Philadelphia Fringe Festival: Week One
"What a piece of work is man... in form and moving, how express and admirable."
Brian Sanders knows this all too well. A staple of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, his latest show comes with the unfortunate name "Hush Now Sweet High Heels and Oak." But that is where Sanders' missteps end.
Starting with an all-white set, Sanders' six dancers -- Teddy Fatscher, Laura Jenkins, Billy Robinson, Tommy Schimmel, Connor Senning and Miles Yeung -- emerge, perfect beings of grace, beauty and endurance. When we first see them, they are in their underwear, emerging from mattresses, three adult couples in the middle of the night.
But soon, we see them travel back through time. They climb the drapes, swing on the lights, and climb trees, all while the haunting, ambient score evokes lullabys, playground songs and midnight sounds. Before our eyes, we see the adults transform into children.
Then, the white sheet enveloping the stage is pulled back to reveal a giant sandbox. The dancers climb further, swing higher, recreating recess activities on a grand scale. What was once innocent in our youth becomes terrifying when these scantily clad dancers are performing these feats from dangerous heights.
Sanders is not afraid to make us squirm in our seats. Last year's Fringe show "The Gate Reopened" had his dancers leaping from fences onto unseen trampolines, the reveal of which led to audible gasps from the audience.
This time, he reveals the human body as an instrument of primal desires, from sex to swinging to fighting. His dancers are adults, they are children, they are beasts.
Throughout the captivating 45-minute show, the audience is reminded where they came from, the wonderful and horrifying simpleness of their bare desires that brought them to this moment.
Another of the many pleasures of the Fringe Festival is getting to witness a performance that defies description.
For something quick, cheap and wonderfully profound, check out Tim Etchell and Ant Hampton's "The Quiet Volume." This import from England takes the act of reading to a new level.
Upon entering the Free Library and checking in, I was greeted with an iPod and headphones. I was then led to a table with a second person. In front of me were three novels and a notebook.
A voice spoke to me in a low whisper. I was instructed to do everything he asked.
For the next hour, this second person and I explored a variety of texts, sometimes in silence, sometimes with ambience, sometimes with specific instruction. To reveal what I was asked to do would spoil much of the joy of the experience. However, I can say that, unlike other works that require audience participation, these actions were more revelatory than embarrassing.
"The Quiet Volume" explores, in unique and thrilling ways, the experience of reading text. What does the narrator's voice in our head sound like? How do you imagine the world of the story while you are reading? How do you connect these words into a sentence?
We take the idea of reading -- an action that takes years to master -- for granted all too often. So what happens when you are forced to look at that arrangement of ink on that page through different methods, unique angles, the experiences of others?
"The Quiet Volume" explores all of this in the middle of the gorgeous Free Library, and in doing so, creates a highly personal experience.
See it with a stranger. It could turn you into friends.
"Hush Now Sweet High Heels and Oak" runs through Sept. 15 at 23rd Street Armory, 22 South 23rd Street in Philadelphia. For info or tickets call 215-413-1318 or visit http://livearts-fringe.org
"The Quiet Volume" runs through Sept. 22 at Free Library of Philadelphia Central Branch, 1901 Vine Street in Philadelphia. For info or tickets call 215-413-1318 or visit http://livearts-fringe.org/