Go Deeper

Le Grand Continental: Voices from the Nosebleed Section

Posted August 28th, 2012

“All here!” say Le Grand Continental Philly participants.

On August 7, Le Grand Continental held its first full-participant rehearsal: 150 volunteer performers from the Philadelphia area gathered in Penn’s Class of 1923 Ice Rink to practice for the September 8 and 9 shows at the 2012 Live Arts Festival. Like specters of actual spectators, bikes sat up in the stands and helmets looked on as the heads they protected remarried their pedaling legs: now graceful, they side-stepped, pivoted, and lounged in syncopated time.

Humid as Hades (and iceless, too), the rink rehearsal marked the first where all the volunteers gathered in one space; until then dancers had been practicing the 30-minute dance performance in two separate groups. Smaller rehearsals made the logistics of mastering the routine less nightmarish, and finally coming together meant that the team could focus on spacing issues and what it would feel like to dance as part of a crowd. Ignoring my own urge to jump on-rink, I talked with several participants about what motivated them to become, as phrased in a recent article about the performance by Philadelphia Magazine, ‘citizen dancers.’

After the jump: Philly residents get their groove back, and Le Grand Continental in Montreal

Brenda Lewis, 55, a lifetime resident of South Philadelphia, joined Le Grand Continental in hopes of rediscovering a childhood interest: “Number one I always, always, always loved to dance,” she said. “I’ve been dancing since I was three. I didn’t think I ever could be a dancer, because I wasn’t a professional dancer; it didn’t come naturally.” When she called the Live Arts office to inquire about the performance and was told that participants need not have dance training, she was thrilled.

“I’ve met a lot of nice people who have never danced before,” said Brenda.

In between lagoon-sized swigs of water, Nick Marzano, 30, talked about his dance experience: “I haven’t done choreography since high school musical theater, and getting the muscle memory back is the most challenging part for me,” said the resident of Bella Vista. These days, he gets his kicks running.

“I needed to cross-train somehow so this is perfect.”

Julie Sloane, 35, agreed: the chance to dance is perfect. “It’s like a free workout twice a week,” she said, as she took a break with college-friend Kathryn Boland. “I danced as a kid, but I haven’t been able to do it as an adult.”

This was a common theme: My kid-self is pulling on my pant leg, begging me to try it out. For Sharrie Lister-Booker, 45, this kid-spirit was a real-life kid, tall enough to tug on her mother’s shirt sleeve: “ I love to dance,” said Sharrie’s 16-year-old daughter, Lauren Lister-Man. “I thought it would be fun to dance with my mother.”

Handed name tags as they entered, volunteers were asked to write their name and one interesting fact about themselves; one woman wrote “My son is teaching me the moves.” Others expressed undying love for pets, or undocumented relations to famous persons (this author’s read, “John McEnroe is my cousin.” OK well, third cousin).

Bicycle as screaming fan, citizen as dancer, child as teacher — roles were boundless at the Tuesday evening rehearsal. There was even choreographer turned celebrity: “The choreographer is from another country. Wow,” sighed Brenda, as she nursed a sprained ankle in the stands. She motioned toward Montreal-based choreographer Sylvain Émard. “I’m dancing for a choreographer who teaches all over the world. Just to be able to have this opportunity is awesome.”

Le Grand Continental runs September 8 and 9 at 4:00 pm, and September 8 at 8:00 pm, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Steps, 26th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Free.

–Audrey McGlinchy