a working time clock. It became apparent that this was the workplace of the dancers, as one by one they would punch in, dance a bit, chat, strike a pose, eat. All the while a very humorous monologue gave instructions on maintaining one’s health and peace of mind. “The piece makes visible–and audible–the constant, invisible, absurd maintenance of the body,” says Simonet.

After the performance, a talkback session was held with the audience, the three artistic directors, the dancers, and Tere O’Connor. Method, reactions, and the intensity of the process were discussed. Having revealed the pieces to each other, the next phase of their creation begins: now the task for David, Amy, and Andrew is find a way to bring their suddenly disparate visions together.

Check out this write up by Lauren Friedman of Philadelphia City Paper.

–Josh McIlvain

Devynn Emory strikes a pose at the Big Reveal. Photo by Elizabeth Hershey.

Nicole Canuso (Niki Cousineau in background). Photo by Bill Hebert.