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Kinda Nice, Kinda Funny, Mostly Brilliant

I imagine choreographers lazing about listening to disparate styles of music they may want to dance to. Or it’s possible a few dancer friends drop by or roomies come home and one says, “I’ve got a tape to play.” While listening, one by one they get up and dance to one of the pieces. Or, they all jump in for a group improv for another. Lily Kind and the five other dancers in this kinky, smarmy, and wildly imaginative evening made me feel like being in that living room.

Performance

Lily Kind: “I’ve got a tape I wanna play,” presented by Dance Up Close

Place

Christ Church Neighborhood House, Philadelphia, PA, June 27, 2024

Words

Merilyn Jackson

Elizabeth Weinstein, Dylan Smythe, Chloe Marie, Chelsea Murphy, Maddie Hopfield in “Mystery of Love” by Lily Kind. Photograph by Jano Cohen

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It was like the olden days when we saw so many little companies form in Philadelphia, always a hot bed for smallish bites of sheer genius. The days when PEW, Philadelphia Foundation, and a handful of lesser funders actually gave genius just enough money to shine. 

I’m reminded of Headlong Dance Company, the Pink Hair Ladies, Moxie, and long before that, Group Motion from Berlin in 1968, and eventually Hellmut Gottschild’s breakaway company ZeroMoving Dance.

A host of dancers like Terry Fox, running in circles around the Painted Bride stage, had by the ‘70s introduced us all to contemporary dance, contact-improv,release technique (movement initiated from the bones and joints, as opposed to the diaphragm or feet,)and many other dance languages. Fox left to curate dance at St. Marks in New York and then came back to Philly to oversee Dance at the Bride. But for the last 25 years, she’s run Philadelphia Dance Projects, with an office at Philadanco’s West Philly studios. Save for annual residencies at the Performance Garage where Megan Mazarick takes next year, and Megan Bridge’s <fidget>, it’s one of the few remaining laboratories for dance in the region.

I attended just two of PDP’s performances this year. Lily Kind took the season finale to sold out, chatty houses each night. The series, all held in Christ Church’s cozy black box theater, was aptly named Dance Up Close.

Dylan Smythe, Chloe Marie, Lily Kind, Chelsea Murphy, Maddie Hopfield in Lily Kind's “Bolero.” Photograph by Jano Cohen

Kind, in collaboration with dancers Maddie Hopfield, Chloe Marie, Chelsea Murphy, Dylan Smythe, and Elizabeth Weinstein performed an often nicely understated pastiche of seven works that linked together like a mixtape.

Kind’s opening improvised solo to Marquise nearby live clarinet rendition of a reconstructed, yet easily recognizable, version of Csardas Pour Plombinette derived from Hungarian folk dances still performed today. Kind matched Lindsey-Bradley’s notes with arm and upper body movements like a conductor. But it soon became apparent these movements went back to Waacking, a queer West Coast club style from the 70s that may have a relative to what we’d call on the East Coast, Hand Jive.

Enter Dylan Smythe on what seemed a tambourine  who seems to melt away as Chelsea Murphy joins Kind seated down stage on boxes. They improvise movements to Fiona Apple’s “Every Single Night.” The next work flowed out with Chloe Marie joining them to Tierra Whack’s amusing shower song. Marie was a striking addition that began to reveal that although each of these dancers were well-matched for this program, they retained their individuality. The good news here is that facial expressions are back and made this dance even more enjoyable.

I was pleasantly surprised that Kind, a Boston transplant to Philly, had dug deep enough into our phenomenal musical culture to next take a 180 turn to organist, Shirley Scott’s “Until the Real thing Comes Along.” Here Maddie Hopfield and Elizabeth Weinstein join Kind, Smythe and Marie that began with each entering, a bowl in hand, and sitting down on black boxes to a lazy morning breakfast of champions, pouring cereal and milk and taking a few spoonsful. This sends them off into a cool jazz line dance that derived from Shim Sham, but I felt some Pina Bausch going on too.

Elizabeth Weinstei, Dylan Smythe, Chloe Marie, Lily Kind, Chelsea Murphy, Maddie Hopfield in Lily Kind's “Bolero.” Photograph by Jano Cohen

Kind first performed her “Bolero” at a Sub Circle Dollop Works in Progress showing in 2019. Sub Circle, founded by Niki Cousineau and Jorge Cousineau, is another one of those gems that organized workshops here beginning in the 90s. Kind’s “Bolero” premiered at Urban Movement Arts Workinonit: Deluxe Edition that June.

Ravel was a left-leaning, anti-capital punishment atheist whose only faults seemed his devotion to fashion and occasional brothel visits. Private as he was reported to be, musically he let his dark side show like a ripped slip. He lived in Fascist times, dying in 1937 just before the outbreak of World War II, which seems so presaged by his relentless anti-militaristic anthem 1928 “Bolero.”  

I’ve seen at least a half dozen “Bolero’s” by as many choreographers. I was glad to see Kind and her collaborators did not take this version to a sexually seductive place, but rather to a tongue in cheek, deadpanned study on our current society.

Chelsea Murphy, Maddie Hopfield, Elizabeth Weinstein, Lily Kind, Chloe Marie, Dylan Smythe in Lily Kind's “Mystery of Love.” Photograph by Jano Cohen

Like the train that left the station or the trains that carried victims to the camps, their forearms chugged in unison like coupling rods. Then they choo-chooed in a butt crawl, also reminding me of Bauschian moves. There was what I call the cocktail walk with each dancer walking like a 30s Hollywood film star carrying a stemglass. Appropriately, they begin to lose control as inebriation takes over. But they shake it off and line up again until silliness comes into play and they splay their legs apart and become more expressive. The aloof demeanors turned into stylized flamenco postures, Smythe doing a somersault (a flip-flop?) and mimed selfie-taking. As the relentless score comes to its close, they march backwards and each forward march ends in

exaggerated high kicked goosesteps. Finally they all but one fit into one of the small black boxes clapping madly and in fear. A truly brilliant interpretation of the music and how it still relates to our current global situation.

“Mystery of Love” by Mr. Fingers followed. The nirvana-inducing deep house dance of the 80s made me want to get up and trip and skip and dangle my arms with them. They trained with Ron Wood, who blends martial arts and house as well as working through improvisation games by David Zambrano. It was a beautiful beginning of a lullaby to “Low Hum” by Sianna Plavin, which ended the show. Based on a game called Honey Down the Mountain which Kind learned while training with Manuela Arangubel in Brussels, where she partially bases. The room is darkened, the movement often floor-based, positions, fetal. Time to go back to bed? Okay, but I want to wake up in that living room someday.

Merilyn Jackson


Merilyn Jackson has written on dance for the Philadelphia Inquirer since 1996 and writes on dance, theater, food, travel and Eastern European culture and Latin American fiction for publications including the New York Times, the Warsaw Voice, the Arizona Republic, Phoenix New Times, MIT’s Technology Review, Arizona Highways, Dance Magazine, Pointe and Dance Teacher, and Broad Street Review. She also writes for tanz magazin and Ballet Review. She was awarded an NEA Critics Fellowship in 2005 to Duke University and a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship for her novel-in-progress, Solitary Host.

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