Philly Is Dancing Review – cherchez la femme.

It was Friday night, February 12th, and snow fell lightly in the dark. There were literally no empty seats in the theater, and as I watched more guests flow in, I was glad that I had gotten there early. The new arrivals found seats towards the sides of the stage, and we all settled in, excited to experience femme. collective‘s Cherchez la Femme.

Developed by Loren McFalls, femme. collective aims to bring together female-centric artists and groups to collaborate, network, and perform together. Though the event had a strong focus on dance, visual art was also displayed beside the main stage inside of the Performance Garage. Sprinkled throughout the dance performances were poetic readings by Amy Saul-Zerby, as well.

After a short introduction from McFalls, the dance performances began with a piece called “let me…” choreographed by Keila Cordova, owner of the nearby954 Dance Movement Collective. Female dancers took the stage, interacting with their shoes. Shoes on their feet. Shoes on their hands. One shoe on, one shoe off. Holding a stiletto at arms length, contemplating all that it represents. As a metaphor for the roles that women play, and perhaps the material accessories that compliment (or bind) those roles, the piece set the tone for the night.

Next, Michelle Megill again used props to tell the audience a story; dressed in rugged white lace, her performance ended with a stabbing of what we’re led to believe is wedding cake. Dancing to Hozier, Megill’s body seemed to involuntarily pulse with energy and emotion.

Caroline O’brien choreographed a fierce, but sultry group number, in which the technical skill paired seamlessly with creativity and bold movement. In “whelmed,” Krista Bacchieri (choreographer) and Candance Eaton evoked belly laughs from the audience as they reluctantly and half-heartedly attempted a jazz routine with the energy level and attitue of a middle school girl who has been forced to attend dance class by her mom. Their expressions read “is this over yet?” as they bumped into each other clumsily and took turns trying to sneak off stage. Both accomplished dancers (as evidenced by Eaton’s subsequent solo entitled, “I’m Fine”), the duet decided to forgo impressive choreography for the sake of humor, and I totally loved it.

The performances ended with “Unladylike,” choreographed by Grace Gamble. The number began with a reading of dictionary definitions;ladylike, manly, unladylike, unmanly. I appreciated this creative beginning, but thought that this verbal introduction could have ended after these definitions were read; instead it continued to explain the purpose of the comparisons, and explicitly asked why such juxtopositions existed in society. I thought the lengthy introduction gave too much away to the audience. Nevertheless, the choreography was spot on. Again, expressing the tension between the various roles that females play, the dancers, first clad in long flowing dresses, took turns leaving the stage and returning in tight pants and sports bras. The dance itself evolved with the changing of costume, from lyrical forms and graceful spins to an in-your-face, powerhouse performance that made me want to get on stage and kick ass, too! Just as in the first number of the night, props were used (this time, a mirror) to comment on the roles we women play in society. It was packed with technical skill (those turns, though!), and brought the show, a female-centric showcase, full-circle.

Cherchez la Femme, a “grass-roots” event, funded in part by an indiegogo campaign, will hopefully be followed by many more events from femme. collective. The feeling from Cherchez la Femme was certainly “indie” and the dance performances had a predominantly contemporary feel. The various poems, read by one woman, also echoed one voice. All of these elements blended very well together, but I wondered, in reflecting after the show, if they blended too well; would a more diverse line-up, or a variety of poetic styles invigorate the overall experience, or would it fragment it? I’m not yet sure, but I am excited to see where femme. collective goes in its future events.

I admire McFalls for bringing her vision to fruition, and providing another stage for Philadelphia dancers to experiment and share their talents and passion, providing another wall for Philadelphia artists to hang creative, engaging visual artwork, and providing another mic for Philadelphia poets to bravely bare their soles.

Photo credit – Thomas Weir.

Words by Hannah Lorenzo