Brigitta Herrmann is a living legacy of German expressionist dance, or Ausdruckstanz, which may not directly translate into
, but sure sounds like it. From its founder, Mary Wigman, in pre-World War II Berlin to Herrmann, who has worked in the discipline since emigrating to Philadelphia, its practitioners often look profoundly enlightened by some barely discernible truth.
When she left Berlin in 1968, Herrmann had been the last of Wigman's students. She presented a world premiere at Community Education Center Friday evening, a dance theater work in three parts titled Physiognomy of the Spirit. The work celebrates 40 years dancing and teaching in Philadelphia, first with Group Motion, which she cofounded, and then with her company, Imprints in Motion.
Physiognomy is the art of judging human character by examining facial features. Herrmann's choreography was an exploration of the soul through dreamlike apparitions and movement-revealed relationships between members of a "dance choir," a Wigman concept of group consciousness.
Clad in trench coats, the 10 women in the intergenerational dance choir left their seats on either side of the dance floor and began walking in multiple patterns around the floor before breaking into dance. Tossing their coats off into a pile, they broke into pairs posing like figures on an ancient vessel. While prone in one sequence, they lifted up on their forearms with mouths open like gape-jawed Sphinxes. In this first section, called "How to Comfort My Soul," they looked on as a shrouded Herrmann appeared, and they threw flower petals at her feet.
At the end of a brief solo that suggested female power, gentleness, perhaps resignation, Herrmann lay curled up with her back to the audience. Kristin Narcowich covered her with a white veil and stepped onto a box singing like a eulogist, modifying her voice to sound otherworldly and grotesque.