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A Look Back at the History of Contemporary Circus

Posted April 19th, 2019
By Lexi DeFilippo, Communications Intern Spring 2019

This summer, FringeArts’ annual circus festival Hand to Hand returns to bring the wonder of contemporary circus to the heart of Philadelphia. In partnership with Circadium School of Contemporary Circus, the first and only diploma-granting circus program in the US, we’re excited to highlight some of the new and innovative performers taking on the circus scene. And in honor of World Circus Day (third Saturday in April, ie. April 20, 2019), we’re taking a look back at the history behind contemporary circus worldwide.

Sometimes known as new circus or nouveau cirque, contemporary circus can be perceived as an enigma. On a structural level, contemporary circus challenges the traditional circus by rejecting the use of animals, acts without any connected through line, and (in most cases) the big top tent as a performance space. Another notable difference from traditional circus is the shift in who is performing contemporary circus acts. Instead of the circus family model where skills are passed down generations to produce family units that travel with a circus and live on the road, contemporary circus productions employ conservatory-trained professionals from all over the world. These conscious steps away from the kitsch of traditional circus have helped push contemporary circus into the spotlight as a more intention-driven form of entertainment that highlights the excitement, finesse, and true artistry of the circus arts.

Contemporary circus began to emerge in the late 1960s-early 70s when groups in Australia, France, United Kingdom, and the West Coast of the United States began to combine the circus arts with more theatrical elements. One of the earliest circus companies credited with incorporating theater into their routines is the Royal Lichtenstein Circus, founded in San Jose by a Jesuit priest in 1971. They were also one of the first groups to use a one-ring format which allowed for the performers to create a more intimate connection with the audience.

This clip from their side-show in 1984 is an example of how the Royal Lichtenstein Circus used theater as a to tell stories through their performances. The choreography acts as a vessel to bring an abstract idea to life while showing off the physicality of the performers.

Another early contemporary circus group, the Pickle Family Circus, formed in 1975 by members of a mime troupe, was one of the first groups to start threading social commentary into their work. The troupe prided itself on being a democratic organization in which all of the performers received equal pay and played an integral part in the operation of the circus as well as the production. The Pickle Family Circus is known for telling a narrative with their productions and using circus acts to move the story along while keeping the audience at the edge of their seats with amazement.

This clip of highlights from their show, Cafe Des Artistes in 1988, shows off the troupe’s multi-faceted performers with the ability to seamlessly blend their circus skills with character work and humor.

As American contemporary circus continued to develop on the West Coast, Britain experienced its own circus revolution. In 1984, Ra-Ra Zoo Circus was founded in London and became recognized for being an integral part of the experimental circus movement overseas. Ra-Ra Zoo incorporated surrealism and satire into their politically-driven productions. The group also challenged the of circus by maintaining an equal number of male and female performers. Nofit State Circus of Wales was founded in 1986 by a group of friends looking for employment during an intense political climate. They developed the Nofit State Circus to act as a political reaction and outlet for creativity and expression. Similar to the American New Circus movement, these British troupes replaced animals with drama, music, and dance as integral parts of their circus productions.

The most well-known contemporary circus, Cirque du Soleil, was founded in Quebec in 1984 by street performers Gilles Ste-Croix and Guy Laliberte. The duo, which led a group of street performers, proposed to create a full-length show for the celebration of 450th anniversary of the discovery of Canada by Jacque Cartier. The show, called Circus of the Sun, was chosen to extend the anniversary celebration through a province-wide tour. Since that first tour, Cirque du Soleil has been creating new shows and touring the world ever since. The company is known for its sleek, high-end productions that use abstraction and ornate visuals that continue to push circus to entirely new heights. Cirque du Soleil is even responsible for Las Vegas on the map as a world-class entertainment hub with over six resident productions currently running on The Strip. This clip, from resident show, The Beatles LOVE at The Mirage, shows how each element of the productions is elaborately designed and constructed to bring the concept to its most heightened reality. The technical capacity of Cirque du Soleil’s state-of-the art venues is also highlighted.

Archaos, founded in France by Pierrot Bidonin in 1986, is known as being an alternative, punk circus. Although the company disbanded in 1991 due to financial problems fairly quickly after its conception, Archaos’ wild, spirited, and crazy circus left a huge impact on contemporary circus. The company brought danger into the circus in a way that was never seen before with the use of motorcycles, chainsaws, and metal deathtraps. This clip provides a taste of the debauchery that helped the rule-breaking Archaos build a cult following.

Newer companies, such as Montreal-based group The Seven Fingers, are continuing the rule-breaking rebellion of contemporary circus in the 2000s with work focused on each performer’s personal characteristics. The performers use their circus abilities to express personal stories and emotions, similar to the way modern dance embodies the human experience. Unlike the dreamworld of companies like Cirque du Soleil, The Seven Fingers create work from a realistic lens and highlights a genuine human experience. This teaser clip from the show, RÉVERSIBLE, is an example of contemporary circus with a specific kind of “stripped down” stylistic aesthetic.

These are just a few of the contemporary circus companies that helped save the legacy of the circus arts by adapting to economic, cultural, and artistic shifts in order to produce a more dynamic and forward-looking form of circus. Contemporary circus has now become a recognized and celebrated art form around the world and is accessible in ways traditional circus never was. Although some of the biggest circus companies in the world are no longer around, circus is very much alive and well thanks to contemporary circus.

At FringeArts, Hand to Hand kicks off with a showcase from Circadium’s first year students  entitled, Circadium Springboard, on May 25. The performance will showcase works by these  students who have completed the first of three years of intensive interdisciplinary study.

Swiss duo Compagnia Baccalà acts as the centerpiece of this year’s festival lineup and is bringing its world-renowned show, Pss Pss, to the FringeArts stage this June. The production, inspired by the theatrical world of Charlie Chaplin and other silent film stars, incorporates the key components of contemporary circus by using circus skills, abstraction, and humor to dazzle audiences of all ages. The pas de deux provides the perfect display of the unbelievable physicality and enchanting artistry behind the success of the New Circus movement.

