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Unique theater company takes ‘Leaps of Faith’ in Philadelphia

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STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media

Beyond the usual leaps of faith that art requires – trying to make something, hoping that people will see and react to it – a local troupe literally leaps into in the hands of (and onto) their fellow artists. They are the Almanac Dance Circus Theatre (ADCT) and they’re premiering a new work called “Leaps of Faith and Other Mistakes” that features acrobatics, storytelling, and physicality (dance and other movement).

“Leap,” which lands this week at Philadelphia’s Fleisher Art Memorial, was created and will be performed by Nicole Burgio, Adam Kerbel, and co-artistic directors Nick Gillette and Ben Grinberg. It also features writing by Josh McIlvain and music by Patrick Lamborn. It’s an absurd and contemplative tapestry of sublime human idiocy, isolationist seafarer cults, and the kinds of people that devote their lives to becoming acrobats, according to the press release.

Members of Almanac Dance Circus Theatre  are shown. Photo by Jenna Spitz

Members of Almanac Dance Circus Theatre are shown.
Photo by Jenna Spitz

The story: four hobbyists find each other alone in a world of weirdos, and push themselves to be exceptional in every moment, the release continues. As they purify themselves through a new set of rituals, their trusty sofa becomes a portal for exploration and they set out on the high-seas to leave the world of fast-food and normal people behind.

Beneath what seems to be frivolity, the story examines the limits of collective trust and the darker underside of convictions.

“‘Leaps of Faith and Other Mistakes’ shows four people taking the hard road towards something higher,” said Gillette during an email exchange. “They cut themselves off from their old lives to seek the sublime and the forcefulness of that conviction brings them to places they had never planned on visiting. It’s partly a look at charisma and compulsion in a cult-like environment, but more closely analogous to what happens when you want a goal so badly that you’d literally give everything to have it.”

Why a sofa as a magic portal of exploration?

“I wish I could pretend it’s an intentional metaphor for the sedentary comfort we wrap our contemporary traditions in,” Gillette said. “In actuality, our process starts with exploring a theme through imagination and play and there was a sofa in the rehearsal room. We built a few acrobatic sequences around it as an apparatus and couldn’t bring ourselves to part with it.”

So they just went with it and that required trust, with the process and each other. Trust is the key everything.

“It’s no accident that the trust we’re interested in as a theme is the exact ingredient needed for the type of acrobatics we perform,” he said. “It’s no longer a metaphor when we literally put our lives and safety into each other’s hands.”

Also, just allowing creativity to flourish requires that they trust each other implicitly.

“Collaboration on any project requires a spirit of going along with another person’s idea, even if we can’t yet see where it’s headed,” Gillette said. “We’ll always want to take new risks if we’re going to continue surprising ourselves with what we can make.”

ADCT has been surprising people all around the region since 2013, when the group was founded by Gillette, Grinberg, and Kerbel. ADCT is the resident company at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts. Their work has been presented by the Tyler Arboretum and the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, Pig Iron Theatre Company, the Arts and Business Council of Greater Philadelphia, SmokeyScout Productions, and more.

They hope to bring their unique perspective to and encourage conversation with even more people moving forward.

“Our goal is to contribute to a national conversation about what contemporary circus can look like, and to recalibrate the standards for the cultural utility of live performance,” he said. “A show can’t merely be pretty. It has to have some medicinal effect.”

As co-artistic director, Gillette said he helps to ensure that each show has enough sugar with the medicine, he said.

“We want it to be a fun ride for the audience the whole time we’re bringing them along with us towards the potential answers to some challenging questions,” he said.

The ride, though fun, is also art. As such, one of the most important goals is to contribute to the artistic landscape and to the world as a whole.

“If a table is what lets us rest food at a human height for eating, art is what lets us rest ideas at a human elevation for considering and reflecting upon,” Gillette said. “I make art like a woodworker makes a table. It should be aesthetically pleasing, fit in the room, and rest true and level so that the ideas won’t roll off of it.”

Does “Leaps of Faith” fit that bill? ADCT trusts that it does.

IF YOU GO
What: “Leaps of Faith and Other Mistakes”
When: Open dress rehearsal 8 p.m. June 24. Opening night with post-show reception 8 p.m. June 25. Continues 8 p.m. June 26; 2 and 8 p.m. June 27; 2 and 5 p.m. June 28.
Where: Fleisher Art Memorial, 719 Catharine St., Philadelphia, PA
Tickets: $25 General Admission; $12 for students/seniors/artists
Info.: Visit www.thealmanac.us.

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