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Philadanco a breathtaking experience

By Autumn D. F. Hopkins

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Glamorous, breathtaking, powerful and bittersweet are only a few of the words I could use to describe the majesty that is Philadanco, the Philadelphia Dance Company.

The program, divided into four parts, quickly enthralled the Charleston audience Friday night at the Clay Center.

The first suite, completely comprised of Otis Redding music, was sweetly poignant. Pliant strains of Redding's bittersweet ballads created a beautiful spectacle. It was like watching sculpture take life and dance. At times, the drama of the piece was so overtly intimate and raw that it was like being washed in someone else's pain.

The audience was doused in the emotion that poured off the stage. I almost felt the need to look away to avoid staring voyeuristically into the performers' angst and emotion. But that is what makes an excellent performance is it not? That sucking draw that pulls the audience in, making them culpable in the action.

The second suite, "Gate Keeper," transitioned from a traditional ballet into something with a more tribal, muscular feel. Lithe, otherworldly, graceful and sensual, this portion was like being immersed into an ethereal and fully modern experience. Overpowering in its visceral, relentless, driving power, audience members were left breathless on the edge of their seats, drawn forward into the overwhelming intensity on the stage.

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," the third portion of the show, brought forth the troupe's only prop of the evening, a stark, tall and imposing table. The table was immediately encompassed in the action, becoming cage, stage, trap and barrier. The performers danced on it, under it, around and over it.

It certainly did not feel possible, but the intensity and blatant sensuality of the performance was ratcheted up exponentially. It built to an almost violent level as the dancers flung themselves mercilessly through their routine. It was passionate to a point that seemed spontaneous in the same way that charisma and attraction draw people through and toward each other.

The fourth and final piece, "Wake Up," was the most fun and lightest music of the evening. Featuring island beats, hip-hop moves, jive and 1970s costumes one could almost forget that the suite opens and closes with a man dying of a gunshot wound. Sound surreal? It was. Surreal and wonderful and unlike anything I have seen.

I hope Charleston does not have to wait another five years to see this dance company again. The turnout was sparse and many people missed the opportunity to see something really spectacular and rare. Maybe better advertising or timing is needed. Words cannot really re-create the magic of Philadanco. I encourage everyone, next time, to come and experience it.


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