There will also be an opportunity to try out popular contemporary circus skills with Philadelphia School of Circus Arts at Circus Midway on June 30. Juggling, plate spinning, and tight wire are just a few of the skills you can learn from this fun day of outdoor workshops. Then come see the skills in action during Test Flights, a circus edition of our works-in-progress series, on Monday, July 1.

Experience the tantalizing magic of contemporary circus at Hand to Hand June 28–July 1 here at FringeArts.

Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Cecily Chapman on Public Practice Works

Posted March 15th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, hosts Zach Blackwood and Tenara Calem chat with FringeArts ambassador and Le Super Grand Continental (2018) dancer Cecily Chapman. The trio discuss the importance of public practice performances and Cecily goes into detail about her personal experience as a performer in a large-scale production. The conversation acts as wonderful insight for people interested in getting involved in the 2019 Fringe Festival participatory piece, Úumbal: Nomadic Choreography for Inhabitants. Learn more about Úumbal and how to participate in the Step Library here!  Listen to the podcast or read the full transcript below.

Conversation with Cecily Chapman

Tenara: Hello, and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premiere presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Tenara. I’m the Audience Engagement Coordinator at FringeArts.

Zach: And I’m Zach. I’m an Artistic Producer, here. We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some most imaginative people on this plane of existence.

Tenara: Here at FringeArts, we’re getting ready for The Appointment by Lightning Rod Special previewing on Wednesday, March 20th and running through March 31st. Make sure you visit fringearts.com to grab your tickets for this spectacular show exploring misogyny, hypocrisy, and absurdity surrounding the abortion debate in America.

Zach: But today, we’re talking to a very special guest, Cecily Chapman, one of our FringeArts ambassadors, and dancer in last year’s public practice dance piece, Le Super Grand Continental. Welcome Cecily.

Cecily: Thank you.

Zach: One of our first questions we always ask. What are you imbibing? What’s your beverage today?

Cecily: Ah, sparkling water. It’s my go-to beverage.

Zach: Spicy water.

Cecily: Spicy water. Yeah, that’ll do.

Zach: We have a young friend that calls it that.

Cecily: Like a child. Yeah, that makes sense.

Tenara: Yeah, that makes a little bit more sense. And now that I’m thinking more about it in the context of a child’s brain, it actually is a perfect description.

Zach: What are you having tonight?

Tenara: I’m also having spicy water.

Zach: I’m actually having spicy water. I’m having a Turmeric Ginger Tea. [crosstalk 00:01:33]. It’s very, very good. It’s sometimes too spicy. And we’re gonna get too spicy today on the podcast, right?

Cecily: Ooo spicy. I am ready.

Zach: So we’re to talk to you kinda about your experience in public practice work. You got to participate in Le Super Grand Continental. Are you willing to tell us a little bit about how Le Super Grand Continental worked, as though we’ve never heard of it.

Cecily: It was like we spent the whole summer preparing for a two-day weekend performance for the first weekend of the Fringe Festival, and it was like 150 may 200, normal, regular, Philadelphia area people who are not professional dancers learning a 30 minute piece. It was ranging from little five-year-olds to like probably close to 80. I don’t know. I have no idea. Like at some point, you don’t ask people their age.

Tenara: Correct.

Cecily: But it was all of us together practicing twice, sometimes much more than that a week to get our dance steps down and it was fun event.

Zach: And were you costumed for that?

Cecily: We could choose our costumes. There were no real limits as long as we could move in them, and it wasn’t advertising anything. But there were people in just their regular jeans and t-shirts, and dress things or whatever, and then there were people in sequins. I had a sequined shirt on top. It was very bright and red. There were people with tutus. There were multitude of different costumes per se, but that was our chance of being creative and letting our own personalities show to a certain degree ’cause in a group dance you’re supposed to be doing all the steps, all the same steps that everybody else is doing, so it’s nice to be able to at least show some of your personality.

Zach: And what was your experience with dancer performance before jumping into Le Grand?

Cecily: So, I actually did the first Le Grand. I’ve taken dance classes and things, but not anything that I can really remember where I was like I’m a dancer. I did do a musical theater camp at one point.

Tenara: Heck yeah.

Zach: I was reading about that. So Cecily’s an amazing stand up performer in town and also a storyteller, and some of Cecily’s stories are so so good WHYY has published the transcripts of them, so you can definitely look those up and check them out. I looked them up and had a great time reading about them. What was the title of the piece, I had a nightmare time at musical theater camp, or-

Cecily: Oh, I don’t remember what the title was.

Zach: When you talked about turning over and looking at the 10-year-old boy in the face, like it is so so fantastic. No more spoilers. Check it out yourself.

Tenara: So what was it like for you returning to Le Super Grand after you did it in 2012? So, it was like six years have gone by and then you came to not exactly the same piece but something similar.

Zach: There’s some old people, some new people. [crosstalk 00:05:23]

Cecily: I was excited to sign up again to do it because my memory said that it was great experience. And I only say that because physically I’m six years older, and all the things which I’m still young and I look at [crosstalk 00:05:46] but my body is different than six years ago, so that is the only thing that came to mind. But I was excited because I do like the idea of meeting people from my community per se, like people I might see on the bus, or might see at a performance, or wherever I am, and getting to have some form of connection with them. And it was really nice to see a couple of my friends from six years ago return because some of them I hadn’t stayed in contact with, but as soon we saw each other, it was like “Yes! I’m so happy you’re here,” and basically kinda like an old friend like you just picking up where you left off, almost literally, ’cause we left off dancing and we’re picking up dancing.

Cecily: So, that was exciting to have like a portion of people that were familiar and even a couple of the instructors were familiar. So, it was nice to know that there were people who remember our previous performance, had some energy about it. And then, there were a lot of new people, and so it was a chance to kinda meet new people and I’m not the most social person, so I’m sure coulda connected way better, but like to me it was nice to just be in our room or a huge ice rink with people every week, a couple times a week coming together. We’re in different stages of our life and different ethnic and different all the things. All the things we can come up with. So, it was really good to kinda see that happen again. My body was just like, “you forgot.”

Cecily: I was told that this piece was a little bit more challenging than by one of the instructors. They said it was a little more challenging than six years ago. So, my body my not be lying to me and my memory. But it definitely felt, I was like, I’m actually working out, and like a couple times in a week. There’s some fun contrast and similarities.

