In ballet, relevé refers to the act of rising from any position to balance on one or both feet. The Philadelphia Dance Company’s Inagural Relevé gala on Thursday Oct. 25 celebrated the 43 year existence of the premier dance performance and education company. More than 200 guests were in attendance to the soiree, held at Vie on the Avenue of the Arts.
“I view Philadanco as a cultural treasure and a legacy organization,” said Philadanco emerita board chair Beverly Harper. “All of us bear some responsibility for making sure that Philadanco continues. Events like this are incredibly important because it allows Philadanco to showcase some of its extraordinary dancers, and for people to get dressed up, network and see the kind of support that Philadanco should have all year round.”
Across the nation and around the world, Philadanco is celebrated for its innovation, creativity and preservation of predominantly African-American traditions in dance. Earlier this month, Philadanco performed at The Joyce in New York City with two lively pieces set to music from two soul legends: “Moan” backed by Nina Simone songs, and “Suite Otis” to Otis Redding tunes.
“We’ve got a new ballet by one of my former students Matthew Rushing, and it’s called ‘Moan’ to the music of Nina Simone,”said Philadanco founder Joan Myers Brown. “We previewed it last week in New York, and everybody loved it.”
Billed as “a night of dance, dining, and celebration,” Relevé brought out the stars of the Philadelphia universe. In addition to enjoying a sumptuous spread of dinner treats, guests were treated to the sounds of Bill Jolly and virtuoso dance performances.
“Philadanco is an anchor and a staple not only in the Philadelphia community, but Philadanco now really enjoys the privilege of serving as an ambassador to the world,” said Angela M. Brown, Philadanco board chair. “That would not exist without people like Joan Myers Brown, who identified a need and stepped up and meant it. And now we are hoping that the Philadelphia community that has come to enjoy this staple known as Philadanco and appreciate the benefits of having an ambassador such as Philadanco represent them to the world will step up. We also need to break down some of the barriers a lot of no-profits art organizations are facing, not just Philadanco or Black arts organizations. We all have to step up and make a personal investment, write our own checks, serve on the boards, attend the galas, go to the performances and extend an invitation to those even outside of our own communities so that we diversify the audience base, diversify the donor base, and Philadanco stays around for a very, very long time.”
The achievements of Brown and other trailblazers were recognized, and organizers underscored the message of creating a better world through arts and culture. “I would say I’ve grown up at Philadanco,” remarked event chair Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who recalled her start as a 22-year-old dancer with the company. “When you consider that Philadanco has grown from a grassroots, community-based, in-the-hood organization at 63rd and Market to a new building there at 40th and Market where many of us bought a brick to make that building real. And now, 42 years later, it is still standing. We in the African-American community really do have a responsibility to see that Philadanco not only survives, but that it thrives. Corporate Philadelphia has done its part, but ultimately it’s on us.”
While the gala’s proceeds benefited the dance company, its founder insisted that the Philadelphia African-American community can — and should— do more. “I keep bemoaning the fact that Black folk don’t support us like they should,” said Brown. “If they want us to be around, they’ve got to be around for us.”