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Two nights and an afternoon of dance: Temple’s “Endings,” PA Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” and Tabu’s “Freak Boutique”

Nutcracker
Photo by Alexander Iziliaev

What started as the thrilling idea of a matinee of The Nutcracker turned into a trio of performances in two nights that essentially captured the entire spectrum of dance. It was awesome and right here in Philly: the soon-to-be-experts from Temple’s Boyer College of Music and Dance’s Endings, the Pennsylvania Ballet’s awe-inspiring production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker and an Aloe Vera-hosted Freak Boutique – A Very Phreaky Christmas at Tabu Sports Bar & Lounge. December in Philadelphia is full of opportunities like these: The city’s literally overflowing with theater, dance and art options. So start adding tickets to your wishlist.

In Temple’s second set of 13 terminal projects presented in two seatings, at 8 p.m Friday, on the corner of Broad Street and Montgomery Avenue inside the Conwell Dance Theater, seven solid performances were delivered. We missed Melisa Clark, but Brittany “Griff” Griffiths’ “Dansul Mirese Vampiri” was a slightly creepy and sinister affair, with a striking bride—the strongest dancer of the wedding party—who had ill-tempered and malicious bridesmaids. “Harbor,” performed by Ryan James Stauffer and Crystal Albrecht, was a tension-filled duet and dominated primarily by Albrecht’s graceful physicality. It verged closely into melodrama territory, yet remained one of the strongest showings of the night. A peculiarly dark and dramatic club-inspired piece full of queer flavors called “Before We Fuck Ourselves to Death” was soundtracked by a remix of Kylie Minogue’s “Did it Again (Razor-n-Go Dub).” It was high energy and a welcome spike of energy at the middle of the show, but felt just a little too White Party for a final recital performance. Wei Wei Ma pulled out one of the most mesmerizing pieces of the night that she called “The Stream.” She entered onto a long, unfurled silk jacket of white; she stepped on it as if it were was a dock over a lake before laying down on it, then rising while pulling it over her shoulders effortlessly. She’d sown sleeve extensions (she’s credited as the costume designer) that she’d gather and throw with ease, creating extraordinary extensions of movement.

The Pennsylvania Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker is really a big, beautiful staging, a feast for the eyes and ears. The show is as much Balanchine’s as it is the PA Ballet’s and Beatrice Jona Affron’s “Orchestra of the Pennsylvania Ballet,” flawlessly executing Tchaikovsky’s legendary score. And to be clear, it is a little bit of a looser, child-friendly and less-than-serious affair. There are children everywhere—in the show, in the aisles, in the seat next to you asking “Who’s that? What’s he doing?” But they’re in Christmas formal wear and asking in tiny little 5-year-old voices. It’s adorable. The sets are meticulously and ornately constructed. It’s said that ballet companies across the country make 40 percent of their annual ticket sales with Nutcracker runs, and why wouldn’t they? The growing Christmas tree, the endless dancers, the hundreds of costumes—it is a busy and technically challenging production to pull off day in and day out. The child-like energy you get in your seat is also reflected on stage; hordes of dancers aged 8 to 18 get that rare and life-fulfilling opportunity to dance one of the most famous ballets of all time. But these kids aren’t professional ballet dancers (yet). The most stunning feats of athleticism and execution of technical prowess come from the first act’s toys and soldier (Leah Hirsch, Marria Cosentino and Amir Yogev), and the second act’s dreamlike suite that includes the Sugarplum Fairy (Elizabeth Mateer) and her cavalier (Lorin Mathis). Three favorite elements of the second act’s “Land of Sweets” were the Asian Tea dancers, the Arabian Coffee dancer and the Russian Candy Cane dancers. The sets were stunning, all the way down to Mother Ginger’s birth of the polichinelles. Christmas spirit is in the air, no doubt, with a show rife with gift-giving, eloquent fake snowfall and childlike dreamscapes. It’s one of the finest holiday traditions in the world for a reason.

The holiday spirit wasn’t quite so refined and worldly upstairs at Tabu’s Freak Boutique later Friday night. It was drunk and sloppy, tucked and lip-synching. One of the city’s most enchanting gender non-conformists, Icon Ebony-Fierce, did a pair of killer numbers, with a Luther Vandross Christmas moment, and then exuded straight-up disco joy with Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” Aloe Vera, Paige D’Mone and Rio Manone were three tall, skinny, crazy-lookin’ holiday hos in turning out an assortment of more modern, rock-chick numbers that pleasantly pushed in a little “F#*$ you”/pissed-off glamour mess realness. We had a young woman falling asleep on our shoulder over and over, despite constant pleas from friends to get a cab or stand up, but it wasn’t annoying as much as fitting—like your drunk cousin who had too much Christmas ham and scotch.


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