Tenara: Yeah, when I was hanging out at rehearsal, some people told me like the main, similar to you, they end up find a sense of community and connection with everybody around them, but originally they wanted to do Le Super Grand in order to build in exercise into their week. So, they like literally did it at first because they were like, “Oh, I will just be moving for two hours twice a week.”

Zach: And I think a lot about my experience, I was a marching band nerd in high school. And to get with all those people to learn the drill, [inaudible 00:09:14], to get injured together in some cases, to share nasty moldy water bottles together, it feels almost you share in this joy but almost bodily trauma in a certain way that’s not bad, it’s just [crosstalk 00:09:35]. There’s something in that sense of shared accomplishment that’s like, it compounds my personal sense of accomplishment in a certain way. And its’ funny, I see so many Le Grand dancers around town like at the Whole Foods. Last night at the Rosenbach Museum, I saw a person, who I won’t name ’cause this is being recorded. And Yeah, it just makes me feel like I have friends all over in certain way.

Tenara: Do you run into people?

Cecily: I have. Yes. I’m also at this weird stage in life where I don’t know where I know people from. So, it’s like do I know you because you know me from [inaudible 00:10:11]. Do I know you from some other, like the bus. Or do I know. But I have seen some Le Super Grand people in my travels and things, and some of them recognize me, some of them don’t because there’s some many of us, like you might not remember everybody.

Zach: The other day I was just walking up the street and Sarah Gladwin Camp rides by on her bike and just goes, “Hey, looking forward to the next one.”Just like that. Just so funny like it just it feels like, it makes the city feel smaller to me in a certain way and that’s exciting. When you’re looking at the first Le Grand opportunity back in I guess this is 2012, when you’re reading through the description, what made you say this is for me and I can do that?

Cecily: So, I honestly don’t really remember what … I think my mom sent me an email and it was just the idea that as long as I could move, I could be a part of it. So, auditioning and all the things, it … the pressure of being like a perfect dancer, and I didn’t have to worry about that.

Tenara: So, the pressure to be like a perfect dancer was off and-

Cecily: Yeah, so I think also at that point in my life I was just kinda more willing to try something new, try something different. I don’t really remember. It was six years ago.

Zach: Were you new at comedy then?

Cecily: Yes, I was very new at comedy then.

Tenara: Do you feel …or I’m sure there is a difference, but maybe you can speak a little bit about the difference of being a participant in these big, large-scale performances versus being an audience member watching a performance.

Cecily: Well, I think in some ways when I watch a performance I want to be a part of it to a certain degree and usually it’s, “I wish I could do that.” And so, I think there’s just a certain amount of aw in seeing people moving their bodies or any creative form that either not using or just haven’t got to a certain level of using. So, it’s always fun to see people performing and then when the opportunity comes to being able to be a part of something, it just seems right because now I’m getting to do what I have wanted to do when I’ve been a spectator. So, if it happened again and I was physically able to do it again, I would still do it and not be a spectator.

Zach: I watched all three performances from different places each time. Like one time I was up high on the steps of the art museum, another time I climbed up weird sculpture and was on top of that, that was fun. And I just felt this immense sense of like pride. Right? ‘Cause I was there in some rehearsals, I did a lot of recruitment for this, and I felt proud of everyone who was dancing, but I felt more proud broadly of the city and I just don’t know that there are … It’s funny they take this piece all over the world, and what’s interesting to me is I feel like Philly, it’s just very like–

Tenara: It’s very different.

Zach: Like it … something just locks into place. Philly, especially it’s such a big, small town in a certain way. The footprint of the city, geographically is kinda teenty, but there’s so many people here, and there this kind of … There’s this thing that I don’t feel like you have in New York anymore where you run into everybody you know all the time here. And sometimes it’s great, and sometimes it’s like ugh, there’s my ex again. [inaudible 00:14:09]. There’s someone I ghosted. What do they want from me? You know, but it’s just, it felt like there was this immense interconnectivity that I don’t know [crosstalk 00:14:22] but was foregrounded.

Tenara: Yeah, it was just so celebratory. It was really infectious. I was there doing, essentially recruitment for this year’s public practice performance. I was like basically like if this seems interesting to you, write down your name and email address, and we’ll send you information about next year’s show. It won’t be the same thing, but it will be something very similar and I can tell you that the number of email sign ups we got after the show, like tripled the number that we had right before the show started because you can’t watch that without being like oh my god that was amazing. I wanna do that. I wanna be a part of the crew.

Zach: So what advice do you have for people who might consider being in the large scale public practice piece in the future? Maybe in their decision-making or how to prep for a hot, sweaty rehearsal process.

Cecily: Okay. So, first with the decision making, I know a lot of times, there’s a audition type situation and it’s not really an audition as much as it’s showing you that you can do it. So, I would suggest people not take it so seriously as like oh my gosh this Broadway show. I have to get all the steps. And just know, be mindful of your body, but also in this kind of situation, know that there are people who are going to be faster at getting the steps, who are going to be more limber, and more all the things, and there are going to be people who are not gonna be good as you in picking things up and all that, and by the end of it, we’re all doing the same thing.

Cecily: So, it might take you longer. It might take you a much shorter process, but the overall, the ending is gonna be great. So, definitely go to the auditions or whatever they’re being called. And information sessions just so that you can kind of see what was being offered. For me, I think I, at some point, mostly towards the end, I wasn’t present. So, I was kinda like get this over with at some point.

Zach: In the dress rehearsal and then in that performance also.

Cecily: In the dress rehearsal, we got rained out of. And then, the actual Sunday performance, we were rained on, and for me, it was not fun. I was not interested at all and pictures prove that. It feels like all the pictures that are of me captured my inner thoughts. [crosstalk 00:17:34] But at the end, what I wanna say is don’t let the positive be the memory, but the positive be the present. So, if I do it again or something like it, I would hope that I would be able to be present and experience the joy that is around me and just being proud of myself that put in this work and you know, be able to celebrate and dance in the rain even though I really, really, really, really hated it.

Zach: There were so many audience members who stayed in the rain.

