At a rehearsal for The Gate Reopened, two dancers for Brian Sanders’ JUNK maneuver atop a suspended orb. At other points, men use only a foot or an arm to hold on to trusses and ladders while performing ethereal aerial choreography. The full cast climbs 20 feet, then repeatedly back falls and somersaults onto a trampoline. You may hold your breath watching certain parts — it’s the very definition of breathtaking — and it sure looks dangerous. But is it really risky?
“Are you kidding?” says Sanders. “The whole day I have a bucket of Tums by my chair.”
This is a reimagining of The Gate, the sexy thrill ride performed at an outdoor lot for the 2003 Fringe. Now, with a bigger cast and larger set on a pier off Columbus Boulevard, Sanders says he’s upping the ante. “Maybe I just see the world in a spectacular way,” he shrugs.
He’s got company at this year’s Live Arts Festival, where more than a few acts aim to create a spectacle.
Sequence 8, by 7 Fingers, also merges contemporary-dance choreography with acrobatics (though this one’s indoors). Here, it takes the form of virtuoso performances of challenging circus arts like aerial hoops, Chinese pole and Russian bar. Each carries a metaphor tying into the work’s humanistic themes, with a focus on art’s ability to “open up the possibilities of life,” says Shana Carroll, a choreographer and director for 7 Fingers. “In one sense, you’re impressed by the excellence of seeing someone do something you didn’t think was possible. But on a deeper level, you think that what you thought was impossible is maybe not impossible.”
Sylvain Émard Danse’s Le Grand Continental is a spectacle in the more literal traffic-stopping sense. The thrill comes in part from the project’s massive scale: Approximately 160 dancers will perform a group line dance in front of the art museum. The performers are everyday Philly volunteers who’ve been rehearsing all summer to learn the detailed gestures and steps.
“Sylvain knew that the scale size would be thrilling,” assures Live Arts producing director Nick Stuccio. “It’s ‘more is more.’”
Grand Continental has appeared in other cities; Sarah Gladwin Camp, the local rehearsal director, first saw it in New York. “It actually made me tear up a couple times,” she says. “Just the sheer volume of people and the joy that they’re bringing to it. ... It’s really powerful to see the buildup of energy that can only come from having that big of a group do something that specific for that length of time.”
And then there’s the setting. “It’s going to be exceptionally beautiful to see the performance and see down the Parkway,” says Camp.
The Parkway will host even more drama when Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Open Air lines the street with 24 of the world’s brightest spotlights to create a blazing show visible for10 miles. The lights are interactive, their movements triggered by voice messages sent via a smartphone app, the website openairphilly.net or nearby stations. All of Philly is both witness to and author of this grand spectacle. Says Lozano-Hemmer, “We’re trying to create an exchange of messages that is visible throughout the city … where personal participation can have an urban scale.”
The Gate Reopened, Sept. 14-22, $28-$35, Pier 9, 121 N. Columbus Blvd. Sequence 8, Sept. 18-23, $20-$55, Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St. Le Grand Continental, Sept. 8-9, free, Art Museum steps, 2600 Ben Franklin Parkway. Open Air, Sept. 20-Oct. 14, free, Ben Franklin Parkway.
- Naked on stage in front of hundreds of people — but it's no nightmare.
- Four regular families become performers, telling their own stories in their own homes.
- Cooking up a dignified but futile era of left-right relations.
- Three artists explore wildly divergent scenes of losing one’s home.
- Our picks for this year's Philadelphia Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe.