Scott/Powell's Unnatural Geographic Nov 16, 2007

by Tania Kupczak

I was eagerly anticipating Geography and I expected it would be easy to write about. Not so: I’m tempted just to say,  “Go see it, as often as you can, ” and leave it at that. But here are a few impressions: Choreographer Molly Scott has said that Geography was inspired by changes in the environment, especially the way crowding affects us physically and emotionally. I wouldn’t necessarily have guessed this if I hadn’t been told, but the theme has certainly provided a superabundance of choreographic ideas. These are consistently interesting and often brilliantly successful. Geography has a more episodic feel than other Scott/Powell works I’ve seen (Vessel, Praying Mantis, Ashes, Locate). The unity of the work is carried primarily by its underlying thematic concerns, several recurring movement motifs, and Julianne Keenan’s brooding, kinetic lighting design. Geography provides more evidence that Keenan is a genius with light. Each dancer has a solo of several minutes, which contributes to the episodic feel. All these are rewarding, but a few stand out. Ellie Sandstrom’s opens the work and sets the tone for what follows. I think of Sandstrom as the spiritual heart of the company and the dancer who often seems to express Scott’s personal voice. Here she enacts a struggle between grace and anxious uncertainty as she’s pushed and pulled by internal or external forces. Sandstrom’s body does things you wouldn’t think a body could do, but there’s never any flashiness or apparent effort, so all the complicated emotions come through strong and clear. Sean Ryan’s solo follows and is similar in emotional tone, but more muscular, propulsive, and tortured. I imagine Ryan to be the voice of Scott’s animus. Two solos are danced in oversized, unwieldy costumes that challenge their wearers while providing rich expressive possibilities. Jess Klein dances in an enormous, backless, acid-green dress that she elegantly wrestles to a draw, her luminous skin a brilliant contrast to the fabric. Beth Graczyk, perhaps Seattle’s most charismatic modern dancer, performs in a white shirt with impossibly long sleeves, ending in jagged ribbons. She uses this to great effect, by turns seeming to be an enormous white bird with tattered wings, a demented cheerleader with whirling pompoms, a penitente flagellating her back, and an asylum inmate bound in a straitjacket. The most dazzling sequences come when the dancers don pelvic harnesses fitted with cable handles, allowing them to pull and lift each other in unaccustomed ways. The handles are close to the body’s center of gravity, allowing tremendous forces to be exerted very efficiently, so the lifts are spectacular, yet subtly disturbing in their unnaturalness. I imagine these sequences to be the purest distillation of Scott’s ambivalence about the effects of technology on the geography of the interpersonal environment. This is a work that invites repeated viewings. There is a lot going on: most of it gorgeous, some of it perplexing, all of it thought-provoking. I expect the Friday and Saturday performances to sell out quickly. Don’t miss this one. Anne