|Philadelphia’s dance community has always enjoyed a loyal following — along with sporadic surges in popularity through the years. South Philadelphia has played an integral role in the city’s culture, as home to several dance companies and smaller studios that have arrived on the scene from time to time with unique ideas and talented members.Most recently, a spirited group of dancers formed MOXIE Dance Collective in the heart of South|
Philadelphia. Attracting attention almost immediately from fans and the local media alike, this independent dance company, continues to build momentum with every performance. With its individual participants as creative and colorful as their company’s courageous name, all five MOXIE members reside, rehearse and perform in South Philadelphia.
Formed nearly two years ago by dancer/choreographers Peter D’Orsaneo; Christy Lee; Heather Murphy; Nichole Canuso and Lea Yeager, MOXIE’s collective skills encompass all aspects of choreography and performance. In addition, each dancer has experience in a variety of related areas, including dance administration, lighting design, theater fabrication and costume design. This creates a true balance among the members, each lending his or her special talents and holding unique responsibilities to make MOXIE a success.
MOXIE is the only collective dance company of its size that was created to be an artistic and administrative democracy. Co-founder Lea Yeager explains, “We’re truly a dance collective, because we retain our individuality. Most dance companies have a larger number of people and their work is representative as one. With MOXIE, there are only five of us, and it makes it easier keep our independence while pushing forward as a group.”Working together for years, MOXIE was formed by the five dancers who had developed strong relationships with each other and wanted to move forward as artists.
Yeager says, “At the base of it all is our camaraderie and genuine enjoyment of each other as people. We have a really good time together. And it’s a really good feeling to know you are always supported.”She continued, “As a dancer who wants to work with a group, it is often difficult to fund larger projects, especially with the costs involved in finding space and paying the other dancers. So, we wanted to create a stable pool of resources. We are interested in what each other is doing technically and professionally. We’ve been working together for years on a wide array of projects and we thought we’d give it a try. We found it to be a smart decision.”What makes MOXIE unique? From Yeager’s perspective it is that MOXIE makes work that is interesting for a large spectrum of audience members: “MOXIE is physically dynamic with interesting choreography. We also incorporate a theatrical and humorous bend; and sometimes add darker environments. We try to make sure the pieces are well-crafted and thought-out, so there is some brainwork going on, too.”
Ideas for performances spring from just about anywhere.
MOXIE members work together –and individually — to create the dances. And each dance is different. “Sometimes ideas come from pieces of contemporary music or from a character’s way of moving or looking a certain way. We also create pieces from improvisation. Then ideas emerge and we can put on our ‘craft hat’ and shape the dance.”Music also plays a role in development of the dances, ranging from classical music to hard rock to contemporary. They also frequently work with local musicians and bands.Despite the obvious challenge of organizing five individuals’ schedules for rehearsals and meetings, MOXIE is extremely well organized and balanced. Their base rehearsal is about twice a week for three or four hours. They also have separate duet or trio rehearsals, if appropriate. Administrative meetings are also essential to MOXIE, and all of the members meet for those as well, discussing the business end of the dance collective.
Yeager says, “There are not a lot of big egos here. We all work together and we really do think about what’s best for everyone.”
The MOXIE members also have had plenty of opportunities to display their technical talents to the community, specifically their involvement in transforming raw spaces into fully functioning theatres. Around Philadelphia, MOXIE members transformed the Christ Church in Old City; “the Parlor” in South Philadelphia and “The MOXIE Pad,” their original rehearsal studio, which had been a factory/loft located on East Passyunk Avenue.
Spearheading the transformation projects, MOXIE member Heather Murphy’s strong technical background has enabled the group to create full theatre capacity lighting systems. “We found ourselves up on ladders, checking voltage, installing floors. We built risers for seating and really manipulated the environment,” Yeager stated.Currently, MOXIE rehearses at the Parlor, a former funeral parlor located at Broad and Federal Streets. Proprietor/artist Lorin Lyle acquired the building in 1999 and transformed it into a beautiful rehearsal/performance studio. The Parlor is also home to Headlong Dance Theater and has hosted many entertainment-related events, such as CD release parties and dance and theater performances.Creating synchronicity, this vibrant group describes their work as “quirky, physically dynamic, often with a humorous bend. The style of each member is unique yet complimentary to the style of the others, developing a cohesive blend of aesthetics.”
These five members, ages 27-33 have been very active in the dance community for many years, and have a great deal of experience in working with many companies and independent choreographers. Over the years, they have been recognized for their talents and have received numerous grants for their work, which has been shown locally, nationally and abroad. In 2000, MOXIE also received “Best of Philly” recognition from Philadelphia Magazine. The collective has also received funding from the Suzanne and Ralph Roberts Foundation; the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation and the Samuel Sels Fund.
Since its inception, MOXIE has held two major performances per season in Philadelphia – one in the fall and one in the spring. Throughout the year, they have performed at various smaller shows, shared bills, cabarets and benefit performances. MOXIE has performed at such venues as the Painted Bride Art Center in Old City and the Sedgewick cultural Center in Germantown.Each performance has sold out quickly and the group has received extremely positive reviews and continues to be critically acclaimed.
Yeager is especially enthusiastic about the reviews and says, “We were all really surprised and pleased at the support we’ve received from Philadelphia audiences. We are so appreciative and we never expected MOXIE to take off with such fervor. Our audience numbers keep growing with every performance.”She continued, “We also do feel the need to perform in different areas of the city and outside the city as well. We always need to discover what other audiences think about our work.”
MOXIE’s future goals include becoming more involved in the college circuit – and bringing their work to younger people who are in the process of training. In addition to performing, MOXIE plans to actually share the process and make themselves more viable as a professional entity.
Yeager’s advice to younger dancers in the Philadelphia area: “Just really see as many performances as you can. Not just performing arts, but other media as well. Read books, listen to music, and explore art that can spur your mind creatively. Most importantly, surround yourself with people who compliment the way to you want to approach things.”
As the group shares collective goals, together they have agreed that MOXIE is a flexible entity. Yeager explains, “We all love what we do, but we only will remain intact as long as it benefits all participants involved. We, as dancers, are committed to creating interesting, provocative work and enjoying the process — and each other — for as long as possible.”
Performance Information: MOXIE will perform September 11 to September 15 at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival at the National Dance Venue, located at 113-131 N. 2nd Street.
Dates and times: Tuesday, September 11 @ 9pmWednesday, September 12 @ 7pmFriday, September 14 @ 10pm Saturday, September 15 @ 4pm
MOXIE will share a bill with Meg Stewart, a dancer from New York City.