The members of Headlong enjoy giving Philadelphians a monthly chance to see how dances are made, and to follow their development over time. "It's a window in on a process," says David Brick, one of Headlong's three codirectors, along with Andrew Simonet and Amy Smith.
"One of our primary values is to demystify dance for people," Smith adds. "We like to think of First Friday as a place where people who've never seen dance before can come and enjoy themselves and understand what they're seeing."
January's proceedings opened with the three directors welcoming the audience and listing the evening's events. Their talk is part of the performance, trading back and forth like a comedy team.
Then on to Thrash, introduced as a videotaped "cathartic physical response to the Bush administration," where the dancers, well, thrashed - plus twisted, convulsed and, in one spectacular moment, threw themselves at walls. Audience members were invited to participate in a future version.
We were told that Shosha, inspired by Isaac Bashevis Singer's novel of that name, contains a second thread of "meta-narrative" that refers to the early Living Theater days and the training methods of famed Polish director Jerzy Grotowski. Simonet, as a director, manipulates Brick and Nichole Canuso, asking "what's underneath that?" and prodding them to express anger like a cartoon psychotherapist. The audience howled with mirth.
Brick's continuing quest for an engaging performance format for contact improvisation emerged as Perfect Dance, a trio where the dancers, sharing weight in rolls and lifts, rate their own dancing as good or bad as it goes along. The effect is that we follow the movement of each dancer's mind in tandem with the dancing.
Last on the program was Custom Made, one of Headlong's pieces using direct interaction with the audience. Simonet describes it as "the dance of you, the autobiographical choreographic music video about your life."
The "recipient" fills in a questionnaire, giving first-thought answers. Like a dance version of Mad Libs, the dancers fill in their flexible movement structure with what's suggested by the answers.
Michaela Majoun of WXPN-FM recently included Custom Made in her series about gifts for the person who has everything, and one taker was Samantha Dolin, who bought a dance for her husband, David Thorsrud.
"What a great gift! I feel honored," he said after watching the dancers play their version of him cozying up to his wife and obsessed with a Lord of the Rings Xbox game (they did battle with arms as swords).
Thorsrud's friend Harris Romanoff had never seen Headlong before. "It was like dance done as jazz," he said, "structured and unstructured and raw and exciting."
From speaking with members of Headlong, it's clear that their appearance of effortless spontaneity takes plenty of thought and rehearsal.
If it's virtuosic pure dance you're looking for, these showings may not be for you. But if you'd like to connect to dance and have a good time doing it, you can join the mix of people, including children of the group and their collaborators, who come to Spirit Wind. Visit repeatedly, as a number of fans do, and pieces take shape before your eyes.
When asked about her favorite aspect of the showings, Smith says they're "a really nice gathering for an extended circle of friends, supporters, well-wishers, and people who might become friends or supporters. It's a community moment."
Headlongs First Fridays
At Spirit Wind Performance Space, 213 New St., Feb. 3, April 5, May 7, June 2 (no March showing), 8 and 9 p.m. Free. Info: 215-545-9195 or www.headlong.org