Full disclosure: This was my first time seeing
, Philadanco's annual holiday celebration, presented Friday through Sunday at the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater. But there they were: Danco's gorgeous, impeccably trained dancers, plus talented youngsters from the troupe's Apprentice Company and its Youth Ensemble. All were in appropriately high spirits, despite the unseasonably warm weather.
X-Mas Philes premiered in 2000, but, as the company's founder and executive/artistic director, Joan Myers Brown, noted during her introductory remarks, the busy choreographer Daniel Ezralow just expanded it into a full-evening work. In its finished form, X-Mas Philes consists of 22 vignettes ranging in mood from whimsical to satirical, sexy, and melancholy. The music (all recorded and, unfortunately, not identified in the printed program) included classics by Louis Armstrong and Eartha Kitt, a few novelty items, smooth instrumental jazz, and hyperromantic pieces for strings.
In the evening's showstopper, the full cast - dressed in black or orange jumpsuits and wearing black boots adorned with jingle bells - executed a complex series of precise, percussive movements. Channeling everything from "stepping" to traditional dance forms from New Zealand and South Africa, the dancers made their own music, stamping their feet, clapping their hands, and slapping their bodies. What this had to do with Christmas (aside from the bells) was unclear, but it was absolutely thrilling.
There were sight gags galore - a dancer desperately trying not to drop a huge stack of presents, a group of Santas suddenly transformed into hip-hop Men in Black - and Danco handled the comedy extremely well. Surreal moments were enjoyable, too, as when a fully set dinner table was turned on to its side, so that we seemed to be viewing it from above. And there's something wonderful about seeing adults dance in flannel pajamas.
Ezralow draws on his early experiences as a cofounder of Pilobolus and Momix; there were also references to Alvin Ailey's Revelations. Good source material, all. However, his attempt to tie together these disparate segments - and, presumably, inject a bit of real-world awareness into the festivities - through the recurring character of a homeless man sleeping on a park bench was ultimately unsuccessful.
One of the most exciting moments in X-Mas Philes was during the curtain calls, when everyone had a chance to cut loose. It would've been great to see even more of that, especially from exceptional performers like Roxanne Lyst and Adryan Moorfield, and those young dancers in training.