Cecily: Yeah, it was an amazing idea. [crosstalk 00:18:19] It’s great for the movies. You know. It’s a great scene to inspire people and yeah, the audience members were great.

Tenara: It was cold.

Cecily: It’s was cold and it was-

Zach: And you had to lay down [crosstalk 00:18:44]. And at that point, that was it. I was just like feeling for everybody at that point. [inaudible 00:18:52]

Cecily: But there’s so many people around me that were excited and so I kinda wish I would’ve been excited too.

Zach: And now it’s like a competition, right? ‘Cause we got rained on in 2012 too.

Cecily: Yeah, that was different though ’cause it was a mist. It was more of a … it was actually kinda nice like you weren’t drowning from looking up into the sky [crosstalk 00:19:17]

Zach: It was a torrential downpour. I’m from Florida like hurricane season and I was like this is real. Generally, I’m like “Ooo, people whine about rain here”, but like that was powerful.

Tenara: So, one more question for you. You know, I’m wondering where public practice work like what it does in terms of representation that feels different from traditional theatrical performances or performing arts where people often find that there’s a gap between who they want to see on stage and who’s actually on stage.

Cecily: Representation is such a weird kind of thing for me right now ’cause usually what I was telling you I do, just so that people know, I’m a black woman, cisgender, so when I walk into room, I know who is there and so, I’m always aware of how many black people, how many women…like I’m counting in certain sense. And I do that just about any space I’m in. When I’m in like certain parts of the city, it’s like well it would make sense that I’m the only one. But then there other spaces where it’s like well there should be more of us here because of where it is like that kind of thing.

Cecily: So like, there’s certain percentage of black people in this country, but then when you start going down to the certain percentage of black people in Philadelphia and those things, then it’s like there should be more in certain areas. So, my experience with community space is I think generally everyone was represented with this last performance and I think continuing on, in general, I think there’s a lot of possibility for representation in the fact that there would be at least one. But I don’t know if that’s accurate and I think there’s a certain amount of people trying to make it be more accurate. But in some way, you’re always gonna miss the mark.

Zach: I feel that. Yeah, it’s interesting. For me, as like a black person and queer person, and all the kind of ways [inaudible 00:21:58]. When I go to see traditional theatrical work and there’s maybe somebody who looks like me and whose identity or the identity that they’re taking on in that space is like man, and I think to myself, what a jackpot in a certain way, thinking about all of the training that you have to do, all of the opportunities that have to line up. It’s almost like the planets have aligned, and here it’s this person on stage who in some ways is speaking to me and I think where public practice work has an opportunity, and a unique opportunity, is that it says come as you are and we’ll teach you the skills you need. What you need is enthusiasm. We need your living human body and we’ll get there together. And I think what we’re really thinking about a lot as we go into this second year of this three-year initiative to a large-scale public practice work each year, is how do we take any further?

Zach: ‘Cause right, looking at what the barriers are implicitly to being able to participate in something like this. Maybe you just won’t four hours a week to commit to this. You know, maybe you need childcare, maybe you need more of a travel stipend, maybe you need a different level of engagement that you can touch the piece from. Where not having to be there four hours at all where generally, it is prohibitive of you to give up that much of your time from a financial perspective, from a body perspective, and how can you participate in other ways? So, we’re thinking a lot about kind of [00:23:21] level of engagement up to the four hours a week, and then you dance with us forever, but what if you were just able to I don’t a portion of the dance to us, or to be there the day of the performance in some capacity other than dancing. You know, maybe you don’t need to be there for all of the rehearsals, but you get to hold a speaker that plays the music that they listen to. And we’re thinking about all those things as we go into this next year’s project.

Tenara: What a great setup to talk about next year’s project. You were in the meeting where I mentioned it?

Cecily: Right.

Tenara: So you have heard a little bit about this. So, we are bringing a Mexican artist named Mariana Arteaga to Philadelphia to bring piece Úumbal: Nomadic Choreography for Inhabitants to the United States for the very first time. It’s the U.S. premiere. We’re so excited about and Úumbal does every single thing that Zach was just mentioning. There are three phases to the piece. The first is called The Step Library, or in Spanish, La Pasoteca, and it’s inviting Philadelphians who love to move, who love to dance, who are the first to get up and dance at a party, who have a gesture that’s very special to them, who like just love moving their body to come to a Step Library event with 10 to 30 seconds of dancing and bring their music with them and literally show us your favorite move. We film it. We put on a website and then, Mariana choreographic team look at all those moves and weave together a choreography that then 20 to 25 Philadelphians are invited to develop with her.

Tenara: So, that’s phase two. And phase three is sort of the model of Le Super Grand, it’s a 100 Philadelphians who are learning this choreography that was developed by Philadelphians and donated to by Philadelphians, and then performing it as processional through the literal streets of Philadelphia in September. It’s exactly what Zach was saying. We wanted to create opportunities for people who don’t four hours a week, who maybe they’re in a wheelchair, and learning this kind of choreography would be very prohibitive to them.

Zach: Maybe they just don’t wanna hang out with all these new people. I think there are people who sometimes that’s enjoyable in small doses.

Tenara: Yeah, exactly.

Zach:  I’m trying to think about all of these different ways people might’ve been shut out from the process we had last year, and growing on it. And next year, who knows.

Tenara: Yeah. For real.

Zach: Next year, have everybody in a space shuttle. We’re gonna put people on the moon. Just trying to figure out what the next level up from there is how to zoom out further and do something that that says something else about Philadelphia.

Tenara: Yeah, so if folks are interested in donating a dance step. The dates are April 6th, 7th, 13th, and 14th. You can find information about the step library at https://uumbal.fringearts.com. And you can also poke around on that website and find out just like all the ways you can be involved through all different phases of the project which will really be in development from April to September, so we’re in it for the long haul, my friends. Cecily, thank you so much for joining us.

Cecily: Yeah, thank you. And you guys are doing great work and I applaud you.

Zach: Oh, thank you.

Tenara: We applaud you.

Zach: We applaud you and where can people applaud you doing some comedy stuff?

Cecily: I am all over Philadelphia and the country. I’m doing festivals and things, so you can check me out on cecilyalexandria.com or @Cecilythegreat on the Instagrams and things.

