155 pairs of feet start a festival

Nasya Gay of Philadelphia participates in a mass dance number at the foot of the Art Museum steps.
Nasya Gay of Philadelphia participates in a mass dance number at the foot of the Art Museum steps. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 10, 2012

The dancers filed into place to raucous cheers, some sporting wide grins and others looking away from the crowd, trying to focus on the performance that was about to begin. Facing out in two lines, the dancers began to sway.

Large speakers situated around the base of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's famous Rocky steps came to life, and the sound of crashing ocean waves brought the dancers to movements inspired by underwater motion: slow gyrations, undulating arms, a held nose during an "underwater" dive.

Then the spectacle exploded.

The roar from hundreds of spectators seated on the museum steps or temporary bleachers went from loud to deafening as the choreographed dance began to take energetic life with full-body gestures and synchronized shouts.

Le Grand Continental had opened the 2012 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe, and the crowd was loving it.

The festival's unofficial opening ceremony may not have had an Olympic-style industrial revolution or James Bond, but it still took a half-hour, six weeks of rehearsal, and 155 dancers to pull off - and it left the audience cheering for more.

"Work it, work it, work it!" yelled one section of the crowd, putting smiles on the dancers' faces. One dancer, Philadelphia native Curita Goode, said the crowd helped her get through the grueling half-hour.

"They're all here for us; there's nothing we can do wrong," Goode, 38, said. "We're here to represent Philly, and Philly was here for us."

Goode's experience highlighted one of the unique characteristics of Le Grand Continental: the majority of the dancers are amateurs, everyday Philadelphians who showed up to audition and then underwent two months of full-blown rehearsal.

Goode said she heard about the dance on Facebook, and decided to go through with it even though she has ankle and foot problems. Goode, finance manager at Sesame Place, said she missed the first rehearsal and had to catch up to everyone else on top of the difficulty of learning the dance.

"It was good exercise. I didn't have to have a membership to the gym for two months," she said. "It was challenging at first, just trying to keep up with everyone else. . . . The more pain I felt, the bigger my smile."

Katie Seternus, 23, was one participant with a substantial dance background: It was her major at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. She said she was used to the rehearsal and performance aspects, but had never participated in such a lengthy presentation.

"I thought it was really interesting how [choreographer Sylvain Émard] incorporated so many styles in one performance," Seternus said. "The focus of each piece is different; the energy changes throughout."

The show was repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday, accompanied by a light display from 25-foot-high beams. A final performance will be given at 4 p.m. Sunday, also at the base of the museum steps.

Rain began to fall soon after Saturday's 4 p.m. performance, but the dancers were prepared for the show to go on.

"It looks like we beat the rain," Goode said. "But I'm ready to dance in the rain. Let's go!"

Contact Jonathan Lai

at 215-854-2771, jlai@philly.com, or follow on Twitter @elaijuh.

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