Dance performance at PIFA to channel Woodstock

SHARP Dance company plans to take audiences back to the ’60s.

Ever want to time travel to a different era? Where would you go? The Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts wants the answer to that question.

PIFA is a month-long celebration of the arts, held every other year since its inaugural celebration in 2011. This year PIFA asked all participants to finish the sentence, “If you had a time machine…”

The festival began on March 28 and runs through April, culminating in a street fair on April 27.

One organization wants to take audiences to Woodstock. SHARP Dance Company is presenting “An Aquarian Exposition: A Trip Back to the Original Woodstock,” a performance that aims to take people back to that infamous concert.

Woodstock was held in August 1969 over a four-day period and featured many notable musicians of the time such as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

Temple history professor David Farber has taught courses on the 1960s, in addition to authoring a few books on the subject as well. He explained that Woodstock had a serious impact in its time.

“In an era of great social unrest and political polarization, Woodstock was for many white young people a four-day festival that celebrated the best parts of ‘60s-era idealism, a lived embodiment of the ‘peace and love’ ethos they wanted to bring to an angry American society,” Farber said.

Diane Sharp-Nachsin founded SHARP Dance Company about eight years ago. The group has toured nationally and internationally. Currently, the company is comprised of six dancers.  Sharp-Nachsin is one of the main choreographers for the company and choreographed much of the Woodstock performance.

The group rehearses and performs at its venue The Box, located in Fishtown. Every fall it holds a performance, which Sharp-Nachsin said is more formal. For the PIFA event, she was looking for something a little more “fun and light-hearted,” she said.

“When I thought about what would be inspiring, I thought Woodstock would be a great time,” Sharp-Nachsin said. “I wanted to use our normal choreography to fun music.”

Kate Rast, a dancer for the company, was intrigued by the theme.

“The music options are endless and timeless,” she said. “Along with that, the ideas of acceptance, love and freedom are wonderful things to embody while dancing and performing.”

SHARP participated in PIFA in 2011 with a French cabaret performance. This year, PIFA scaled down on the number of performances.

“They wanted to have less events competing and give people more flexibility in going to the events,” Sharp-Nachsin said.

SHARP was one of a few dance groups picked for PIFA 2013.

“They only took five [dance] groups this year. It was pretty selective,” she said. The company is pleased to be included again in the festival, she added.

“PIFA gives us opportunity for marketing and publicly we get a larger reach. This year we’re on a billboard. It’s a great avenue to reach different audiences,” Sharp-Nachsin said.

She said she wants the show to be an authentic experience by including only songs that played at the actual Woodstock concert.

“We also have two live singers, Jennifer Hallman and Jason Andrew. They’ll both be singing some of the pieces live like ‘Tommy’ by The Who and ‘Piece of My Heart,’ by Janis Joplin. We have percussionist Wesley Raft who wrote a song for us in a new piece,” Sharp-Nachsin said. She hopes the show makes you feel like you are in the ‘60s.

“Our experience is supposed to be like you came to Woodstock and this is what happened on the lawn around the show,” she said.

Dancers will dress the part as well with vintage threads from the time.

“I scoured the vintage world for costumes. We try to make it as true to form as we could,” Sharp-Nachsin said. “Vintage posters and Woodstock paraphernalia will be hanging all over the space, so people will really feel like they’re in a different time when they step into the space.”

Audiences are encouraged to dress like it’s 1969. Each night there will be a costume contest with prizes to be awarded.

“We want people to come in their best hippie gear. We’re giving away tickets to future shows. It will be a fun, light-hearted evening out,” Sharp-Nachsin said.

Rast hopes audiences will enjoy themselves and experience the emotions of Woodstock.

“I hope the audiences feel the love that we all have for each other, similar to what the attendees at Woodstock were able to experience,” Rast said. “I hope that audiences can also have a night of freedom and peace and hopefully forget their troubles for a while.”

The show runs this weekend, April 12-14, and the following weekend, April 19-21. Tickets are still available for April 19 and April 21.

Maura Filoromo can be reached at

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