Dancefusion at Drexel University

Mandell Theater, Drexel University, Philadephia
September 9 and 10, 2011

A Review

Ross Parkes and Daniel Maloney in Threnody (1956)

Photo by Lauri Brown

Dance Events are marked as much by who is in the lobby as by who is on the stage, and this concert certainly qualified. Mary Anthony was the central figure of this event, and the requisite amount of suspense had been built with the questions of “Will she or won’t she be there?” She was there.

Mary Anthony is a legend in her own time and at 95 years old continues to teach in her New York studio. She began dancing with Hanya Holm in the early 40s, and has performed with most of the major figures in modern dance, including Martha Graham, Anna Sokolow, Lester Horton, Charles Weidman, Ross Parkes, and Bertram Ross.

Gwendolyn Bye, a native of Philadelphia and a former member of Mary Anthony’s company, danced with Martha Graham, Charles Weidman, Anna Sokolow, and Pauline Koner. She has been working in Philadelphia since 1984 and is the director of Dancefusion, which produced the evening.

The centerpiece of the evening, Threnody, choreographed by Mary Anthony in 1956, is considered by many to be a classic example of modern dance choreography. Now that I’ve seen it performed, I am among them. The piece is so clear, and every movement adheres to the gestalt that is established. I still see it in my mind’s eye as a series of tableaux. The images seemed to me to be very Grahamesque, or perhaps they are just of that time. The fact that the ballet tells a story, its use of props and set, the costumes (dresses for the ladies), the shapes the bodies assume, and the music all seem to put the piece in the Graham lineage. However, that the story is told with a much more direct approach and an absence of an emphasis on symbolism makes it pure Mary Anthony.

Based on a play by John Millington Synge, the subject is emotional, dealing with death and loss and love, but the choreography is dignified and never cloying. Gwendolyn Bye dances the major role of the Mother originated by Mary Anthony. Ms. Bye’s maturity as well as her movements, which were softer and rounder than the other females in the cast, made her a truly maternal figure and perfect as the Mother. A memorable moment occurs early on in the piece when Gwendolyn is kneeling on the stage, cradling a bundle in her arms. She then proceeds to move across the stage in a mystical way without moving any part of her body. Everyone in the cast performed admirably and must feel very proud to have had the opportunity to perform such a classic in the presence of the choreographer.

Although Threnody was the main event of the evening, the first half of the program was three dances that were pleasant to watch. I especially liked the first dance, Glacial Markings by Joe Cicala, whom I correctly guessed had musical theater experience. His openness and projection out to the audience were engaging and he imbued in his dancers a sense of wit and a commitment to really performing the gestures. The costumes did nothing to add to the piece, but were not enough of a distraction to do serious damage.

The second piece on the program got a little bit too “So you think You Can Dance?” for me, with hair flying and everyone tumbling about and being super athletic and gymnastic, but it was done well and with total commitment.

Daniel Maloney’s Suite For Percussion, in which the dancers made music with cymbals, snapping fingers, clapping hands and body parts was beautifully performed by all, especially Sean Roswell. Mr. Maloney has for fifty years been an integral part of the modern dance scene having danced with Joy Boutellier, Martha Graham, Mary Anthony and Pearl Lang, and his presence added to the festive ambience of the event.

—Virginia Dillon, September 2011