Smile Politely

Get up offa that thing: Philadanco! is in town

What do you do when you find out that one creative genius is paying artistic homage to another? If you’re me, you ask when and where, plunk down your money and find a seat. Which means that if you’re like me, it’s time to get out your wallet and clear your calendar: Philadanco! is coming to Krannert, and this year they’re paying homage to James Brown.

The late, great James Brown needs very little introduction from me. His influence as one of the most iconic soul and funk singers in America is legendary, and has continued to reverberate into the popular music of today. What may be less known to those outside the dance community is that both his music and his stage performances had a lasting impact on popular dance as well.

Last year, Slate put together a short supercut showcasing Brown’s influence on other well-respected dancing performers, from Michael Jackson and Prince to Janelle Monáe and Bruno Mars. For longer examples of his abilities, just plugging the words “james brown dance” into YouTube yields thousands of vintage film reels, “best of” supercuts, and other homages. If there is anyone whose work should be explored by a professional dance company, Brown’s contributions to music and movement more than qualify him.

And if there’s any dance company you want paying homage to James Brown, Philadanco! probably ranks near the top. Founded in 1970 by Joan Myers Brown (no relation), it was intended to help dancers of color in the Philadelphia area access rigorous classical dance training. This mission has grown into a form of dance that is technically rigorous and visually dynamic, incorporating movements and techniques from various forms of popular dance into a classical framework. Though she faced prejudice during her career, Myers Brown’s contributions to formal dance have been recognized by a host of accolades, culminating in the 2012 National Medal of the Arts, America’s highest civic honor for excellence in the arts.

Philadanco!’s James Brown program includes tribute pieces by choreographers Thang Dao, Ronald K. Brown and Abdel Salaam, under the direction of Otis Sallid. Each dance is set to a different James Brown song, and pays homage to the music, his dance influence, or both. In addition to these pieces, the program will be rounded out by a piece set to a Nina Simone song and one with a more traditional score by Steve Reich.

It’s an evening that should offer something for everyone, from those eager to see James Brown’s work appreciated in another medium, to those eager for a glimpse of Philadanco’s powerful and emotive dancers. And in a year when Misty Copeland finally breached the color barrier as the first black principal dancer in the American Ballet Theater’s history, a performance that acknowledges the great black dancers of America’s past and present seems especially poignant.


This performance runs for one night only, Wednesday October 28th at 7:30 pm at Krannert’s Colwell Playhouse. Tickets are $29 general admission, $24 for senior citizens, $15 for non-U-of-I students, and $10 for U of I students and youth (high school and younger). Flex pricing is available.

All images courtesy Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. 

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