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Melanie Stewart's brainchild turns 6

"Dance-driven" nEW Festival opens.

In addition to her solo adaptation of Deborah Hay's "I'll Crane for You," Rowan University's Melanie Stewart will present "Kill Me Now."
In addition to her solo adaptation of Deborah Hay's "I'll Crane for You," Rowan University's Melanie Stewart will present "Kill Me Now."Read moreALAN KOLC

Good dance just keeps sweeping into Philadelphia - and sweeping us off our feet (or onto them; see below). This week it's the nEW Festival, Melanie Stewart's now-six-year-old brainchild. What began as an artists' cooperative with workshops and classes for dancers at the University of the Arts has grown into a self-described "dance-driven, artist-fueled," two-week-long festival featuring five evenings of performances starting tomorrow at the Drake Theater.

Stewart, artistic director and founder of Melanie Stewart Dance Theatre, has been dancing and producing dance in Philadelphia, nationally and abroad since 1984. In the course of her career, the Rowan University professor and coordinator of Rowan's dance program has received many awards, among them a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Local audiences may remember her for her 1995 Cocktail in the Sky or her hilarious 1998 Kieko and Fan, with Paule Turner, which airs from time to time on WHYY.

Along with several other dancers from around the world, Stewart last year commissioned a work by renowned choreographer Deborah Hay and, while on a summer sabbatical, traveled to Scotland to learn it. Each dancer was free to interpret the dance - which Hay calls I'll Crane for You - as she pleased, using Hay's concepts. Stewart will dance her version, along with three of the other commissioners, in four 20-minute sections. They are New Yorkers Deborah Black and Davina Cohen, and Marielle Hocdet from Toulouse, France.

At rehearsal last week, the four saw each other's work for the first time. Stewart said, "We decided to call the evening of these same-named but very different solos "Blood on the Table" because when Deborah was working with us, she would say "I want to see blood on the table."

Hocdet created an entire new dance vocabulary for the piece; once you've seen hers, you'll begin to get the other interpretations. But Stewart may be the one to put the blood on the table: Even in rehearsal, her fierce command of her material threatened to overpower all comers.

Other evenings in the festival feature many local artists. Olive Prince Dance does a piece called Out about how we appear to the outside world. Charles Anderson, a 2008 Pew fellow in choreography, presents his finished full-evening piece, Evidence of Things Unsaid, seen in progress over the last year at Temple University.

In Share, Gabrielle Revlock dances with three others in a collage of personal honesty pitted against the dishonesty of the theater. And Jaamil Kosoko directs four dancers in his Virus, which at rehearsal looked like a wild techno-tripping epic.

Out-of-towners are featured as well. From New Orleans, former Liz Lerman dancer and Tulane University dance instructor Jeffrey Gunshol - who calls himself a "post-Katrina hire" - dances with Nora Gibson in his Rite of Spring. Before you say, "Oh no, not another one," discard all your expectations: At rehearsal, this was anything but your mama's Rite.

Korean native Eun Jung Choi-Gonzalez now lives in Brooklyn and brings her Da Da Dance Project to the festival in Blueprint. She'll dance with Guillermo Ortega Tanus to live music by Alban Bailly, taking the dance down to its bare bones.

Aside from dancing her Deborah Hay solo, still-beautiful (and beautiful dancer) Stewart directs six dancers in a preview of Kill Me Now. For this spoof on dance-competition/reality-shows, she's assembled some primo "contestants," Megan Mazarick, Karl Schappell, Bethany Formica, and Les Rivera among them. And she's brought in a special guest host from Edinburgh, Catherine Gillard. Wear your dancing shoes, because you will be challenged to get up and contend with the contestants or weigh in with the judges. It's your chance to practice for next fall, when the full production opens at the 2009 Live Arts Festival/Philly Fringe.

The schedule is designed so you can see it all over the course of three nights, but Program IV, "Dancehouse," offering preview performances of incoming nEW artists, runs only on Sunday. Sarah Gladwin Camp dances Drift, and Ortega Tanus, also seen in Choi-Gonzalez's work, does his To Be. Abigail Zbikowski rocks out with her piece Penetration, and Nora Gibson Performance Project dances Numbers, a work about our relationship with them.

nEW Festival Performances

At UArts Dance Theatre at the Drake, 1512 Spruce St. Tickets: $15. or


7 p.m.: Gabrielle Revlock/Eun Jung Choi-Gonzalez

9 p.m.: Deborah Hay solo adaptation program "Blood on the Table"


7 p.m.: Olive Prince/Charles O. Anderson

9 p.m.: Deborah Hay solo adaptation program "Blood on the Table"


7 p.m.: Jeffrey Gunshol/Jaamil Olawale Kosoko

9 p.m.: Gabrielle Revlock/Eun Jung Choi-Gonzalez

10:30 p.m.: Kill Me Now preview event (MSDT)


7 p.m.: Olive Prince/Charles O. Anderson

9 p.m.: Jeffrey Gunshol/Jaamil Olawale Kosoko

10:30 p.m.: Kill Me Now preview event (MSDT)


3 p.m.: Dancehouse

7 p.m.: Dancehouse