Zach: And you can follow us at fringearts.com or @FringeArts on everything in the whole world. Make sure to register for the step library and find out about the ways you can get involved with Úumbal. Thanks guys.

Cecily: Thank you.

 

 

Experience Philadelphia Museum of Dance at the Barnes Foundation

Posted October 1st, 2018

The 2018 Fringe Festival performances of Boris Charmatz’s manger, were part of a larger project, Philadelphia Museum of Dance, which concludes in a  free public event at the Barnes Foundation on October 6 with a rich collection of performances.

The day-long event will explore the tension between public and private experiences, while offering a new opportunity to engage with how dance and visual art are exhibited. Known for his innovative exploration of choreographic assembly, internationally acclaimed French choreographer Charmatz co-curates the six-hour (3-9pm) public performance. See the full schedule here.

The event will allow its audience to explore new experiences, in a novel kind of museum that permits audience members to move through outdoor and indoor performance locations and witness choreography performed around and among fellow museum-goers. Guests will witness the Barnes Foundation transform. With dance performances taking place in nearly every corner, the museum will seemingly come alive. Audiences will interact directly by wandering through the dance “galleries.” As with any museum visit, it will be up to the audience to find juxtapositions between the exhibits. Performers will be spatially adjacent to audiences, with no proscenium separation, or interspersed with the audience, to facilitate maximum audience-performer interaction.

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Excerpts from the Manifesto for a Dancing Museum by Boris Charmatz

Posted September 20th, 2018

This weekend’s performances of manger are part of a larger project, the Philadelphia Museum of Dance, copresented by Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design with FringeArts and the Barnes Foundation. The project presents Charmatz’s ideas for a new kind of dance and a new relationship between dance and public. He explains these ideas in his Manifesto for a Dancing Museum, excerpted below.

It seems to me that the designation “Museum, Dancing Museum” could function like a door flung wide open to culture and the art of dancing that we will not change into a sanctuary.

(…) Dance and its actors are often defined in opposition to the arts that are said to be perennial, lasting, static, for which the museum would be the favourite place. But today if one wants to stop obscuring the historical space, culture and choreographic heritage, even the most contemporary, then it is time to see, to make visible and bring alive the moving bodies of a culture which largely remains to be invented. And if one wishes the choreographic tradition to pursue the new technological trends and truly embrace the trans-media space of the contemporary world, then it seems to me that under the designation of “Museum” the artists will be able to have fun and create freely.

To not cut the matter short, ten commandments:

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The PINK HAIR AFFAIR Returns, Heartbroken

Posted September 14th, 2018

A collaborative dance company started by UArts grads in 2007, the Pink Hair Affair a series of playful Fringe pieces in the late ‘00s showcasing their choreographic talents. Several of the Pink Hair founders —Annie Wilson, Christina Gesualdi—went on to become key figures of the Philadelphia dance world, but the company lay dormant for the last few years as its members spread across the world, from Oregon to Panama City.

Company director Laura Jenkins recently returned from Los Angeles and has revived the much-loved company for a 2018 Fringe Festival production, The HeARTbreak of a Serial Monogamist, with performances at The Whole Shebang September 17 + 18. The piece deals with the middle stages of grief, that time after the initial shock, when people simply offer the advice of “time will heal”. Jenkins compiled her  experiences with grief—break-ups, moves, career changes, deaths—and turned them into an interactive interdisciplinary work that shows there are tools we can use to help us through the rough times.

She spoke with FringeArts about the project.

FringeArts: What inspired the show?

Laura Jenkins: I moved back to Philly in October 2017 (after living in LA for just under three years). I knew once I got back that I needed and wanted to put on a show again, and I thought the Fringe Festival would be a good way to ease back into the dance scene here. I originally wanted to do a show idea I’ve had with PINK HAIR AFFAIR for almost 10 years now… but life happened. In April of this year, I had a strong desire to do a show based on experiences I was going through, experiences that I’ve been through and little did I know, experiences I was going to go through. It sort of evolved from the need to heal and process grief. Creativity is and was a huge part of my healing process and I felt driven to share it—to normalize this feeling of grief, and to let people know it happens to the best of us.

FringeArts: What themes/messages do you want to convey?

Laura Jenkins: I want to share the grief that we all go through (or will go through). I want to normalize the feelings of despair, depression, feeling lost and alone, feeling crazy and angry, feeling so sad and heartbroken you don’t know what to do. I also want to show that there are ways to deal, tools to use to get your through. To note that this shitty time is important for us to go through — because it’s where we learn, grow and tap back into our true selves or maybe even find ourselves. To stay present during the dark time and not just hide in our bed or fall into a replacement relationship.

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Take Two Plunges with Brian Sanders JUNK

Posted September 11th, 2018

Brian Sanders’ JUNK has sold out Philly Fringe shows every year for almost twenty years with innovative, ingenious, and boundary-defying choreography. This year, us “JUNKies” have double the chance to see the highly physical, energetic dance company: For the 2018 Fringe Festival, JUNK is presenting TWO shows: FIGMAGO (through September 23) and Plunge (through September 22).

Daytime

A multi-faceted artist, Sanders shows us his family-fun side with FIGMAGO, an ongoing collaboration with muralist Meg Saligman.

Meg Saligman’s Theatre of Life mural.

“Meg and I share a lot of the same aesthetics,” Sanders tells FringeArts. “Bold but not over-the-top, dynamic, intense and emotional.”

The artists connected at the dedication of Saligman’s Theatre of Life mural on Broad and Lombard streets. “I repelled down the face of this giant mural and danced among the painted figures,” he says. “We always knew we would work together but we just didn’t know when and how, but the right space and the right time brought about FIGMAGO.”

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Scenes from a Life: Miguel Gutierrez on Discovering John Bernd’s Enduring Influence

Posted September 11th, 2018

Miguel Gutierrez initially joined collaborator Ishmael Houston-Jones in a limited role on a project reconfiguring dance by experimental East Village choreographer John Bernd. Watching videos of Bernd’s shows and reading about his work, Gutierrez quickly realized he needed to immerse himself in the project. The resulting Fringe Festival show Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and other works by John Bernd, mashes up works by the influential choreographer, whose work flourished during the era of experimental dance in 1980s New York, and whose life was tragically taken by AIDS in 1988.

