Philadelphia Fringe Festival

By Jackson, Jonathan David | Dance Magazine, January 1998 | Go to article overview

Philadelphia Fringe Festival


Jackson, Jonathan David, Dance Magazine


The first fringe festival began in Edinburgh more than fifty years ago. Its mission was to showcase o smorgasbord of live performance that blurred the line between theater, dance, and music. Recently, New York City mounted its own fringe festival. Unlike its predecessors, the first annual Philadelphia Fringe Festival prioritized dancing. Philadelphia's festival revealed how effectively movement can communicate joy, suffering, and satire.

Min Tanaka's butoh production, The Poe Project (Stormy Membrane), transformed the Painted Bride Art Center's black box stage into a timeless space of dreaming. The predominantly American cast worked well in the twisted postures and low grunts of Tanaka's contemporary Japanese performance style. Every unsettling idea in the work was distilled to its movement essence. Without restaging any of the author's nineteenth-century classics, The Poe Project meditated on the horror and darkness in Edgar Allan Poe's writing.

In one disturbing movement vignette, two ghostly young women dressed in frilly Victorian nightgowns were menaced by a burly, slobbering, growling mon. When the man drew closer to the women (as if to rape them), they writhed, screamed, clawed, and scrambled away. But even this vignette's visceral impact could not top Tanaka's solos. At several points during the production, he slithered toward the audience, twitching, blinking, and contorting his arms and legs at outlandish angles. However, he never sacrificed subtlety in his dancing. At the beginning of the evening, clad in a dirty overcoat and hat, he moved like a scarecrow, breaking at each joint with every step he took. By the end of the performance, clad only in black trunks, he moved like water, his spine rippling with minuscule undulations.

On the next night of the festival, dancers from Pennsylvania Ballet experimented with comedy and nonballetic movement at the Painted Bride. They proved that even the most mainstream dance can be "fringe." Two works by Philadelphia-based modern choreographers stood out on this program. Paule Turner's You Must Be Certain of the Devil was a weird romantic spoof. Scantily clothed in a sheer black tutu, a frilly black lace bra, and super-long eyelashes, Turner bounded onto the stage (to Delibes) clutching a bucketful of apples. The entrance was pure, over-the-top gender confusion. …

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