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Philadelphia duo uses humor in a work about beauty and competition

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'I made this for you' by Gabrielle Revlock and Nicole Bindler

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The Kelly Strayhorn Theater continues to present more daring work, most recently from Philadelphia’s choreographic duo, Nicole Bindler and Gabrielle Revlock. Not that nudity is daring; the duo’s large group piece, I made this for you..., had a few moments of nakedness, and it worked well. They also broke the fourth wall, which has been done countless times; that suited the work, too, and wasn't the particularly courageous part.

What was bold about the show was Bindler and Revlock’s willingness to free themselves from typical choreographic forms, and to also include local performers outside the contemporary genre. Hence the title of the piece, it actually did feel like the two made the work for Pittsburgh.

The piece opened with a duet of seated gestures. Text accompanied the dancers, a mix of jumbled words that never came together or resolved in an obvious way. That led to the first of many humorous moments in the hour-long show. After questioning what exactly dance is, Revlock performed a snarky hula hoop routine to the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.”

Because the crux of the show was about competition and beauty, Bindler judged Revlock’s performance, harping on her hair bow (on the wrong side of her head), and her fake eyelashes (non-existent). Then, dramatically, Bindler said, “And...I saw you eating french fries backstage.” The section comically poked fun at a world of competition dance that often places emphasis on stereotypes of beauty, rather than artistry or movement invention.

Bindler then announced that she would show Revlock how dance was really done. She took off all her clothes, let down her hair, and performed a slow-moving solo in and out of the floor. The comfort she had with her body was refreshing, especially in an art form where women still worry about their shape, despite more openness to different sizes.

After their individual solos, Revlock and Bindler brought a panel of judges onto the stage. That group ranged from choreographers, writers, and producers of Pittsburgh dance and theater. Joseph Hall, Producing Director of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, started the discussion. With straight faces, they broke down the first half of the show. Rather than judging the height of a leg or precision of a turn, they spoke more intellectually and esoterically, a hilarious mocking of the classic question and answer session that often follows a contemporary dance.

The humor continued through the second half of the show. Bindler talked about her wedding plans, a funny quip at the infamous “Bride-zilla” caricature some of us have known or at least heard about. Phrases like “gluten-free” garnered laughs from the audience.

Eventually, they polled the viewers as to what we wanted to see next. Would it be a “yoga dance” between Revlock and another performer? Or did we want to see Bindler make out with an audience member? Not to worry, they did both.

The yoga brought to mind how an ancient spiritual practice can be (and has been) hijacked into a body-focused and beauty-oriented physical form in the United States. The kissing--yes, of course, someone volunteered!--was uncomfortable for a moment, as public displays of affection often are, until we were used to seeing it. Then it strangely become a lovely part of the performance.

In the midst of that, a tap dancer entered stage. And then a contortionist, bending backwards with extreme flexibility. The lights became brighter and an African dancer moved rhythmically at the back of the stage. We lost sight of Revlock and Bindler as more and more presentational forms of dance took over. A gymnast, or cheerleader, several burlesque dancers. Next, vogueing and fouetté turns. Leashed dogs, paraded by their owners, trotted through the aisles of the house and onto the stage.

Balloons fell from the rafters and each performer came together in a unison phrase of frontal and flashy movement. Eventually, the dancers came into the audience and led us onto the stage. A DJ set up at one end, mixing dance beats. And the show ended with a party right there on stage.

The performance was enjoyable, especially in its wit, and even in its confusion. The audience was willing to go along for the ride of starts, stops, and abrupt turns. I made this for you... was even better the more we thought about it. The piece could still be developed further, with more of those moments that made us think. All in all, the show was a welcome break from the norm.

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