Stitch. You don't need a huge tent and a zillion-dollar production for a wow! moment. Proof is at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts in Germantown, where two impossibly graceful athletes offer 45 minutes of striking circus work - elaborate dancing in midair, dangerous balancing, unreal body-bending, aerial fabric work, and just about anything on stilts.
Laura Stokes is like an otherworldly insect in her ceiling-level contortions with fabric. On the floor, she stands on one foot and rests her chin on the toes of the other. Cohdi Harrell's contortions on a trapeze put him in unlikely, dazzling poses. On the ground, he contorts while twirling a hoop seamlessly. There's as much expression in the performers' bare feet as on their faces. The two work together to beautiful effect, limbs and bodies askew like a flower in bloom.
The two call their act Ricochet. On a postcard ad, mumbo jumbo describes an "exploitation" of connection, potential and blah-blah-blah. But in the end, Stitch is an elegant prayer of thanks for the human body. - Howard Shapiro
Factor T. The Gdansk dance company Dada von Bzdülöw presents its second Live Arts Festival show inspired by a Polish writer. Last year it was Witold Gombrowicz; this year, the dancers make witty observations on another prankster author little-known here - Stefan Themerson, who first published the pataphysical works of Alfred Jarry in English under a press with a Latinized name for the Jabberwock. It helps to hear jabberwocky and Jarry clanging in your head to see where this show is going.
The wickedly playful intent of the piece kicked in with laborious lifts, and with company founder and dancer extraordinaire Leszek Bzdyl smiling. For the last year, Philly dancer Bethany Formica worked with the group for her role as a jaded ingenue in multiple, gorgeous costume changes. (Hiroshi Iwasaki designed the 1930s period costumes and Mikolaj Traska the jazzy music.) Katarzyna Chmielewska, also a founding Dada member, danced with reckless elegance in her schoolmarm-prim garb.
Mumpitz is German vernacular for "profound nonsense," and Rafal Dziemidok solemnly brings things to that level. A big guy prancing bare-chested in suspendered pinstripe pants, he ends the piece baring his all, a perfect Live Arts/Fringe experience - if you know where it's coming from. - Merilyn Jackson
Bodies in Urban Spaces. Hats off to Live Arts for bringing Willi Dorner from Austria to stage this spectacle. It was a delight, inviting us to look closely at our city and at bodies in relation to architecture. In a herdlike audience of roughly 500, one could encounter friends by chance or share the playful experience with strangers.
Starting at JFK Plaza and ending in Rittenhouse Square, the event wound through walkways and plazas, buildings and alleys, like a live Where's Waldo?, always seeking out the next in a series of human sculptures. Twenty-one dancers in colorful sweats and hoodies formed and re-formed pileups. These were orderly - two sets of three in fetal crouches, sneakers protruding - or sardinelike, or more random, draped close or with angled limbs jutting out. By assisting one another, they climbed high above doorways or low into tree wells, poured into tight phone-boothlike enclosures or spread out in lines along the ground.
Bodies in Urban Spaces, besides being a wonder of organization and stamina, was a model of public art: free, fun, and transformative. - Lisa Kraus
Dances for the Naked Eye. Physical, witty, playful and fun, Green Chair Dance Group makes experimental dance very audience-friendly. The men lift the women, the women lift the men, and the dances include vocabulary from modern, classical and even Irish dance, as well as yoga and acrobatics.
Dances for the Naked Eye feels like a polished version of an improvisation session, all set to an iPod playlist - the music changes, the dancers keep going. A section in which they move slowly across the ground, striking carefully controlled balance positions, is amazing.
The four dancers are Swarthmore graduates, and you can almost see the gears grinding as they test gravity, form geometric patterns, and make references to other art forms. - Ellen Dunkel
Gas. Between 1917 and 1920, German playwright Georg Kaiser wrote a trilogy about greed and the evils of industrialism at a plant that manufactures some form of gas. The plays were an early exploration of the way manufactured energy was changing the world, and workers in the industry.
A new local theater group, the Anthology Project, is presenting Gas, taken from part of that trilogy, in an overwrought adaptation by artistic director Thomas Choinacky. The play's messages are muddy (it seems to speak for an unrealistic form of "going green" while simultaneously attacking it), and it is tedious in its early-20th-century dialogue and didactic lead character (an unconvincing Mark Robson), who commands the plant with a stream of nonsense about the nature of man and the power of machines.
Gas is played intensely and, in its best scene, at a high pitch as townsfolk mourn workers and rally for removal of an unyielding engineer. By that time, though, it's tough for the cast to rally the audience. - Howard Shapiro