America’s Civil conflicts filtered through dance

Photo: Bill Hebert

Lauren Putty White and Brent White in iStand, Stories of An American Civil Struggle

By Merilyn Jackson

For the Inquirer

Choreographer/dancer Lauren Putty White and husband, composer/musician Brent White form Putty Dance Project. Together with producer/director, Phil Sumpter, they created iStand, Stories of An American Civil Struggle at Community Education Center over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Reviewing sociologically based performances created almost in real time with current events can be dicey. The filter of time can save them from being corny, emotionally overloaded or lacking in depth. But Putty White and company avoided those pitfalls to create a restrained, emotionally canny and artistically charged work in iStand. Less is more.

A University of the Arts graduate and Ellen Forman Award recipient, Putty White is a nominee for a 2016 PEW Fellowship. Her company, in residence at the CEC, currently consists of seasoned Philadanco dancers Roxanne Lyst and Joe Gonzalez, as well as Amanda Edwards, Isaac Lindy and Sarah Warren who form a racially mixed and coherent ensemble with Putty White.

The opening and closing dances set the tone and carry the work home. The voices of children reciting the pledge of allegiance float over Brent White's opening chords, resonating with Putty White's movement schema. Although her choreography is rapid, abstract and angular, it's readable when the five dancers bent over at the waist with shoulders rounded, stepping exaggeratedly on the lead foot quarter turns 360 degree -- a pimp strut, drill team style. They add a little Nae Nae, or mime fist fighting with the legs spread wide in squats. Running backwards, it looks like a metaphor for ain't gittin' anywhere.

They close the sections with the right hand over the heart in pledge quickly sliding up the side of the head in a slumping lament. Later, when Gonzales finally obeys the recorded command, Hands over your head, his indignant resignation rapidly morphs to sorrow when his hand flattens against his heart once more.

In between each dance section, Larry Dixon's compelling video interviews ask questions like "do you see yourself as predator or prey" and are answered with frankness and sincerity. Edwards dances a few counts of Africanist style dancing that predates the pimp strut. In Putty White's solo to an excerpt of an Obama speech overlaid by Brent White's live trombone improvisation, she slips in a count or so of Philly Mummer's Strut.

The cast returns in variations of red and white over blue jeans, moving ambivalently, ending phrases abruptly, beginning them again. They genuflect, raise hands in a shooting position, quietly closing their left hands down over their pointed fingers. There would be no shooting. There would be truth. And there would still, astonishingly, be love.

Final performance: Today, Sunday, November 29 at 3pm. For more information or to purchase tickets to iStand visit puttydanceproject.org. Tickets $18.50, at the door, $20 The Community Education Center, 3500 Lancaster Avenue in University City.