On Stage: Philadanco returns for holiday show at Annenberg

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times


Two cherished Philadelphia cultural attractions are coming together this weekend when the Annenberg Center, which for years has been one of the city’s premier entertainment venues, hosts a series of shows by Philadanco, the award-winning Philadelphia dance company that is celebrating its 50th season this year.

From December 12-14, the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts (3680 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, www.annenbergcenter.org) is presenting Philadanco’s special holiday show – “Xmas Philes.”

Since its inception in 1970, Philadanco has had a significant impact on the dance world. As a cultural ambassador representing the U.S., the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia, its artistic direction and renowned national and international guest choreographers have developed a reputation for producing a dance repertory with passion, power, skill and diversity.

A stellar faculty, handpicked by Founder Joan Myers Brown, has trained more than 4,500 dancers in a comprehensive program achieving the highest level of technical skills in dance and performance. The unique blend of dance styles of Philadanco and its roster of 50-60 concert performances and 45 residencies most years, has made it one of the most sought-after modern dance companies in the country.

This weekend’s show will be the first holiday production and second overall production for Philadanco with Dr. Elgie Gaynell Sherrod at the helm.

Sherrod, who is an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and the author of “The Dance Griots: Reading the Invisible Script,” is the Interim Executive Director of Philadanco. Sherrod, a graduate of Temple University, was a member of Philadanco for many years. During her tenure at Philadanco, Sherrod was not only a performing company member but also taught master classes during touring residencies, mentored younger dancers and served as company representative handling the concerns and well-being of her dance colleagues.

“I love Philadanco,” said Sherrod, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from her office in Philadelphia. “My sister went to law school here and told me about Philadanco when I was a very young girl.”

Sherrod, who is an integral figure in VCU’s large and highly acclaimed dance department, also taught dance at Florida A&M University.

“I’m pretty involved with the ‘Xmas Philes’ production,” said Sherrod. “I’m always in the studio watching. One of my dancers from Florida — Clarricia Golden — is in the Philadanco Company and in the show. Also, Taylor Sparks, a student from VCU, is in the show as part of the D/2 Apprentice Company.”

Other dancers from Philadanco Company appearing in “Xmas Philes” are members Rosita Adamo, Janine Beckles, William E. Burden, Mikaela Fenton, Leah Friedman, Joe Gonzalez, Jameel M. Hendricks, Victor Lewis Jr., Kareem Marsh, Dana Nichols, Brandi Pinnix, Courtney Robinson, Jah’meek D. Williams, and Marcus Williams; and guest artist Tony Harris.

The production, which is under the direction of Choreographer Daniel Ezralow, also includes Onederful Ancrum, Ankhtra Battle, Kaniah Browne, Simone Gadlin, Lindsey Lee, Briana Marshall, Angelica Merced, Dahlia Patterson, Nasir Pittman, Donyae Reaves, Francis Sloane, Lourdes Taylor, Rhapsody Taylor, and Dominique Thompson from the D/2 Apprentice Company; and Nia Y. Bailey, Donovan Blake, Zion Boggs-Brown, Naiya Brown, Arianna Deshields, LaNiya Hamilton, Bethany Morris, and Jasmine Williams from the D/3 Youth Ensemble.

“I’ve known about Philadanco’s ‘Xmas Philes’ but I’ve never seen it performed,” said Sherrod. “I knew about it and I knew about Daniel Ezralow. I taught about him in dance courses.

“I’m very much immersed in ‘Xmas Philes.’ It’s very all-consuming for the entire organization and features around 35 dancers.

“Its first iteration was a 45-minute work done on a program with other works. The first all-evening production was in 2015 and this is the second time it is being done as a full production.”

Philadanco has done other holiday performances over the years – including one locally.

In 2017, the Kennett Symphony under the guidance of Conductor and Music Director Michael Hall presented “Pops Goes the Holiday with Special Guest Philadanco” at Unionville High School. Special guests Philadanco and the Kennett Symphony Children’s Chorus joined the Symphony for the special concert.

The performances at Annenberg this weekend will feature holiday-themed numbers such as “White Xmas,” “Rudolph,” “Druids,” “12 Daz,” “Fa La La La La,” “New Year’s Eve,” “Burr…Less Claws,” “Zat You Santa Claus,” and “Santas In Black,” as well as traditional works such as “Jingle Bells,” “Silent Night,” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”

“It’s a pretty impressive production,” said Sherrod. “There are elaborate sets – things that fly up and open. There are many choreographic vocabularies – tapping, contemporary modern, break dancing, Rockettes style lines, hip hop. The sets and the costumes make the magic of the show. It brings to mind ‘The Nutcracker.’ It’s very similar.”

Video link for Philadanco — https://youtu.be/QR_lxr34Yak.

