Urban Scuba


[3 second pause]


Every time I see the title for this 2009 Philly Live Arts Festival performance, something within me yearns to shout it out like that. Brian Sanders’ choreography and John Luna, Lesya Popil, William Robinson, Brian Sanders’ dancing only reinforced my passion to do so.

Shown early last month (September) in The Gershman Y’s Pool at Watts Street between Pine and Lombard, this 50 minute production supersaturates its audience’s sensory experience with lights flashy enough to make you feel like you’ve been transported to a Moscow Eurotrance club, music so powerful its bass beats through the natural rhythms of your heart, and plastic bag costumes to make your skin feel like it’s slowly amphibian-izing. All this hits you, of course, while you sit shrouded in darkness and anticipation for what a performance with the title “Urban Scuba” could possibly entail.

At first, the theatrics made me wonder if Sanders purposefully borrows circus techniques and style to distract the audience from a an aesthetic lack on the dancers’ part. I soon regretted that thought. Sanders divides his 50 minutes into sections, each with a particular character, tone, and original choreography to match. Some displayed sparkingly witty humor, others a passionate lyricism—all of them showed off the team’s physical artistry and strength. In this case using an urban indoor swimming pool as the set not only worked, but also became essential to the direction and choreography: the dynamics of each short piece’s movement involving leaps into a seemingly abysmal space (which the mostly empty pool creates in the absence of the lights I’m assuming are usually on), synchronized swimming/floating/splashing, and drifting of various materials through the air and onto the shallow water. Did Sander’s brilliant creativity and inter-elemental synthesis produce a result too over-the-top for its audience to handle (i.e. am I wonky in loving this performance with so much enthusiasm)? I argue not (hope not, at least, regarding the second). On a scale of “not so great,” “had its moments,” “I liked it,” “very good,” to “amazing,” 81% of the audience chose “amazing” and none chose “not so great.”

Perhaps I respond this way because of a personal tendency to philosophize and project an unconscious desire for profundity onto situations, but “Urban Scuba” speaks to (what I think are) primal instincts within me. I felt celebration when the dancers gracefully leapt from ledges and into the air, struggle when they fought to climb up a wall with trash bags tying their legs together, disfiguration when I watched them ooze through the mucky tar/black paint/mud covering their bodies, and transformation as I witnessed their group-individual relationships and costumes (or, occasionally, lack thereof) shapeshift. The performance’s ability to make me think yet not quite grasp struck a chord. It fulfills “Live Arts” quite literally.

But more than all this, “Urban Scuba” is FUN—to talk about, to experience, to share (and, I hope, to perform!). My rating? 5 out of 5 for sure.

Submitted by Fonda Chen, class of 2010


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