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Philadanco, the Philadelphia Dance Company, will present “Messages from the Heart,” a program of four innovative dances, 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, at the Williams Center for the Arts.

Tickets cost $15 and may be ordered by calling the Williams Center box office at 610-330-5009.

“Philadanco’s dancers are a miracle of skill and energy,” notes Dance magazine. “They work in a range of idioms most companies don’t even try to possess. It can represent the possibilities of the human spirit through dance.”

The program will open with “Labess II” by choreographer David Brown, with music by Zap Mama, an Afro-Euro a cappella women’s ensemble. Built in four sections with an ensemble of seven dancers, the piece has one woman carrying a thread throughout — leading, following, and opening the space. The second piece will be “Exotica” by choreographer Ronald K. Brown and music by Wunmi and various artists. It begins with a “judgment parade,” drops down to a testimony of compassion, and then goes into the contemporary plea of Wunmi Olaiya’s “Woman Child.”

Following intermission, the dancers will present “My Science,” with choreography by Bebe Miller and music by La Voix Bulgare and Led Zeppelin. The piece plays with the image of heavy water, the collision of matter, and the mechanics of relationship. The concluding dance will be “Hand Singing Song,” with choreography by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and an original score by Michael Wimberly. The work explores the use and idea of hand gestures, specifically the “dap,” in a symbolic manner expressing the political and cultural aspects of African-Americans. The “dap” is the hand-to-fist greeting used during the Black Power movement to affirm African-American identity and solidarity.

A Williams Center performer in 1994 and 1997, Zollar first gained renown as artistic director of Urban Bush Women. Influenced by the writings of Toni Morrison, Ishmael Reed, and Alice Walker, Zollar creates “a sense of community on stage,” often in collaboration with other artists, such as folklorist and vocalist Tiye Giraud, choreographer Pat Hill-Smith, and percussionists David Pleasant and Edwina Lee Tyler. She has received two Inter-Arts grants and three Choreographer’s Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.

In 1984, Miller formed the Bebe Miller Company with an “interest in finding a physical language for the human condition.” Her choreography has been noted for its mix of virtuosic, athletic speed, and the fragile human impulse behind it. Miller has choreographed works for the Boston Ballet, Oregon Ballet Theatre, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble, and the PACT Dance Company of Johannesburg, South Africa. Among her awards and fellowships are two Bessie awards for performance (1986 and 1987), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1988), and an American Choreographer Award (1988).

Ronald K. Brown founded his New York-based dance company, Evidence, in 1985. He has worked in France, Brazil, England, Korea, and the Ivory Coast. His choreography has been commissioned by the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Philadanco, Alvin Ailey, American Dance Theater, and Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble. He has received many awards, including the Bessie Award, the American Dance Festival Humphrey/Weidman/Limón Award, the National Endowment for the Arts Choreographer’s Fellowship, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship.

David Brown’s compositions reflect his Caribbean heritage as well as African-American influences. Philadanco received a $77,000 Dance Advance grant in support of one of his works in 1998.

Led by executive/artistic director Joan Myers Brown in its fourth decade, Philadanco has appeared at venues such as New York’s New Victory and The Joyce, Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Center and Delacorte Theaters, as well as throughout the Caribbean, Canada, Europe, and Asia. Philadanco has been featured in concert with Philadelphia Orchestra, Duke Ellington Orchestra, and with world-renowned artists. In 1981, the company was one of only 15 organizations nationwide awarded a National Choreography Planning grant.

Twenty years ago, Philadanco was the first to be included in the Governor’s Pilot Program for Instruction and Training, and in 1982, it was the first area dance organization to purchase its own corporate headquarters and studio facility. In 1986, Philadanco created the first artist-housing program in Philadelphia for its principal dancers. In 1997, Philadanco was one of 31 national companies to receive a Philip Morris New Work Fund Award and a four-year 2nd City residency was established with Pittsburgh.

Brown is the founder of Philadanco and the Philadelphia School of Dance Arts. She serves as honorary chairperson for the International Association of Blacks in Dance, an organization she established in 1991. She is also founder of the International Conference of Black Dance Companies. She is Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of the Arts, which bestowed upon her an honorary doctorate of fine arts, and is a member of the dance faculty at Howard University in Washington, DC. Listed in Who’s Who in America and described as an “innovator and communicator,” she has made significant contributions to the national and international arts communities.

Brown has served a broad range of regional and national organizations, including NEFA’s National Dance Project, the United States Information Agency, Arts America, the National Endowment for the Arts; the Arts Councils of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, Nevada, and Ohio; and the National Forum for Female Executives. Locally, she has been a part of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, the Minority Arts Resource Council, the Philadelphia Mayor’s Cultural Advisory Council, the Philadelphia Dance Alliance, The Women’s Heritage Society, Dance/USA, and the Coalition of African American Cultural Organizations, which she served as vice president.

Brown has convened three International Conferences of Black Dance Companies, facilitated the Smithsonian Institution’s Conference of Black Dance Companies, and served as a consultant to East Coast Committee of Festival 2000, the San Francisco Bay Area Cultural Initiative, the NEA “Dance on Tour” ad hoc committee, and the Kennedy Center Adult Education Task Force.

This Williams Center performance is funded in part by Pennsylvania Artists on Tour, developed and funded by the Vira I. Heinz Endowment; the William Penn Foundation; the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency; and the Pew Charitable Trusts; and administered by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.

Funding in part is provided by the National Dance Project of the New England Foundation for the Arts, with leading funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Additional funding is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Philip Morris Companies Inc., Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the British Council.

Phildanco’s appearance is also supported by an ArtsCONNECT grant from the Mid Atlantic Foundation for the Arts. The 2001-02 Performance Series at Lafayette is supported in part by gifts from Friends of the Williams Center for the Arts and by grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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