Lean on Me: See insane acrobatics and live music at “Communitas” this weekend

Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

One woman in the crowd last night actually gasped, "Don't fall!" 

Courtesy of Ben Grinberg

Communitas is a breathtaking example — the acrobatic feats of the evening elicited very real gasps from the audience —  of how movement and dance can say so much without literally saying anything at all.

The 70-minute performance, presented by Almanac Dance Circus Theatre, has Nick Gillette, Ben Grinberg, Adam Kerbel and Lauren Harries leaning, tumbling, balancing, flipping and sliding all over the space. It involves only the live soundtrack of Rob Emanuele’s evocative guitar and harmonica, as well as the (controlled) slams of bodies onto the floor, the sound effects the performers make with their mouths and, maybe surprisingly, laughter: These artists use a gesture, a reach, a wink just before flipping backward to make the audience giddy the moment before making them gasp.

Gillette and Grinberg opened the show with a segment of leaning and balance (standing on one another’s ankles and legs, wrapping legs around waists while keeping backs straight — talk about core strength) that seemed to represent a friendship: At times, they were coordinated, in sync, literally supporting one another. Then, they’d thrash and fight and come apart. At one point, Grinberg has to keep “waking” Gillette up from the floor by giving him water. They are partners — acro-bros.

Kerbel and Harries’ first partner segment utilized a long rope. They each wrapped an end around their waists, and as they moved, it became more tangled and entwined, drawing them closer together. By the end, as they moved apart, the scene was a romance — Harries removed her portion of the rope from Kerbel and walked away from him; he paused without her, then followed, the rope tossed over his shoulder. It was a breakup.

The most striking moments came when the quartet pushed the limits of balance and support in the space — Gillette and Grinberg at one point were blindfolded and dancing while Kerbel and Harries stood on their shoulders — and Emanuele’s exquisite live music matched the frenzy of the movements when it was daring and high-energy, and became slow and somber when the performers expressed something more despondent.

Almanac, which has only been around for a couple of years, was founded by Grinberg and Gillette, and Communitas is its first big show. Given the packed seating at Christ Church Neighborhood House last night, it’s a group to keep an eye on.

The broad appeal of Communitas is understated — it’s not slapstick, it’s not standup, it’s not Cirque du Soleil — but Almanac is able to intertwine music, dance, acrobatics, humor and storytelling into a delightful and emotional show.

$10-$20, May 23 and 24, 8 p.m., May 24 and 25, 3 p.m., Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American St.,

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