Philadelphia Dance Company Gives Breathtaking Performance

With its astounding and intricate dancing and amazing choreography, the Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO) brought great pleasure to the audience at the Quick Center last Friday.

Fairfield University hosted PHILADANCO, founded by Joan Myers Brown in 1970, as it celebrated its 40th year with a quadruple bill of modern and classical dances.

The show opened strongly with “Violin Concerto,” which included choreography by Mitch Myers and music by Philip Glass. Its success was due largely to its lyrical performance. Each intricate movement from the dancers reflected the pitch and height of the music until the audience could almost envisage the dancers as the instruments producing the sounds. They danced with intensity locked in soft and fluid movement.

The sensitivity in the opening Concerto II contrasted with Concerto III, but its performance was no less impressive. At the end of  Concerto III, the audience seemed to release a collective breath, signaling the end of a dance so intense that the audience sat in distilling awe.

The intimacy of this segment was heightened by the beautiful lighting designs, done by Clinton Taylor. The vibrancy of the dancers was represented by bright and warm colors like orange and yellow. Somberness played through blue and violet settings.

The program continued with a contemporary modern piece called “Cottonwool,” with music from Christopher L. Huggins. To the enjoyment of the audience, the dance piece was more playful and more percussion-based. Visual colors emphasized and changed with the speed of dance moves.

Perhaps the best segment of the dance performance was the inventive execution of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” choreographed by Ray Mercer. Unlike the previous performances, the dancers used a prop that could either hinder or enhance their performance: a table.

The audience watched in anticipation as the dancers weaved over and under the table that stood at least three feet tall. Any slight movement from the table could have been hazardous to the dancers, whose stability was grounded in the table. The table was also used in levels, where one performer danced above another. Thrilling the hearts of observers, the dancers successfully performed particularly dangerous moves.

Music also added to the drama of this particular segment. The intermittent beats in “Dinner” allowed the audience to hear the breathing of the dancers, heightening the intimacy between the performer and the observer.

The fourth segment with four works demanded laughter: cue the afros and white dance suits, and suddenly, the dancers transformed into partygoers of the 50s, 60s and 70s who came to enjoy a colliding mesh of funk music. This segment displayed the range of the dancers’ skill and energy, allowing their personalities to shine through with a loose, party-style number that had the audience clapping along to the riff-based soundtrack blasting from the overheads.

How can anyone expect anything less from the company that The New York Times calls “exuberant?”

PHILADANCO continues to be celebrated for its innovation and fusion of classical and African-American dance traditions.

Posted online in The Mirror: January 12, 2012

9/11 Movie is “Incredibly” Beautiful

Contributed Photo

The trailer for “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” undoubtedly caused some people to say that the movie about 9/11 is the film industry’s way of exploiting the American tragedy for a couple of bucks.

It’s true: any media portrayal of the 9/11 attacks toes the line between being respectful and being exploitative. However, the film adaptation of the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, directed by Stephen Daldry, makes the attacks the backdrop of the film.

“Extremely Loud” primarily takes place a year after the 9/11 attacks. Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) had lost his father Thomas (Tom Hanks) in the attacks, and he and his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock) still feel the emptiness from losing a beloved figure in their lives. His mother is trying her best to keep the small family afloat, but she is still floundering on how to deal with her son, who, to the audience, displays some symptoms of Asberger’s syndrome: he is bright and talkative, his attention jumps from one thing to another, he hates loud sounds and he has a fear of public transportation.

One day Oskar finds a key in an envelope with the word “Black” written on it, and he believes that the key will unlock an important possession of his father’s. He then takes on the ambitious task of visiting all of the people in NYC with the last name Black, hoping to uncover something which will keep his father’s memory alive. As a sensitive kid who experiences anxiety around everyday things that most people are perfectly comfortable with, Oskar must overcome his fears to complete his mission.

Along with his tambourine—something of a security blanket for Oskar—and a business card listing his various occupations, he sets out every Saturday in search of the right Black and an explanation for the key. Through his weekly journeys, he encounters people who, irresistible to Oskar’s charm (in most cases), open up to him about their life experiences.

Most of the movie proceeded like a lighthearted mystery because people wanted to know what the key unlocked. But it turns out that the movie is not all about the key.

The most important part of the movie is Oskar dealing with the loss of his father while trying to find some way to stay connected to him. The film is about the act of moving on from a devastating turn of events, just like the one Oskar had experienced.

The movie highlights the power of finding strength in the people around you. Oskar certainly found his supporter in his mother, who, like her son, still misses the sound of her husband’s voice. He also finds a friend in a mysterious and voluntarily mute man, played by Max von Sydow who rents his German grandmother’s apartment. The Renter acts as a replacement-–though short-lived– for Oskar’s father.

The level of acting in this film should be heralded as a key aspect. Oskar is played by 14-year-old Thomas Horn, a boy who—wait for it—had no acting experience before this movie. He was spotted by Daldry after Horn appeared on “Jeopardy! for Kids.”

Every scene was brought to life by Horn’s innocent and eccentric portrayal of Oskar. Hanks (who doesn’t like him?) was cast as the right person to play a loving father and playmate for Oskar. Bullock also played a convincing mother, making some wonder how she could have been in such a bomb film like “All About Steve.”

In spite of earlier fears, the movie turned out not to be exploitive in the least, but rather a heartfelt and uplifting movie on moving on.

Some critics are calling Oskar “the obnoxious kid,” yet I definitely disagree with such a description. C’mon, all kids are obnoxious. Oskar has the symptoms of autism, therefore his actions are meant to come across as invading or “obnoxious.” It’s how he behaves. Maybe these critics should take a note of patience from Oskar’s father.

Yesterday, the Oscars announced that “Extremely Loud” was nominated for Best Picture. Clearly some people liked the movie.