Philadanco’s “Xmas Philes” will be performed on December 12 at 7:30 p.m., December 13 at 8 p.m. and December 14 at 2 and 8 p.m. Ticket prices start at $25.

Another Annenberg Center holiday presentation this year will be “The Crossing @ Christmas,” which is scheduled for December 20 at The Church of the Holy Trinity (Rittenhouse Square, 1904 Walnut Street, Philadelphia). 

The Crossing. A multiple Grammy® Award-winning new music choir, will perform its annual concert reflecting on our world in the winter holiday season. Conducted by Donald Nally, this year’s “The Crossing @ Christmas” features two modern passions — David Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “the little match girl passion,” based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, and “Spectral Spirits,” a world premiere by composer Edie Hill, with elegiac remembrances of birds that have gone extinct.

Aaron Novik

Aaron Novik is an American composer, clarinetist and bandleader based in Queens, New York.

If you’re an open-minded listener, there is a strong probability you’ll like much of Novik’s music from this year. There is also a strong possibility that there will be recorded pieces by Novik from 2019 that you will not like.

This year, Novik, a multi-faceted clarinetist whose main genres are experimental music and avant-garde Jazz, has released five very interesting – and very different – EPs.

This week, he will wrap up the year with two shows including a performance on December 12 at The Art Dept Collective (1638 East Berks Street, Philadelphia, firemuseumpresents.com) with his two-clarinet, two-guitar group No Signal.

“No Signal” is also the name of the fifth and final EP for 2019 which will be released this month. The series of EPs began with “The Hotel of the 13 Losses” (released August 23), “Rotterdam” (September 20), “Berlin” (October 18) and “O+O+” (November 15).

Prior to moving to New York, Novik lived and performed in the San Francisco area for 17 years. There he led the bands Gubbish, Kipple, Floating World, Love Triangle Elementary School, Simulacra, Thorny Brocky and made records under his own name as well.

Novik also performed with the bass clarinet quartet Edmund Welles, the Nathan Clevenger Group, Telepathy, Colin Stetson’s Transmission, Graham Connah and most notably in Fred Frith’s Gravity band, which has played festivals around the world.

He currently lives in Woodside, Queens and leads several ensembles including No Signal, O+O+, and Dante Counterstamp. He also just published his first comic book titled Frowny Frown.

“The Philly show is just ‘No Signal,’ which will be coming out on December 15,” said Novik, during a phone interview last week from his home in Queens. “I wanted finish off the year with a couple shows.”

Novik has also released a compilation with tracks from all five titled “The Fallow Curves of the Planospheres.”

Featuring a slew of Novik’s recent New York collaborators including Ava Mendoza, Matt Nelson, Jeremiah Cymerman, Kyle Bruckmann, Tim Bulkley, Jamie Moore, Lisa Mezzacappa and more, the composer has presented a scope of compositions and performances that solidify him as a giant of new music composition — an artist capable of an extraordinary depth of sound and texture.

With so many masterworks piling up and a summer residency at John Zorn’s Manhattan Venue, The Stone, Novik felt the need to share his work with the world while it was at its freshest.

“‘No Signal’ is the only one of the five releases that is full-length,” said Novik. “It runs 40 minutes. “I recorded it in New York earlier this year. We had a gig canceled in the fall so everyone jumped into the studio.

“The studio we used was Figure 8. It has a ton of old keyboards. We recorded it to ProTools.”

The instrumentation featured two clarinets a half step apart (b flat and A clarinet) and two guitars tuned a half step apart. It relied heavily on overtones to create a unique sonic dissonance that channels bands like Sonic Youth and Swans, but with an improvisational freedom more akin to noise jazz pioneers like John Zorn and Elliot Sharp. The line-up for the album was Aaron Novik- A clarinet, Jeremiah Cymerman- B flat clarinet, Ava Mendoza- guitar, and Matt Hollenberg- guitar.

“The catalyst for this project was my desire to come up with something cool to do with Jeremiah – to have two clarinets and keep the roadmap open.”

No Signal’s mini-tour includes shows in Brooklyn on December 6, Philadelphia on December 12 and New Haven, Connecticut on December 13.

“For the Philly show, Ava Mendoza is not available,” said Novik. “We’re replacing her with a Philadelphia guitarist named Nick Millevoi.”

Nick Millevoi is a guitarist and composer whose music searches for the sonic cracks between jazz, rock and roll, noise, and modern composition. His band, Desertion Trio, takes on the history of instrumental electric guitar music and throws it in a blender. Millevoi was also a co-leader of the power trio Many Arms and one-half of the duo Archer Spade, along with trombonist Dan Blacksberg.

Novik looked back at this year’s other four EP releases.

