Philadelphia Inquirer

Dance Boom! puts Wilma to good use.

by Merilyn Jackson
Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Usually, you get to see local dance groups only in odd architectural spaces or in studios. They can look weighed down in cramped venues such as the Drake Theater or have trouble building momentum at the wingless Community Education Center (CEC). Those are fine spaces for works in progress, soloists, and little chamber concerts. But when you see the DanceBoom! lineup in a fine house such as the Wilma, you realize you have been looking at diamonds in the rough.

Last Wednesday, Headlong Dance Theater looked positively polished there. Hiroshi Iwasaki’s atmospheric set and lighting and City of Horns’ original sound design made me think of Gracelessnessas a marsh at twilight. The dance – a premiere – was marked by imbalances and falls after off-center twists, intricate knottings of two or more dancers, and up-tempo duets between Christy Lee and Nicole Cousineau.

Subirdia was, unlike Gracelessness, vintage Headlong. Iwasaki’s lighting and set (picket fences, itsy-bitsy bungalows) joined Lisa Leaverton’s costumes of golf pants, tennis sweater and pedal pushers. Also a premiere, Subirdia yanked laughter from the audience with its twittery movement.

Dancing right on the music – Martin Denny’s “Sputnik” with Rick Henderson’s additional sound effects – the “Subirds” gathered around the punchbowl/birdbath as well as on the ground a la June Taylor. The males, David Brick and Andrew Simonet, jumped the fences to peck each other off his territory, Heather Murphy gave a soulful performance as a housewife/bird fantasizing about an astronaut, but a mere flick of Nichole Canuso’s forbidding eyebrow stopped her in her tracks.


Philadelphia Citypaper

Headies Up
Headlong Dance Theater takes on DanceBoom

By Janet Anderson
January 10-17, 2002

The self-described “nerds of dance,” the irrepressible and wildly watchable Headlong Dance Theater takes the stage tonight in the first of its three DacneBoom! performances at the Wilma. Amy Smith, one of Headlong’s three founder-artistic director-choreographer-performers (along with David Brick and Andrew Simonet), laughed when she called the trio “nerds,” but added that “not many in the dance world are pursuing concepts and ideas.” None of the three is given to overstatement, either.)

For DanceBoom!, Headlong managed in usual idiosyncratic fashion to come up with two new dances that spring out of unlikely sources.

The three Headies all contribute to every company piece (so does the trio of talented dancers they work with: Heather Murphy, Nichole Canuso and Christy Lee) but there’s always one person who has the concept and then stays outside the process to pull it into a dance. Some dance companies would call this person the choreographer – but these companies aren’t the very democratic Headlong. Ultimately, choreographic credit goes officially to the group.

One of tonight’s debuts will be “Gracelessness,” inspired by Brick’s fascination with Bruegel the Elder’s 16th-century prints. The prints are unlikely sources of dance inspiration – they include a highly detailed rendering of a huge fish, which is being cut open by tiny human beings, thereby releasing an oozing coil of creatures from its craw. Not pretty. Not Swan Lake. But to Brick, the image, although “grotesque, had a kind of formal beauty. I was riveted by it and wanted to use it in a dance.”

Brick was just as riveted by the formlessness and “unpredictable, messy and virtuosic” movement that emerges out of contact improvisation. The Bruegel served as a real and present inspiration, taped up to the rehearsal wall, of how the ugly and inchoate and unexpected can be transformed into “specific moods, feelings and dynamics.” All the source stuff is deeply embedded in the dance, so don’t go expecting to see a dance version of Jonah and the Whale. Rick Henderson made the sound accompaniment, and Hiroshi Iwasaki turned Brick’s rehearsal cardboard-box assemblage into a set.

Smith, the daughter of a serious birdwatcher, with good birding skills herself, famously points out birds to her bemused companions when’s she out walking around. And since she’s the only Headie to come to the trio’s creative unit with experience dancing professionally, it’s not surprising that she just naturally transposed those skittery bird movements and their sideways nervous glances into human-type moves. And where a Headie sees intriguing motion, a dance is likely to emerge.

In her piece “Subirdia,” bird lore coalesced for Smith in a 1950’s-60s suburban setting, a time and place when the space program was lifting suburban eyes away from backyard barbecue grills and pool parties to look for Sputnik passing overhead. Astronauts became heroes. But her “Subirdia” gets all tangled up with the modern suburban dwellers who are busily feathering their own earthbound nests despite the heavens opening up. Her subirdites flap around to Martin Denny’s cocktail-lounge music from that era, exotic as any bird move.

Headlong’s third offering is “Permit,” a dance-performance duet they created about 10 years ago. Simonet joins Smith in this text-driven piece where the performers give each other permission to do specific things, beginning with the request “May I enter the space.” The duet’s constructed to allow for speech and movement improv. It also changes mood depending on which of the Headlongers perform. With one very pregnant woman (Smith expects her second child in March) and a tall, athletic guy doing it for DanceBoom!, the Headies have just the kind of performance twist that they love.