Dance Off #1! Jan 28, 2011

by Eric Pitsenbarger

A sold out crowd being politely asked to scoot in and take the lone empty seats as the aisles back up.

Seattle piled in for this one! For a big house full of peeps all I hear are the rustling of ballots, programs and questionnaires. Murmuring about who's who on the list of performers this evening and 'do you have a pen I can borrow?' A genial, almost familial feeling of a gathering; and as our line up is announced, the program explained by our soft spoken host, it's almost a surprise when the lights dim and the show begins. Of all the performances I've seen here at On The Boards, I've been expecting I suppose, a somewhat more rawkus atmosphere. This is a competition! A smack-down of artistic, eclectic creators for rather a lot of money! There's no whooping, no roar, no riotous anything from this oh-so-well behaved crowd. Hmmmm...maybe that will come later in the week, as the race gets tighter.

From sudden darkness Zoe/Juniper appear in a flash of hot light. The red string gripped in the mouth, stretched taught and held from off stage is a striking image. The slowly appearing chalk scribble, the projected silent echo of the lithe dancer who also moves meticulously live in front of us, the odd dress-like knitted chain mail costumes, blackouts cut with that impressive heat lamp effect. Articulate motion marked with enveloping darkness and quick change tableau. A surrealistic pastiche ending with the two performers naked in chairs with pretty silver painted chests...barking at each other. OK! This performance beamed in from Mars and is, I see, the audience favorite. 

Next up Cherdonna & Lou (who I've become rather a burbling fan of since their "It's a Salon!" show); and I see instantly by the set that we're back in their living room! All those great tacky lamps mashed together, the tiny piano and red wig. Oh I know what's gonna least I think I know. Every show I've seen there is always something different they throw in. From established set piece they bend the form and keep it fresh somehow; and sure enough, Cherdonna's manic, happy/sad clown of a persona is extra fierce tonight! Those teeth could kill! Oh jeeze! Lou's oily leer looks right through me in the front row! They stomp around the stage, wobble in beautifully choreographed amoeba-like 'shapelessness', into perfectly synchronized robotic hopping gestural nonsense that is just so freaky/weird/scary! Their projected irony of suburban ennui is captivating genius of a work and this abbreviated version is almost too hot. I wish they were placed as final piece for the night, as they are so very different. My neighboring 'critic' in the seat directly to my right is using the word 'Chaplinesque'. I couldn't agree more. 

House lights raised a bit along with some soft Reggae and furious note taking ensues. Such a well behaved, serious crowd of culture vultures! Everyone is taking this exercise quite seriously. Those comment cards are getting a work-over.

Alrighty then heeeeeer's Crispen Speath (who I've only heard about and never had the opportunity to experience), and whaddayaknow! It's a real honest to goodness dance piece. These are really well trained, strong dancers. There is no high concept technical wizardry, no set...just a well choreographed, well muscled piece. Beautiful to behold as they weave in and out of a polyamorous themed inverted waltz. A dark, rumbling metallic soundtrack with no discernible beginning, middle or enveloping cloud. What I'm most impressed by is the polished follow-though of movement. The intent and thought, the nuances reaching beyond the big sweeping arcs. Eye contact, flickering personality, the range of subtly and control; the 'ease' of every varied movement blending into itself. My choice for best of show tonight.  Disappointed to hear mumblings from behind me of the theme being 'so high-school!'.

Finally, it's Shannon Mockli dancing with another woman in what looks like lingerie. The soundtrack is a continuously fragmenting, electronically manipulated spoken story-line of matter-of-fact drama that elicits laughter from the audience in it's dry depiction of struggle. The beautiful, languorous movement and gentle affection between the dancers; swirling, windy phrases held a dream-like, other-worldly quality. Juxtaposed against the dark soundscape I'm given the effect of deep irony (the glue that binds us). Suspended dreams within harsh reality. Stunning.

The Q and A is interesting and solidifies my preference for Crispen's piece. She is so articulate and at ease speaking about her work. Deceptively 'cute', Jody and Ricki complement each others serio-comic nutball persona, Zoe is an artist and works hard to illustrate where she's going...that people are animals! Shannon, so thoughtful and careful. I like them all. We are so lucky to have such amazing talent in our midst! Thank you.