Brian Sanders goes tribal in ’Sanctuary’

by Lewis Whittington

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday September 3, 2010

One of the centerpieces of this year's LiveArts-PhillyFringe festival is Sanctuary, by choreographer Brian Sanders and his troupe JUNK. For this work, Sanders uses the festival's warehouse space in Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia. In this space, the modular sets suggest what the Festival's website describes as "a wall fourteen feet high and one hundred and twenty feet long and make it into a stage."

On it are ten dancers (including Brian) -- mohawked denizens who create as a safe haven where they look (to quote the Festival's website's description) "to recreate something from the past that is missing from their lives: a previous, purer way of life--the ever-elusive sense of "the way things used to be."

With this piece Sanders continues to explore acrobatic dance language, laced with his signature physical comedy and, as usual, liberated sensuality.

At a run through this week, Sanders was dashing on and off the set, wearing hats as director and dancer, he was otherwise calmly working out some of the kinks with various suspension apparatus.

"All my dancers think I'm a mad man now. I definitely lost my cool more than usual and am so preoccupied where everything is supposed to be that I keep forgetting my own choreography when I am trying to be just a dancer," he said standing (and sweating) in just his dance-belt.

He admits it was very hard working on such a large scale and being in the piece himself.

Sanders usually builds many of the sets he has used in his dances from discarded materials he collects in the city (the genesis of calling his troupe JUNK); but this time he collaborated with sculptor Alex Gartelmann to make Sanctuary's specialized modular sets and dance apparatus.

Dancers vanish in mysterious chambers and constantly scale things. Gartelmann also constructed a wooden skeletal galley that pitches with the weight of the dancers, which Sanders refers to as "pew." There are also suspension pipe-cubes that the dancers mount and dance in and spin into body sculptures.

Sanders, who himself danced with Momix and choreographed for Cirque du Soleil, pushes movement physics with dancers in ever precarious positions, inversions, vaults and swinging (on industrial nylon). In one sequence, the troop of ten are rested on each other and bloom into lush bodyscapes that keep evolving out of yogic and gymnast poses.

An erotic central male duet is danced in a shallow water trough illustrative of Santuary's vision of ideal communion. The soundtrack, a mix of club chant of the Cure and other 80s apocalypto mixes, including Jimmy Somerville's fab remix of "Don't Leave Me This Way."

Sanctuary runs from September 3 - 18, 2010 as part of the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe Festival. It will be performed at Theater East at The Hub, 626 North 5th Street, Philadelphia, PA. For more information visit Sanders page on the Festival's website.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.