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Dance legend Joan Myers Brown and Philadanco return

“Unless there is a check attached, I don’t need another thing on the wall.”

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Philadanco performs “Enemy Behind the Gates” - PHOTO COURTESY OF LOIS GREENFIELD
  • Photo courtesy of Lois Greenfield
  • Philadanco performs “Enemy Behind the Gates”

The pope’s recent three-city U.S. tour shut down roads and businesses at each stop, including The Philadelphia Dance Company. Philadanco, as the company is known, is the home of another figure who, while not as famous as the pontiff, is considered a living legend of dance. 

Joan Myers Brown, Philadanco’s founder and artistic director, has been a force on the dance scene for decades. Now celebrating its 45th anniversary season, the globe-trotting modern-dance company is one of the most popular touring troupes in the U.S. For Brown, that success has translated into both notoriety and lots of accolades, including honorary doctorates, the prestigious Philadelphia Award (2009) and, in 2012, The National Medal of Arts. Speaking by phone from Philadelphia, Brown joked that she once told a staff member that if anybody called wanting to give her another award, to tell them she was out of town: “Unless there is a check attached, I don’t need another thing on the wall.” 

In truth, Brown is very appreciative of the honors, but says she doesn’t let them go to her head. Her main concerns are keeping her three dance companies and two schools (under the Philadanco umbrella) going and her dancers employed.   

The company, a frequent visitor to Pittsburgh, was part of the August Wilson Center’s debut season, in 2009. On Oct. 9, Philadanco returns to help open the retooled center. 

The program includes four works, beginning with choreographer Christopher Huggins’ “Latched.” The fast-paced 2014 piece is about attaching to another body, and the desire for detachment combating the allure of remaining latched.   

“Hand Singing Songs” (1998), by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, of the Urban Bush Women, explores hand gestures as a form of communication. Things get serious with former Philadanco dancer Dawn Bazemore’s “A Movement for Five” (2015), inspired by the 1989 case of five juvenile males (The Central Park Five) wrongly imprisoned for raping a white female jogger in Central Park. “It’s really deep and speaks to current times,” says Brown.

Rounding out the program is Huggins’ relentless “Enemy Behind the Gates” (2001). A signature work of Philadanco, “Enemy” is a tour-de-force of heart-pounding action, aggressive movement and dancer virtuosity, all set to a driving score by Steve Reich.


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