Running this weekend, with performances on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the highly anticipated show combines Bernd’s last seven pieces into a new dance performance that honors the choreographer’s memory and imagines what dance would look like today if the community had not been decimated by the deadly AIDS epidemic. As a contemporary Brooklyn artist and performer who creates dance-based performance, music, and poetry, Gutierrez witnesses the lasting impact of Bernd’s multidisciplinary work on dance today and on his own work. He spoke to FringeArts about finding roots in the past and continuing Bernd’s legacy into the future.

FringeArts: What was your introduction to the work of John Bernd?

Miguel Gutierrez: I’d only known about John Bernd peripherally for the many years I had been in New York. It wasn’t until Ishmael asked me to help him out with this project that I sat down and watched his pieces. Within five minutes I knew I wanted to be involved in whatever way I could with this project.

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Scenes from Opening Weekend

Posted September 10th, 2018

The Fringe is OPEN for business!!!

Opening weekend kicked off with hundreds of performances in every corner of the city, from deep south Philly to the Art Museum steps, from the Delaware Riverfront to University City. Relive some highlights with this photo diary of performances.

 

Anu Tali conducts Heiner Goebbels Songs of Wars I Have Seen at FringeArts. Photo by Joanna Austin, AustinArt.org.

Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium’s production of Eccentricities of a Nightingale by Tennessee Williams, at Bethany Mission Gallery through September 23. Photo by Joanna Austin, AustinArt.org.

An audience member experiences Tania El Khoury’s Stories of Refuge, at Twelve Gates Gallery through September 28. Photo by Joanna Austin, AustinArt.org.

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Remembering 2012’s Le Grand Continental As It Gets Super for 2018

Posted September 6th, 2018

The 2012 Fringe Festival kicked off on the steps of the art museum with a large-scale spectacular of dance by Montreal-based choreography Sylvain Émard. As we prepare to return to the iconic steps for a brand-new extravaganza combining the pure delight of line dancing with the fluidity and expressiveness of contemporary dance we look back on the 2012 show. Dozens of the non-professional performers from six years ago return this year for the bigger and better Le Super Grand Continental in three FREE shows this Saturday and Sunday. You should too.

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Building Trust with Darcy Lyons

Posted September 5th, 2018

“Security is both a reality and a feeling and they’re not the same thing… The foundation of security is trust, both personal trust and global trust.” —Security specialist Bruce Schneier, an inspiration for 2018 Fringe Festival piece Proceed with Caution

Fear. Insecurity. Trust. Security.

The topics broached in Lyons and Tigers’s Proceed with Caution (September 7-9 at The Iron Factory in Kensington) are relevant on a personal, political, and geopolitical level. This new full-length dance theater work explores security in a time of global violence, the Trump presidency, police brutality, mass shootings, and the #MeToo movement. Through dance, the show asks, “How do humans build trust?”

Creator Darcy Lyons spoke to FringeArts about her timely show.

FringeArts: What was the inspiration for Proceed with Caution?

Darcy Lyons: In 2012, I created a short version of this piece that was about rational and irrational fear. I have always wanted to return to the piece and this year felt like the right time. The initial inclination came from my own struggles with anxiety. The concepts around fear and trust are important to me to continue to explore, especially in the uproar of the Trump administration.

FringeArts: Can we ever really trust anyone about anything ever?

Darcy Lyons: Yes. Trust has a lot of layers of meaning. We are constantly working with trust in our everyday lives.

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Location, Location, Location: Performance Garage

Posted September 2nd, 2018

Venue: Performance Garage

Neighborhood: Spring Garden, North Philly

2018 Fringe shows: Moving (“Dancefusion & Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble come together to present three works by legendary choreographer Anna Sokolow”), KCBC X KCBCII (“The Klassic Contemporary Ballet Company and KCBCII perform in their second annual Fringe Festival”), Church & State (The AJ Harper Dance Project and a. dance theatre create innovative, thought-provoking works that touch on the sacred and political dynamic in today’s society), Ruckus Dance: Knockout (in guide, Baby’s First Time to Philly, “a performance from the Boston-based group Ruckus Dance featuring guest artists Subject:Matter”_.

Description: Originally a nineteenth-century horse stable that served “Millionaires Row” on Spring Garden Street, later converted to an automobile garage. Opened as a performance space and host of dance classes in 2000 and underwent a massive $2million renovation in 2016/17. Currently looking for capital funds for Phase II of the project.

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Solo Dance for People Who Don’t Like Solo Dance: Metal & Kind’s Indestructible Flowers

Posted August 29th, 2018

This Fringe, two instructors at Philly’s dance studio Urban Movement Arts (UMA) combine their talents in a collage of new solo work designed for folks secretly underwhelmed by new solo work. Coming from diverse dance backgrounds, Lily Kind and Mark “Metal” Wong showcase multidisciplinary work grounded in social and folk dance and “a kind of analytic optimism”.

Lily Kind. Photo by Katrina D’Autrement

Metal & Kind talked to FringeArts about Indestructible Flowers, the pitfalls of solo dance, and the role of UMA in Philadelphia’s dance and hip-hop scenes.

FringeArts: What common pitfalls do you see in solo dance work?

Mark “Metal” Wong: It’s really easy to get pretentious when you’re the only one up there. I’m trying my best not to be. But by nature, I think that all solo work is a little self-indulgent, so I try to embrace that and have fun with it to an extent as well.

Lily Kind: I agree with Mark. And I prefer a more vaudevillian theater tradition, where the audience is in more of a dialogue with the performer. By contrast, the traditional concert theater agreement is very safe for both performer and audience, and I think that can make for pretty boring solo work, where the artist has already surrendered any experimental elements by being inside a historically aristocratic construct.

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2018 Festival Spotlight: Family Friendly Fringe

Posted August 24th, 2018

The Fringe isn’t always adults only! Everyone is welcome at these fun, engaging performances suitable for the whole family.

