When Brian Sanders takes you into his world, you rarely know what kind of magical, outlandish, Tim Burton-meets-Cirque du Soleil-type place you might be entering.
That's even true when you've already seen a variation of the show.
His company, Brian Sanders' JUNK, had a preview for friends and media of Dancing Dead IPX on Wednesday night at Shiloh Baptist Church in South Philadelphia. It is a reboot of his Dancing Dead, which premiered at the 2011 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. The added IPX is for "immersive performance experience," and this time the action is so close that sometimes you have to duck out of the way of a dancer's incoming limb.
Sanders and other artists regularly perform in the 175-year-old Victorian Shiloh church, and its dark, dank spaces set the right tone — ironically — for a work about zombies.
Set to a series of 1970s songs and taking place in a crazy set built from the junk that gives the company its name, Dancing Dead IPX is as wondrous as any Sanders work. Audience members follow dancers into different rooms where the undead stomp on large wooden tables (there's a bar, but maybe don't put your drink down), swing from the rafters, and literally throw themselves into the movement.
It is a witty, trippy, loose story of an old man — Sanders, in a role akin to Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future — dancing with death and watching his friends pass on. He roller-skates around an indoor field of actual grass, or wheels through on a bicycle. He waltzes with a skeleton, peers into a skull to the tune of "Whenever I See Your Face," and digs up his pals.
Two creaky bag-of-bones dancers dance a duet to "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and in another section, the cast dives to the earth to the song "Seasons in the Sun." Many of the lyrics take on hilarious double meanings with the dance.
The danger factor of Dancing Dead IPX is awe-inspiring and a little hard to fathom, from dancers leaning perilously over the side of a high-up platform to hanging upside down on straps by their ankles or flinging themselves across the turf. Equally hard to imagine is how Sanders dreams this all up. We're just lucky to be a part of it.