Counterprogramming was the name of the game Thursday night when Philadanco opened its three-day run at the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater. If audiences were disappointed that
, the company's popular Christmas ballet, wasn't on the bill this year, the program more than made up for it.
The centerpiece of the performance was Matthew Rushing's Moan, honoring the vocals of Nina Simone, which had its world premiere in October when Philadanco performed it in New York. Elyse Browning, in a long, colorful coat, swayed, snapped, and swirled as Simone in a smoky club setting, as the rest of the cast, all in black, began dancing to her directions.
One section has a woman in a tight sparkly pink unitard dancing for dollars for three different men. In another, a man does a flashy dance for a woman who passes him without a glance. Then a woman does the same for a man who doesn't notice. A slow, desperate, last-ditch breakup section is emotionally wrenching.
Closing the program, Suite Otis, choreographed by George Faison, is a rather similar piece, a selection of love stories set to songs of Otis Redding. Still, it's hard not to get caught up in the music and motion. The cast, all in pink, forms a circle as a bride in mourning begs for "Just One More Day." A cute couple dance cheek to cheek, have quick arguments, but can't stay away from each other. Four men strut and dance showy steps for a quartet of women who don't want them. A woman yells at men as he dances away.
The evening opened with Milton Myers' Echoes: A Celebration of Alvin Ailey, a tribute to his late mentor. Set to pulsating music by John Adams, it showed off the dancers' strong classical training. The program also included Ronald K. Brown's moving Exotica, rooted in African dance.
So while Philadanco opted against holiday programming this year, it still presented a lovely gift to it multitude of fans. The only downside: Such a short run!