Chichi Chip (an ode to the Gnarly)
Philly Kerplop
An interactive performance featuring hip-hop dance and a live marching band, taking place in Philly’s iconic LOVE Park. Philly Kerplop’s display of humor and daring physical dexterity will activate the park spaces in ways that feel both familiar and awe-inspiring.
More info and tickets here

FIGMAGO
Meg Saligman Studio
FIGMAGO is part art installation, part room escape, and all parts wonderfully immersive. Enter the mind of a muralist as you explore secret passages and mesmerizing art to discover a mysterious mural that comes to life. YOU become the artist as the story unfolds. Hands-on and phone-free fun for all ages!
More info and tickets here

Garden of Vessels
Sina Marie (I Am a Vessel Youth Initiative)
Welcome to the future of the pop-up garden phenomenon. Imagine a garden where imagination and technology fall in love, cultivating the minds and innate abilities of the youth to a full bloom. Visionary Sina Marie creates an interactive experience. A diaspora from the underground up! We welcome you to…the Garden of Vessels.
More info and tickets here

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Chuck Schultz Is That Guy Sketching the Fringe

Posted August 23rd, 2018

Who’s that guy sketching in the back of this Fringe show? It’s probably (though not necessarily) Chuck Schultz, a fine art-trained sketch artist. Schultz’s sketches of dance and theater provide a visual review of Philadelphia performing arts year-round and he brings his talents to bear on numerous Festival shows every year.

Schultz recently sketched FIGMAGO, an ongoing mesh of art and dance which runs as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival. He spoke to FringeArts about how his work intersects similarly with different art forms.

FIGMAGO

FringeArts: What’s your background?

Chuck Schultz: I grew up in New Jersey. I lived on a farm. When my parents divorced I lived on the Jersey Shore. I liked to draw people, or super heroes, and when I met another artist in Toms River, NJ, I decided that is what I am: an artist. I first attended Delaware College of Art and Design in Wilmington and I moved on to get a certificate of fine art painting at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.


When I graduated college I tried to weave myself into where artists could find work. I been fortunate to be able to work with author Thom Nickels, photographer Katherine Weber, Thomas Kerrigan at the Kimmel Center, hairstylist Julius Scissor, and writer Chris Munden. I worked with an exceptional couple in Conshohocken: Jim Victor and Marie Pelton, alumni of PAFA. They are making food sculptures that give you an appetite! It is that effect that I am trying to copy.

FringeArts: How did you get into sketching theater?

Chuck Schultz: I always wondered what was happening inside theaters. I would just walk by while getting from point A to point B and I felt there must be something special inside them. When my father died in 2011, I began spending a lot of my time painting in Ocean Grove, NJ, where I met David Bates, a retired actor from the 60s who worked in movies, theater, commercials, and helped start The Muppets with Jim Henson. It was only natural for me to draw what I saw when going to the theater. It made me feel connected to the artists.

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Sorority of Storytelling: Sisters Combine Choreography and Bodypainting in Paprika Plains

Posted August 22nd, 2018

Natalie Fletcher and Jessica Noel are two talented creative sisters, but they’ve never performed on stage together… until this Fringe.

Fletcher, winner of the inaugural season of the body painting reality competition show, Skin Wars, will team up with Noel, a dance-theater artist who directs performance/education space and performance company Philly PACK, in an interdisciplinary storytelling performance inspired by singer Joni Mitchell’s 1977 album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. Paprika Plains will run September 21 and 22 at 7 p.m. at the Philly PACK garage in South Philadelphia.

Natalie Fletcher bodypainting.

“This collaboration is something we’ve wanted to do for a while, but the timing was never right, until now,” said Fletcher.

Fletcher and Noel spent their childhood in Amarillo on the plains of West Texas and the sisters’ production tells a story of two sisters growing up in West Texas, finding their individual paths, but always coming back together with a common language: love. Lily Blaines-Sussman, a member of the Philly PACK company, will dance as the young dancing sister, and Noel will dance as the adult. At various times throughout the production, the dancers will pause and Fletcher will come in to the performance, painting the dancers, the backdrop, while pushing the story along.

“We are attempting to tell a story with choreography and bodypainting,” says Noel. It’s a truly interdisciplinary Fringe performance: There is also a sculptural installation, theatrical lighting elements, and live music—Philadelphia musician Heather Blakeslee of Sweetbriar Rose will play Joni Mitchell covers as the audience enters.

“We want to transport the audience to a very specific world as soon as they enter,” adds Noel. “The world is Joni Mitchell and paint. Heather and the bartenders will be painted by Natalie before the show starts. The whole project is somewhat of an installation.”

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A Super Grand Interview with Sylvain Émard

Posted August 22nd, 2018

Renowned dancer and choreographer Sylvain Émard’s infectious fusion of traditional line dancing and contemporary dance, Le Grand Continental ®, has been presented at locations around the world, including Canada, the United States, Mexico, South Korea, New Zealand, and Chile. After presenting his show in the 2012 Fringe Festival, Émard is back in Philadelphia with Le Super Grand Continental, an even bigger public dance spectacle.

Presented as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival, Le Super Grand Continental will see a cast of 200 non-professional dancers take over the famous steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, performing all new choreography and eventually inviting the audience to join them as the performance space becomes an open-air dance party. FringeArts talked to Émard about the inspiration for the show, his memories of the 2012 Fringe Festival, and what we should expect this year.

FringeArts: What inspired the first Le Grand Continental®?

Sylvain Émard: As a kid, the first time I danced outside my home was at our church basement where there were line-dancing classes. Maybe that is why I was and still am fascinated by line dancing. To a point where I was often incorporating it (a bit more sophisticated I must say) in my stage work. Then I came up with this idea of choreographing a dance piece that would mix contemporary dance and line dancing. At first I thought that this would just appeal to Montréalers because of the great popularity of line dancing here. To my surprise, I realized that although line dancing is not that popular everywhere, there is a desire for the people to get involved in an artistic project and dance is perfect for that. It has no language limitation. It is somehow universal despite the specificity of the style.

