Yes, 'tis the season, but must every performance have a yule theme? Nope, says Philadanco, which presents a holiday-themed program now and then but which this year chose to honor one of its favorite choreographers, Christopher L. Huggins, in a weekend series at the Kimmel Center.
And what a gift it was, a suite of short ballets that showed the power, speed, and athleticism of the company's fantastic dancers, as well as the diversity of Danco's and Huggins' dance styles.
The evening opened with The List, a quartet about a Jewish family in Krakow in 1941, set to music by John Williams and Henryk Gorecki. A knock on the door with terrible news is followed by a sad, beautiful dance of grief, outrage, and fear, each parent and the two daughters reacting differently - rhythmically pounding on the dinner table, flailing on the floor, supporting each other in a painful pas de deux.
Blue should be required viewing for everyone with preconceived notions about men in dance. It is a testosterone-fueled piece of fast turns, jumps, great speed, and control set to music by Arvo Part and Ryuichi Sakamoto. The men partner and leap atop each other. One section is repeated in slow motion and is just as powerful. Only a slight lack of synchronization among the dancers - present throughout the night - marred the performance.
Enemy at the Gates, a Philadanco favorite, and The Big Bang!, choreographed last year for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, also impressed with technique and power.
Philadanco has a classical side, and it came out in When Dawn Comes, which relies heavily on the company's women, in pink skirts and ballet slippers. But it's not all sweetness and light: A duet for Jennifer Jones and Cain Coleman had him lifting her in intricate positions, then Jones taking contro, lifting her much larger partner - before intentionally dropping him on the floor.
The company's balletic leaning also came out in a slip of a piece, Love Is . . ., a brief pas de trois for Ruka White, Heather Benson, and Dwayne Cook Jr.