Allow me, if you will, to begin with a couple of texts between my date and me before we set off on our adventure with Brian Sanders' JUNK to see …strand…, their latest piece in the Philly Fringe Festival:
Date: I read the description and still have no idea what to expect.
Me: It’s a little shrouded in mystery, but it includes a picnic! I think. Maybe?
Date: I’ll bring wine just in case.
Me: You’re a gem.
"Future Fancy Ultimate"
In spite of a detailed itinerary, we had no idea where we were going, what we were in for, or where this night of immersive dance theater might lead. But driving past the entry gates into the heart of the Pennovation Center, our uncertainty blended with an equal helping of excitement to see what …strand… had in store.
We signed up for the “Future Fancy Ultimate Tour.” With seductive promises of “serviced seated lawn repast avec fermented ichor,” “performance dioramas,” and the “beauty and splendor of the Forgotten Bottom,” the JUNK team raised my hopes for a memorable evening.
From its start, an airhorn blast, JUNK maintained that tingling feeling you get from pleasant bewilderment. Armed with our wine, our “maître d’” led us through the gates to an open field. From there, a striking figure clad only in silver biking shorts, a sparkly black eye mask, and a gladiator-style armband smoothly guided us to tables complete with white tablecloths, pitchers of ice water, and actual picnic baskets waiting nearby.
Awakening the senses
The next hour with the JUNK performers passed with prosciutto-wrapped breadsticks; graceful hoverboard dances; clashes of past, present, and future; and surprising sparrings (I don’t want to give away too much, but it might have involved stilts). Our “waiters” danced around us with serpentine fluidity and executed lifts that showed off their skill and precision.
Thankfully, the piece never took itself too seriously. One of our waitresses enjoyed a futuristic smoke break, complete with astronaut-helmet hotboxing, to give us time to eat some of our dinner. And coming face to face with the talented dancers as they poured the drinks a little too close for comfort felt thrilling, with just the right amount of transgression.
The extravagance of the presentation, combined with Sanders’s continued choreographic daring, makes it clear why JUNK is a persistent Philly Fringe favorite. And with some pops of seedy darkness in the narrative, …strand… gives its audiences more than a dainty walk along the river.
In keeping with the show’s enigmatic feeling, all of the tours boast opaque descriptions on the project’s website. The various groups meet up for the finale, but otherwise your journey is very much your own. Don’t expect to get even a taste of what the other groups are up to once you arrive at your individual meeting point. But if you’re like me and you like your Fringe mixed with an immersive experience and more than a dash of secrecy, you’ll get along with JUNK and …strand... just fine.