ReVolving Spaces takes over the Italian market – Fringe review

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Answering the summertime call of Martha and the Vandellas, Frances Gremillion and Colleen Hooper delivered laughin’ and singin’ and music swingin’ in the streets of South Philadelphia.  Beginning in Bardascino Park and dancing through the residential alleys and curbside stalls of the Italian Market, ReVolving Spaces incorporated the spirit of the Fringe as well as the long tradition of site specific art. On an almost cool summer night—still wet from the storm but warmly lit—Bella Vista never looked better than when Gremillion, Hooper, and their effortlessly-talented company of dancers and musicians snake-charmed the audience through her streets. My first Philly Fringe commenced with the unstoppable Miss Martha Graham Cracker and as the festival continued, it showed off many of Philadelphia’s best acts.

Company chosen by Colleen Hooper and Frances Gremillion in “ReVolving Spaces.”

Bella Vista and the Italian Market — with its low, low produce prices and unique smell of ham hock and bloody feathers —  have inspired many, including the Mural Arts Program.  The richness of the atmosphere—molto autentico—gave Gremillion and Hooper a lot to work with. Relative newcomers to South Philly, the two choreographer/dancers took many steps to settle into the neighborhood. After a disappointing bocce ball season—both women joined the league upon moving here—Gremillion and Hooper looked to dance and poetry to pay further homage to local culture.

Company chosen by Colleen Hooper and Frances Gremillion in “ReVolving Spaces.”

With olive-skinned grandpas looking on from the nearby cafe, the company whirled around Bardascino Park, while the band competed to be heard with angry Asian women down the street who seemed to be reprimanding their children. Using tables, stumps, and each others’ backs, the dancers leapt into the air and off the walls as a light wind picked up leaves that mimicked the dancers’ moves.

A second act of songs and poems brought our attention to the beauty of Christ Presbyterian Church and the surrounding architecture. Lilting harmonies then lured us to the nearby alley as the dancers continued to use the environment to amplify the grace of both the red brick structures and their movements. The soft-yet-athletic motions rendered the everyday stone buildings vibrant and beautiful. The choreography gestured to the changes in the community over time, about which the neighbors often told the young women in passing. The walkabout sparked curiosity in most audience members and onlookers. We re-examined our long held perspectives on the neighborhood; and the residents, in turn, examined this strange procession. As the dancers began to mix with the audience, the show glided over the cobbled alleys and drew your eye in every direction.

Company chosen by Colleen Hooper and Frances Gremillion in “ReVolving Spaces.”

Adopting a more in-your-face South Philly attitude with each act, the audience, myself included, shamelessly snooped into every street-level window of the row homes we passed expecting to see drooling babies and late night dinner parties suddenly start perform, too. A gibbous moon served as a spotlight. Though the regulars at Mark Anthony’s barber shop cared not what the crowd formed for, puppies and youngsters yapped around our heels. Then the after-hours smell hit our noses like a big garbage pizza pie telling us we goddago.

The band picked up and before you knew it, we formed a New Orleans style Second Line back to the park. This impromptu parade felt like a fitting farewell to Bella Vista, like a goodnight kiss signaling the end of summer. Additionally, the Second Line let Gremillion, a native Louisianan, sing and dance praises to other local cultures which have influenced her. For the audience, the entire performance acted like a liberating exercise as we transformed from timid onlookers to untrained voyeurs, and finally to amateur performers. In fact, it’s Gremillion and Hooper’s shared hope that their site-specific piece encourages more than just Mummers to engage and interact with the streets of Philadelphia. All we need is more dancin’ and music, sweet music.

Tags

bella vista, colleen hooper, frances gremillion, italian market, revolving spaces

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