How should people watch who don't usually look at dance? "I think they will be gratified by the innovation of the movement," new curator Terry Fox says. "The groups all have a real integrity of spirit and original vision." And audience members should know there's nothing to "know." They can define the experience for themselves.
Where previous years' festivals centered on specific themes, like the dance of the African diaspora, this year the lens is wide-open on "contemporary" work, which Fox says "reflects an accumulation of historic techniques while borrowing from activities like sports, martial arts and club dancing."
Also different this year was the decision to bring in artists from beyond Philly. DanceBoom! was initially for local groups; mixing in out-of-town peers is meant to facilitate comparison and exchange. "I think it's going to create a give and take, and more energy around the festival," says Blanka Zizka, the Wilma's co-artistic director.
In this week's program, the "out-of-towner" is Chris Aiken, a recent transplant to the Philadelphia area, who has been codirecting the dance program at Ursinus College since 2003. Audiences at Jacob's Pillow in Massachusetts and a host of other venues have gotten to see his elegant, daredevilish dancing, but locally this will be an introduction.
"I'm doing a lot of what people think of as acrobatic dancing," Aiken says, "but that's because my compositional ideas make me want to move upside down or to dive through the air. You just go, and you have to have the skill to survive it and not kill yourself."
Bethany Formica of Reactionaries is similarly movement-driven. "My biggest passion is a lot of upside-down floorwork and really hard athletic partnering work," she says. "I love to work on a highly visceral level of physicality." Add to that the dramatic play with light of Reactionaries' codirector Mark O'Maley, and you have a potent mix.
The dancing of Tania Isaac, on the same show, goes all-out in other directions - deep into her island roots on St. Lucia and riffing off her hip-hop chops. (She's a Rennie Harris alumna.) Isaac, named one of "25 to watch in 2006" in Dance magazine, has garnered attention here and elsewhere for her savvy personal/political works. Her new solo, Stuporwoman, draws on the experiences of mothers of small children (she's one) and the choices they are forced to make. She'll also show an excerpt from last year's Standpipe, a vibrant "skirt dance" for her group of dynamic women dancers.
Like many groups in DanceBoom!, these three layer visual elements and sound to create a charged space. Aiken says his improvisational ensemble - three dancers and a pianist - will "create a world through light and image and a nonlinear narrative that unfolds over time. It's very dramatic, like going on a journey together. We're inviting the audience to participate in real-time theater."
Reactionaries' nine-member collective will literally invite the audience into its space. Ready to shake up the usual audience/performer relationship, Formica expresses appreciation for the work of John Jasperse, Anouk van Dijk, and other contemporary dance artists known for unconventional play with proximity to the audience.
This program's preshow will be Feria de Loiza, a color-drenched Afro-Puerto Rican street celebration with Raices Culturales Latinoamericanos, a group dedicated to increasing public awareness of Latin American cultures.
The June 22-24 program will find Anne-Marie Mulgrew and Dancers Company, fresh from celebrating their 20th anniversary, presenting preshow performances of Imaginary Places. Mulgrew creates striking and poetic images with quirky actions that resonate with some of what is in the evening's other works.
In Fetish, the Minneapolis-based duo Hijack, in knee-high leather boots, performs a "meditation on desire" to music by Schubert, Chopin and Barry Manilow; the sequences slide from precisely measured, if non sequitur, gestures to more eruptive, bizarre actions. In their placid but charged demeanor, they look like the 21st century's answer to Yvonne Rainer, the 1960s icon whose long movement sequence, Trio A, could be impassively performed in any number of contexts. Hijack's goofiness is all the more entrancing for being kept so barely in check.
Fox saw in Hijack's sensibility a perfect match for Kate Watson Wallace's. Premiering a work, Living Room(s), Wallace will have live accompaniment from the local indie-pop band Nouveau Riche. If her past work is a guide, we can count on seeing something fresh, with a robust physicality. Her characters inhabit peculiar orbits, and the ambiguity of their actions and surround engenders a mysterious pleasure.
Hijack's wacky formalism also ties in with that of Ballet X, the group recently formed by Matthew Neenan and Christine Cox, formerly of Phrenic New Ballet and longtime Pennsylvania Ballet dancers. Their Wonder Why, to the music of Sinad O'Connor, dances on an edge between contemporary and classical styles. Neenan is a prodigiously gifted choreographer who can really cut loose in the works for his own group.
The June 28-30 program reflects a variety of approaches to storytelling, relationship and humor.
British-born Keely Garfield calls her Scent of Mental Love a "faux pas de deux." It will mark the Philadelphia debut of this Bessie-winning New York-based choreographer of "poetically subversive dance sagas that illustrate subtle and seismic shifts in emotional and physical states," as her Web site (www.keelygarfield.org) puts it.
Tracing the course of a relationship, Scent of Mental Love is rife with comic disconnect. It's accompanied by New York accordionist Rachelle Garniez, who strolls through the space singing wry and bittersweet songs.
Sharing Garfield's wit, Headlong Dance Theater will premiere Shosha, its telling of the Isaac Bashevis Singer tale of the same name. Set in 1930s Warsaw, the piece also references the theatrical experimentation of the 1960s and showcases Headlong's characteristic inventiveness.
Subcircle - the group founded by Niki Cousineau and her composer-videographer husband, Jorge - offers Somewhere Close to Now, much enjoyed in last year's New Festival. According to the Cousineaus, this Alice in Wonderland for the cyber age "dissects time through opening portals and entering them through books." That sounds mysterious, and is. Riveting, too. Rather than interacting with a partner here, Niki Cousineau interacts with objects and giant images on the video screen.
Before this show, the members of Mixed Pickles Vintage Dance Co., experts in vintage social dances, will strut their stuff in Everybody's Doin' It. Bring your dancing shoes; audiences may be invited to join in.
Dance on Film
Concurrent with DanceBoom!, the Motion Pictures Series will screen films at the Wilma from this Friday through June 24. The theme this year is "Under the Influence," Fox says, "so we're exploring creative process, what makes the dancer tick, why they create what they do."
Among the works is the 2005 best-of-festival award winner at Dance on Camera, Carmen and Geoffrey, about dancers Carmen deLavallade and Geoffrey Holder. Also featured will be the Yo-Yo MaMark Morris collaboration Falling Down Stairs, plus several screenings with local and visiting video-makers present.
If you ever wondered how DanceBoom! got its name, you can find out this year. It's intended to be an explosion of dance, especially as some of Philadelphia's finest dance artists mix it up with like-minded artists from elsewhere, cuing audiences in to the wider trends in dance today.
An Explosion of Dance
DanceBoom! runs at the Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St., from Thursday through June 30.
Preshow performances begin at 7 p.m. and are free. The 8 p.m. programs cost $20, or $10 with a Dance Pass ($20).
June 15-17: At 7 p.m., Raices Culturales Latinoamericanos. At 8, Chris Aiken, Reactionaries, and Tania Isaac Dance.
June 22-24: At 7 p.m., Anne-Marie Mulgrew and Dancers Company. At 8, Ballet X, Hijack, and Kate Watson Wallace.
June 28-30: At 7 p.m., Mixed Pickles Vintage Dance Co. At 8, Headlong Dance Theater, Keely Garfield Dance, and Subcircle.
Tickets to the Motion Pictures Series are $5, free with a Dance Pass or ticket stub from that evening's show.
For information, including the film schedule, call 215-546-7824 or go to www.wilmatheater.org.