NWNW Weekend 2 | Mainstage Jun 15, 2009

by Tania Kupczak

The NWNW mainstage showcase on June 14 was an exciting evening of dance that raised many questions for me as a viewer. The show made me wonder about the relationship between kinesthetic and aesthetic choices, about abstracting the body, about virtuosity and how it can be both invigorating and isolating. I feel that great art should provide more questions than answers so as to inspire inquiry into art and life. I salute all of the participating artists for their work, and On the Boards for continuing to give performance opportunities to the Northwest dance community, a network that is constantly growing in richness and variation. The evening was opened by Amelia Reeber’s solo work, this is a forgery. Her rich gestural vocabulary was witnessed by a larger than life cosmic cat that pawed at Reeber’s body from a screen upstage. Reeber’s movement was grounded, piercing and deliberate just like her set, a sculptural anchor that rested downstage left. The work was at times funny and touching. It did contain a few modern dance clichés that should be off limits to contemporary artists at this point, such as guttural vocalizations accompanying movement and unwinding ribbons from one’s dancing body. However, these theatrical devices were embodied well by Reeber so one assumes she knows the history of work hers is referencing. Next on the program was Scott/Powell’s Home. This was the most interesting work I have seen from Scott and Powell. The dancers were costumed and utilized more as individuals than I have seen in their previous work. It inspired me to contemplate the relationship between idiosyncrasy and virtuosity. One of the great invitations of post modern dance is that performers are now able to be themselves while performing virtuosic actions. Rather than dissolving the self into a technical vacuum, skilled contemporary dancers bring their personality and life experience into their ability to create form and manipulate time with their bodies. Ellie Sandstrom is an exemplary performer in this regard. She has long been gracing Scott/Powell’s stage with technical prowess that is effectively embodied in her expression of herself as a unique individual. She sets a high standard for the company. Scott and Powell’s kinesthetic and sonic collaboration met at particularly beautiful points in Home. The dancers were often costumed in plastic that whispered and rustled as they moved, creating a dialogue between the movement and the score. After intermission, The 605 Collective brought down the house. These five dancers were all costumed in suits and tennis shoes. Though their performance was virtuosic in its own way, the costume choice made it clear that we were watching people dance, not dancers perform. This made the kinesthetic experience of the performers more immediate to the audience, evoking a delicious metakinesis. John Martin coined this term writing about Graham’s work in the mid 20th century. It refers to the physical experience an audience has when watching movement. There have been all kinds of studies done that show we have more of an embodied experience as viewers when we watch people moving whom we can relate to. The relaxed posture that informed The 605 Collective’s group choreography, and the daring athleticism of their partnering, made metakinesis inescapable. The audience found itself swaying and rocking with the formal structures and rhythmic coordination that supported the wild courage of the dancers. I found myself wondering as I watched about how different aesthetics are that come from physical experiences rather than conceptual ideas. It was refreshing to see work that so deftly celebrated the physical, not as a concept, but as a reality that puts performers and audience alike, in touch with gravity, our joints, and each other. Zoe/Juniper’s work then embodied the exact opposite style of virtuosity. It was a story about dancers. While Old girl contained breathtaking physicality it was of the sort that separates the performers from the audience, transforming the dancers into superhuman beings who live in a separate place from the gravity bound reality of the audience. Scofield has incredible power as a choreographer to manipulate classical form. She is particularly gifted, but victim to that gift. The content of her work is evident in her body, which seems to be possessed by a demonic hunger to move in the extreme ends of its range. This inhuman physicality was supported by the brilliant costume designs of Erik Andor. He created leotards with protrusions along the backs and sides of the dancers. These spikes along with bright green neckpieces abstracted the dancer’s bodies in surprising ways. The dancers appeared to have been stripped of their humanity in the interest of stark aesthetics, a classic story in dance history. The movement wrote a sad story in time, one of individuals consumed by their art, unable to escape the demands of their craft, even after the lights go out. Old girl is both evocative and heartbreaking. It is exciting to see how many talented performers there are in the Northwest. This Festival continues to be a gift to Seattle and the region not only because of what it offers to the performing artists, but also for the diversity and stimulation it offers to the audience. -Catherine Cabeen