“‘The Hotel of the 13 Losses’ is a mixture of stuff I recorded on my phone or on a little tape recorder that I brought to Europe with me,” said Novik. “The dishwasher in my apartment had a cool sound and I also recorded a lot of church bells – including the bells of the Academy of Notre Dame.

“For ‘Rotterdam,’ I wrote on a piano at the airbnb that I stayed in. I did some shows with Fred Frith in Europe and his wife Heike Liss recommended I stay in Rotterdam rather than Amsterdam. With ‘Berlin,’ I had been there before and wanted to check it out again. Both Rotterdam and Berlin were real quick sessions.

“‘O+O+’ was the culmination of a couple things. I had never done anything with a trio before. We played as a trio and had a traditional jazz feel. I wondered why I had never done that before. I wanted to try it and add my own voice to it. It’s based on unstable symmetrical chords. To me, it sounds like jazz.”

Video link for Aaron Novik – https://youtu.be/DAse5bOoIzY.

The show at The Art Dept Collective, which has Burnt Pink and Thea Farhadian as openers, will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $8.

Spell it with a “K” or spell it with a “C” – either way the bases will be covered at tonight’s show at The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) which features co-headliners Kris Delmhorst and Chris Pureka.

Kris Delmhorst

Delmhorst is an American songwriter, singer, and instrumentalist who has spent the last two decades forging a songwriting career notable for a spirit of exploration and collaboration. She is an eclectic artist whose recordings have included intimate acoustic sets, rock band renderings, home recording landscapes and works of classic poetry refigured and set to music.

“Chris and I have played shows together occasionally but this is the first time we’ve actually toured together as co-headliners,” said Delmhorst, during a phone interview last week from her home in western Massachusetts. “I’ve known her for a million years. We’re starting the tour tonight in Northampton (Massachusetts) which is about 30 miles from my home.”

Pureka said, “It’s cool that I’m touring with Kris. She’s a little older than me and I listened to her when I was in college. I did a short tour of the Midwest with her in 2005-2006 but this is the first dual-headliner tour. It’s nice because there is a lot of overlap with our fans.”

Delmhorst has released close to 20 albums and EPs over the last 20 years – the most recent of which is “The Wild,” which was released on October 2017.

The LP was co-produced with her husband, songwriter Jeffrey Foucault, and features a band drawn from players they share long history with as bandmates and friends. The album merges Delmhorst’s sophisticated melodies and hauntingly open voice with Foucault’s lean aesthetic to deliver a darkly hopeful, fiercely wise new collection of songs. 

“It’s been a while since ‘The Wild’ came out,” said Delmhorst. “I just finished tracking a new album yesterday. We recorded at a studio in inland Maine — Great North Sound Society Studio. It’s located in a 1750s farmhouse.

“It was tracked with nine of us playing live. We were up there for five days and everybody stayed there. The recording process went great and six takes per song proved to be our magic number. In all, 15 songs were recorded.”

Delmhorst’s fans have been waiting for new songs for a while.

“I would say I’ve been working on these songs for the last two-or-three years,” said Delmhorst. “I’m always writing songs. I even belong to a song-a-week club. There are times I’m writing toward a focus and these songs were coming together for an album.

“I feel the new songs to be linked. They are kind of pep talks. I wanted songs that are uplifting without being shallow – songs that produce the same kind of things that happen when you get overwhelmed and then take time to look up at the stars.

“When I’m writing songs, breadcrumbs come all at once – a little words and a little music. I don’t know at first where the song is going to go. I get an inkling and then I work it out.

“I’ve done enough practice with songwriting that I could finish this call and then sit down and write a song today. But to get songs with a lot of meaning takes a lot of work and persistence.”

A constant collaborator, Delmhorst has appeared on vocals, cello, and fiddle on records and stages with fellow songwriters Anais Mitchell, Lori McKenna, Chris Smither, Mary Gauthier, Erin McKeown, Winterpills, Peter Mulvey, Gregory Alan Isakov, and many more. She currently lives in the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts with Foucault and their young daughter, but the road will be her home for the next few weeks.

Video link for Kris Delmhorst — https://youtu.be/wtP18bD_mBM.

Pureka is more than just another singer-songwriter – she is a triple threat. The New England native is a talented lyricist, a strong singer with a pleasant expressive voice and an acoustic guitar player acclaimed for her technical skill.

Chris Pureka

Her first record was the “Chris Pureka EP” in 2001 which was followed by her debut LP, “Driving North,” in 2004. Her latest album, “Back in the Ring,” is her first studio full-length record since 2010’s critically acclaimed “How I Learned to See in the Dark.”

“I grew up in an amazing world,” said Pureka, during a phone interview last week after just flying in from her home in Portland, Oregon. “It was back when I was in school that e-mail started happening. But I’m still kind of old school.

