Go Deeper

At Home, Elsewhere

Posted September 13th, 2011

The best French bakery in Philadelphia, I believe, is Artisan Boulanger Patissier. It’s in Passyunk Square, a traditionally Italian neighborhood that’s now integrated with new Cambodian, Mexican, and Vietnamese immigrants. When we started talking around the office about At Home, Elsewhere, the spotlight series of the 2011 Live Arts Festival, the bakery is the first thing I thought of–this stripped down, bare-bones, VietnameseCambodian-run French bakery. Often, there’s a sense that cultural cross-semination is only available to global elites who move in business and social circles that take them around the world–one day, let me tell you about the travels of my friend who runs oil trading strategies for hedge funds. But I have some of that in a corner bakery at 12th and Morris. I’m not a part of any of these communities, but I’m tangential to all of them while part of my own community of people: mostly artists, journalists, and academics who, generally, have migrated to Philadelphia but have few if any roots here. It’s a strange state of affairs.

In the realm of performance, the 2011 Live Arts Festival looks at cross-cultural identity, location, and dislocation in At Home, Elsewhere. The events are all about how cultural identity is formed, why it matters, who and what influence us, how cross-cultural perspectives lend unique insight into the human state of affairs, and how those perspectives generate unique, and uniquely satisfying, performance work.

To go down this path, Live Arts has brought in two of the world’s most highly regarded figures in contemporary dance, and created programming to give their cross-cultural work wider context. Namasya, the Indian-born Parisian Shantala Shivalingappa’s evening-length work honoring her mentors (including her own mother, Savitry Nair, and Pina Bausch) in the dance world, closed last night to a nice review from Merliyn Jackson in the Inquirer. The New York Times has called her “intoxicating” and “divinely gifted”—no faint praise. And this show is only the start. This week, from September 15 to 17, she joins with the Moroccan-Flemish choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui for the only North American performance of Play, which I’d prefer to let this video describe:

One of the wonderful things about cross-cultural work is how it can pressure our understandings and expectations of performance. How to tap into such work, if you’re new to it, can be a challenge, but as with the programming around the 2010 Live Arts production of Dance, we’ve assembled a week of events, all of which are free and curated by Simon Dove, to give context to these performances.

At 7:00 pm tonight at the Prince Music Theater (1412 Chestnut Street), explore the physical traditions of Indian performing arts with Jayachandran Palazhy, the artistic director of the Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, India’s premiere organization working in contemporary movement arts. He’s screening film segments about Kalarippayattu, one of the oldest known martial arts forms, and its various body concepts and movement principles. Attakkalari senior dancer Hema Bharathy Palani will offer a demonstration as well. Free, but RSVP recommended.

Tomorrow at 7:00 pm, also at the Prince, Alain Patel discusses his documentary about his Belgian dance company Les Ballets C de la B, Les Ballets de-ci de-la. He and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (himself a former member) will discuss the group, which includes dancers from Turkey, France, Burkina Faso, and Vietnam, as well as the interplay of their backgrounds on stage. Again, free, but RSVP recommended.

Throughout the festival, Zon-Mai, the visual installation that opened last week, provides us with an interior look at the lives of a similarly diverse range of dancers. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and the filmmaker Gilles Delmas visited the homes of 21 dancers who have migrated around the world, or who have been displaced, and filmed them performing in those homes. Projected upon a house made of scrims, Zon-Mai is fittingly installed in an abandoned, historic water pumping station on the Delaware River—the same building that is set to become the new home of the Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe. Zon-Mai can be viewed every day through the end of the festivals.

And this Saturday, September 17, the series winds down with a half-day of insight featuring Shantala Shivalingappa and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui in conversation, talks by Ralph Lemon and Jayachandran Palazhy, Lemon in conversation with Nora Chipaumire (former associate director of Urban Bush Women), and an open discussion with all of the artists.

We do hope to see you at many of these events. They afford a chance for the kind of cultural dialogue of which Philadelphia, frankly, needs a bit more, especially as our cultures continue to intersect and overlap, be they at a South Philly VietnameseCambodian-run French bakery, or seeing Amy Smith of Headlong performing classical Bharatanatyam dance to Devo.

The Festival Spotlight Series is supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through Dance Advance.

–Nicholas Gilewicz