2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival Review: ‘. . . strand . . .’ by JUNK at Grays Ferry Crescent Trail Park

A transportive adventure awaits Fringe-goers in JUNK’s . . . strand . . ., as Brian Sanders and his stunning troupe contemplate the enigma of the time-space continuum in a dreamlike meditation on the evolution of civilization, in which the here-and-now, history, and posterity merge into one. Staged throughout “Forgotten Bottom” (Grays Ferry Crescent Trail Park) by the banks of the Schuylkill River, the highway overpasses of I-76, and a municipal garbage dump, the immersive site-specific dance-theater presentation offers audiences a selection of four different paths to follow, from the most naturally rugged and physically demanding to the most socially refined, relaxing, and pampered. I took the latter, and could not have been more mesmerized by my experience (though I have no doubt that all three of the others were equally ingenious and captivating).

Billy Robinson and Regan Jackson. Photo by Deb Miller.
Billy Robinson and Regan Jackson. Photo by Deb Miller.

The “Future Fancy Ultimate Tour” features an elegant table-seated picnic with service and entertainment by dancers Regan Jackson and Billy Robinson, later joined by Julia Higdon, then Teddy Fatscher and Sanders himself, and ultimately by Kelly Trevlyn and Chelsea Prunty, all of whom converge from the various paths for a grand finale at sunset (unless you attend a matinee) on a central clearing in the park. Athletic and elegant, the astonishing performers display their beauteous balance and agility, balletic grace and acrobatic precision, performing breathtaking feats on a tabletop, park bench, hoverboard, stilts, in-situ flat-top boulders, and each other. Their spellbinding movements synthesize elements of the past, present, and future, with allusions to gladiators, ninjas, cavemen, robots, and street people, as characters from different periods intersect (signaled by systems-generated audio warnings: “Alert, alert, temporal shift”), engage one another in competitions and combat, strike poses reminiscent of commemorative statues of Greco-Roman heroes and mythological gods, and join together in exuberant dance and play – leaping, tumbling, spinning, flying through the air, and frolicking in the mist, in a final animated free-flowing circle that recalls Henri Matisse’s famous modern-art masterpiece “The Dance” and underscores the traversing malleable constructs of time and space.

The time-traveling theme is enhanced by a cross-temporal design, with costumes that suggest the primal, ancient, contemporary, and futuristic eras and a background soundscape of music that ranges from classical romanticism to sci-fi movie scores to current techno-pop, each corresponding to the show’s changing moods – sometimes mysterious and haunting, other times humorous and joyous, but always engaging and thought-provoking. Brian Sanders and JUNK never cease to amaze with their inventiveness and prowess, and . . . strand . . . is yet another of their brilliant stellar creations for all time.

Photo by Steve Belkowitz.
Photo by Steve Belkowitz.

Running Time: Approximately 50 minutes, without intermission.

. . . strand . . . plays through Saturday, September 23, 2017, at JUNK, performing at Grays Ferry Crescent Trail Park – 3401 Grays Ferry Avenue, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the Fringe box office at (215) 413-9006, or purchase them online.

Previous articleReview: ‘Aglaonike’s Tiger’ at Venus Theatre
Next articleReview: ‘Cabaret’ at Workhouse Arts Center
Deb Miller
Deb has written reviews, interviews, and feature articles for Stage Magazine, theartblog, and Inferno, and is a lead writer for Phindie.com and the Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent for Central Voice. She is a judge for Theatre Philadelphia's Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, and previously was a Voter for the awards under the former Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. Deb holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware, has served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, and has taught at the U of D, Bryn Mawr, Rutgers-Camden, Hussian School of Art, and Rowan University.