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Something to Chew On: Boris Charmatz on manger

Posted August 20th, 2018

Boris Charmatz subjects dance to formal constraints which redefine the field of its possibilities: a potentially infinite canon of gestures in his 2016 Fringe Festival piece Levée des conflits, inert bodies of children, animated by adult dancers in enfant. The stage is a notepad where he jots down ideas and organic concepts in order to observe the chemical reactions, the intensities, and the tensions engendered in their encounter. In manger, the center of gravity was subject to displacement: how to set bodies in motion not with the eyes, or with the limbs, but with the mouth? Gilles Amalvi talked to Boris Charmatz in 2013 about the ideas behind this delectable contemporary work.

Featured in the 2018 Fringe Festival, manger is presented in partnership with Westphal College of Media Arts & Design as part of Philadelphia Museum of Dance.

Gilles Amalvi: An important starting idea for you was the “not very spectacular” dimension of the action of eating, swallowing. Is this line of thought still relevant?

Boris Charmatz: Absolutely. The creation, as I now see it, increasingly tends towards a form of disappearance: treating food in terms of swallowing it, blotting it out. But then, this calls for careful, precise planning, very unlike the rather raw principle that I had initially envisaged. To tackle the dimension of disappearance, the dimension of blockage, of impediment—in speaking, dancing—I find some subtle, precise mechanisms, bordering on invisibility in order not to just dangle in front of the audience a vision of bodies in the process of ingesting.

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Can You Feel the LOVE Tonight? Fringe Comes to LOVE Park

Posted August 17th, 2018

Love is in the air at this year’s Fringe Festival. It’s suspended seven feet off the ground and arranged in an instantly recognizable design. That’s right: Fringe is coming to LOVE Park.

Located in the heart of Center City, the park is home to Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE statue, which has become a symbol of the City of Brotherly Love and which serves as the photogenic entrance to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Originally laid out in 1965 as part of an urban development project by city planner Edmund Bacon (father of actor Kevin Bacon), the park was designated “JFK Plaza” to honor the assassinated president in 1967. It became better known by the moniker LOVE Park after Indiana’s famous wordmark sculpture was placed there in the late 1970s.

The park became known as a hub for Philadelphians to meet, chat, take a lunch break, go for a dip in the fountain, and hone their skateboarding skills. Situated just across from City Hall, it serves as a haven from the busy streets of the city and a resting point for workers, residents, and tourists. Closed in 2016 for a $26 million redesign, LOVE Park reopened on May 30, 2018, with a brand new look.

To celebrate the grand reopening, FringeArts teamed up with the Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (with support from ArtPlace America) to present three FREE shows by leading local arts as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival: An Unofficial, Unauthorized Tour of LOVE Park, Chichi Chip (an ode to the Gnarly), and Same Picture Different Poses.   

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Evalina “Wally” Carbonell and Those We Carry

Posted August 16th, 2018

Known affectionately as “Wally,” Evalina Carbonell is passionate performer and creator—an innovator who creates sensual, inspired, highly physical dance that unearths humanity and frames it with clarity. A principal artist at Roxey Ballet Company, dancing as a principal artist from 2005 to 2011, she joined the internationally active Philadelphia company Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers in 2012. As a solo artist, she has presented nationally and locally, including at the last three Fringe Festivals (Traces of She, 2015; Fore-ign/Fore-out, 2016; Mujeres, 2017).

This year, Carbonell premieres her new work Carry Me, an evening-length dance work for five women dedicated to those we carry, those who carry us, and all that we carry inside. (Before the Fringe you can catch a preview 8/24 at The Gathering at the Sculpture Garden and “Dine with the Dancers” 8/29.) She told FringeArts what she’s carrying and what she hopes to communicate.

FringeArts: What are you carrying right now?

Evalina “Wally” Carbonell: At this very moment I am carrying, “Cain,” my son who is due to be born on November 21. I am also carrying the feelings from the rehearsal I just held; a blend of urgent, energized bursts of equal parts thrill and fluster. Lastly, I carry my head in my hand as I consider my strategy going forward.

FringeArts: How has the experience of motherhood affected your art?

Evalina “Wally” Carbonell: Motherhood has given me an increased appreciation of time, efficiency, creativity, generosity, fear, and flexibility. I have learned the values of improvisation and energetic momentum, as applied to life as well as dance. My art has become both more physically demanding, and emotionally fulfilling. The more I expend, the more I absorb. There is less time to waste and the risks I take feel more weighted.

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What’s Going On Underneath: Meg Foley on The undergird

Posted August 14th, 2018

“The goal is to touch without touching—like really feel and be moved to tears among this long landscape of talking about what our bodies are doing, what we imagine they could do, and about death/loss/grief.” Meg Foley

For the last seven years Meg Foley has been experimenting and and refining her improvisational performance practice, “action is primary”. For a year, she paused every day at 3:15pm to dance, wherever she was, embracing the practice’s central tenet to “hold what you are doing at the center of what you are doing, even as slips towards new centers.” After developing the practice individually, she began to investigate how it could be used to make a group dance.

Foley’s entry into the 2018 Fringe Festival, The undergird is a four-person piece which explores the artists’ “felt experiences” of grief and death in a rhythmic celebration of where memory and imagination live inside the body and how they can be remade through movement. FringeArts talked to Meg about her intriguing title, performance practice, and process.

FringeArts: The undergird” is an intriguing title. How did you come up with it?

Meg Foley: I knew I wanted to use action is primary, an improvisational practice I’d been developing and performing at that point for almost seven years, to make a piece about grief and my relationship to mortality/death, which at first I was like “oh duh, it’s about my Dad dying”. And it is, but quickly I realized it was about something much bigger. I started writing early on and a lot of other material—my experience as a parent and of child birth, my relationship with my mother, the feeling of my own skin—emerged.

I knew that I was trying to stay close to something that I was either pulling away from or avoiding; I was trying to move towards the center rather than away. And I think I had an image of cement and rebar and how it’s held together, a little bit like going down into the boiler room or something to get to where all the mechanicals are.

I think a lot about the action and embodied sensation of words and linguistics, and so it was very clear to me that the title of this piece was a noun. Also thinking about something stretching underneath, holding other things up, or a constant underpinning. Because right away when I started working on the piece, I started thinking about time as a primary material and research point and also thought about earth matter and our bodies as part of that, so in that sense The undergird is both sort of biological and emotional/personal in terms of what’s going on underneath and throughout all the time.

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