Posted by: strugglesome | June 18, 2010

Life is a Caberet: An Evening Of Art from (and for) Nichole Canuso Dance Company

When exactly does a spasm become a dance piece? When does a physical convolution become luminous? When does a movement resembling a seizure become something you can’t stop watching, become a dance from which you can’t tear your eyes? Well, apparently when Nichole Canuso and her company is doing it.

Yesterday evening was the Second Annual Benefit Cabaret for Nichole Canuso Dance Company (or NCDC, as the young people seem to be calling it these days). The event, a carnival themed rollicking good party at Triumph Brewing Company, was hosted by the always delightful Emmaunalle Delpech (a former Pig Iron member and current clowning Tour-de-Force) and the perpetually charming Makato Hirano (whose work as a physical artist reminds one of a nature program of hunting tigers, and I mean that in the best possible sense). The event was a veritable whose who of some of Philadelphia’s most exciting performers and theater groups, thought I don’t know why that even mildly surprised me. After all, not only is the Philadelphia Fringe and Live Arts festival looming on the horizon like a particularly exciting storm cloud, not only has Nichole Canuso Dance Company been a part of the Philadelphia experimental dance-theater scene for the last few years, but also this is Philadelphia, and if we didn’t live in a major city that feels like a small town we wouldn’t want to be here. Call me a helpless Philly Phanatic, but in my opinion it is the way that artists can collaborate and support each other in this city that makes the performances we create here so fascinating and so strong. Where else besides this kind of event would you find yourself covered in face paint, clutching a mixed drink, gasping with laughter at Team Sunshine Performance Corporation and their hilariously violent (you read that correctly) antics one minute, then bobbing your head and tapping your feet at Miss Martha Graham Cracker serenades you the next? When was the last time you saw a person in a lion suit breakdance? When you get right down to it, when was the last time you found art this much fun?

The first time I saw Nichole Canuso was in a work she collaborated on with Pig Iron Theater Company, Flop. A snowball of a diva, Canuso swanned around the stage, squeaking adorably at her less dainty compatriots and solving some of the essential mysteries of the universe. How could I not have been hooked? Since then Canuso, who is also a member of Headlong Dance Theater (could the world be any smaller?), and her collaborators seem to have been busy, creating among other things the wildly popular 2008 Live Arts offering Wandering Alice, and preparing Takes, a work inspired by the writings of Jorge Luis Borges, which will premiere as part of this year’s Live Arts Festival.

As a fan of Canuso (and, of course, of Liza Minelli), I couldn’t resist the temptation to spend my Thursday evening at her benefit, especially when I heard she would be dancing. And so, amongst the crowds of people cheerfully dashing towards inebriation aided by Triumph’s excellent beer and wine selection and the live performances swirling around the bar like flies, I found myself sinking back into a bench of the side of the venue, waiting to see what would happen next. From beneath the auditory chaos of the party came the sound of chords on an electric guitar, signaling the beginning of the dance piece. I should preface this by saying that the ground floor of Triumph Brewing Company is an entirely bizarre space to have a dance performance. As long and thin as a column or a row-home, the available space to dance is caught between the bar and the seating area, and stretches from the band platform to the door. Nicole and her five fellow dancers, clad in various outfits of off-white, appeared like the oreo cream between two sets of audience cookies, sliding between the two sets of viewers. Falling in and out of lines, moving sideways like crabs to the songs provided by the fantastic The Mural and the Mint (a Philadelphia-based band working with Nicole Canuso Dance Company currently to produce a larger piece this fall). The 6 dancers including Subcircle‘s Niki Cousineau and Green Chair Dance Group‘s Sarah Gladwin-Camp (I apologize to the three other dancers whose names I don’t know!) rose and fell around the narrow dance floor, shifting at the brush of Canuso’s hand, now reaching towards the sky like supplicants, now swaying, arms akimbo, like sea anemones. Rather then being a finished dance piece or a narrative, this seems to have been rather a demonstration or a series of etudes, designed to highlight the moments of harmony and dissonance between the music and the movers. Each song had its own associated dance piece, and the dancers moved on and off of the space accordingly. One of the most affecting images of the series had Cosineau surrounded by Canuso, Gladwin-Camp and another female dancer, all of whom were holding large mason jars filled with small tea lights, giving the impression that Cousineau was trapped in a cage of bodies and lights, unable to move freely, bobbing and weaving between the arms and legs of the other women but finding herself still stuck in a prison of reflected flames. Another moment that stays in the mind is a later piece with of all the dancers moving like they had been struck by lightning, jerking and convulsing in a way that highlights not a lack of control of the body, but complete mastery of the movement. I suppose if I had to define it, this would be the difference between spasm and dance, between a seizure and art, the intention, the self-awareness and the physically control. As The Mural and the Mint crooned in the background “You stick to my heart like a stone”, we certainly know why. Even in the midst of a crowded party in a bar full of people, these pieces stay in the mind’s eye, occupying their audience even after the band has gone home.

I don’t know what Canuso’s plans are with The Mural and the Mint, but I certainly can’t wait to see what happens. Moreover, Takes will be premiering at this year’s Live Art’s Festival, and you can already purchase tickets for the show, which will run from September 3rd to September 18th, here.


  1. […] who attended the Nichole Canuso Dance Company benefit (written up here) last May will recognize the seeds of Canuso’s dance presentation during the event now […]

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