“I started playing guitar when I was in high school, but I wasn’t interested in performing. Then, when I was studying at Wesleyan College as a biology major, I met this woman named Alix Olson. She does spoken word but uses backing musicians. I was opening for her and then backing her up.”

Pureka had recorded a seven-song EP on her own that she sold at club dates and on her three-month nationwide tour with Olson. That disc served as an introduction for Pureka to new fans across the country – and to indie radio stations. Pureka’s second recording was a lot different. It was done in a recording studio with a full band. The result was “Driving North.”

Since then, she has released only a handful of records — “Dryland” (2006), “Chimera (EP)” (2009), “How I Learned To See In The Dark” (2010), “Chris Pureka Live at the Grey Eagle 1.19.11” (2012), “Chimera II (EP)” (2013) and “Back in the Ring” (2016).

“I’m pretty vocal about not being prolific,” said Pureka. “I don’t like it when there is pressure from everybody to put out an album a year. I don’t feel like the quality is there. Gillian Welch only makes an album every seven years. I’m in that category.

“I really love crafting an album and making it a cohesive work. I’m not a pop artist. I’m working on writing now and I’d love to put something out in a year or two. I don’t feel any pressure.”

In a previous interview, Pureka said, “For me, writing the guitar parts is easier than writing the lyrics. I even have one instrumental on the album. I’ll come up with a hook and just go from there. A lot of time, I just sort of experiment.

“Lyrics are more difficult. I’m pretty picky with my lyrics. Even after I finish writing a song, I always go back and edit it. Pretty much at any given time, I have 10 partial songs with guitar parts. But sometimes the lyrical idea and the music come to me at the same time.”

Pureka has received much critical acclaim for her lyric writing and her ability to fill songs with imagery. She has gotten even more recognition for her guitar playing – for her mastery of the acoustic instrument.

“I do focus on my guitar playing more than most singer-songwriters,” said Pureka. “It’s a separate way that I express myself. It’s more than just chords and melodies. I think people notice that about my songs.”

Pureka’s last album, “Back in the Ring,” was a showcase for her masterful songwriting.

“I recorded the album in 2015 and it came out in 2016,” said Pureka. “We recorded three tracks in L.A. and two or three in Madison, Wisconsin. The rest was done at The Map Room in Portland, Oregon.

“For these shows, I have a sideman – Andy Alseri who plays electric guitar and sings. Kris and I alternate show positions and I’ll be closing the show in Pennsylvania.”

Video link for Chris Pureka – https://youtu.be/3Ic1wWnK8gE.

The show in Sellersville on December 12 will start at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from $21.50-$29.50.

Other upcoming shows at the Sellersville Theater are The Everly Brothers Christmas Experience Ft. The Zmed Brothers on December 13,  Beatlemania Now on December 14, Natalie MacMaster & Donnell Leahy: A Celtic Family Christmas on December 15 and Street Corner Symphony on December 18.

John Flynn

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org)  is presenting The Suitcase Junket on December 12, John Flynn’s Annual Holiday Benefit Concert for Camp Dreamcatcher on December 13, Better Than Bacon on December 14, and Open Mic with guest host William Rose on December 15.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host John Byrne Band on December 14.

The Colonial Theatre (Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610- 917-1228, www.thecolonialtheatre.com) will present Big Bad Voodoo Daddy on December 13 and Craig Shoemaker on December 14.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will host Vocal Fusion on December 13.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present Jojo Mayer & Nerve on December 12, Ghostface Killah on December 13, Tim Reynolds & TR3 on December 14 and Anders Osborne with special guest Mutlu on December 15.

The Living Room (35 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, https://thelivingroomat35east.com) will have Hotsy Totsy on December 12, Greg Greenway on December 13, and Lizanne Knott CD Release with Ciara Grace on December 14

118 North (118 North Wayne Avenue, Wayne, www.118northwayne.com) hosts Four Lean Hounds and Cabin Dogs on December 12, Dead Flowers (Rolling Stones tribute) and The Newspaper Taxis (Beatles tribute) on December 13, AM Radio Tribute Band on December 14, Doobie Decibel System on December 15, Brian Seymour on December 17, and Open Mic hosted by Raph Cutrufello on December 18.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) presents Darlene Love on December 13, Shadows of the 60s on December 14, Jim Brickman on December 15 and The Tenors on December 18.

The Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577, www.thegrandwilmington.org) will present “The Gettys – Sing an Irish Christmas” on December 17.

MilkBoy Philly (1100 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 215- 925-6455, www.milkboyphilly.com) will host Charming Liars with special guest Silent Rival on December 13 and Michaela Anne with special guest Camille Peruto on December 18.

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