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New Kids on the Block

Chop Shop: Bodies of Work

by Dean Speer

February 12, 2012-- Meydenbauer Center, Bellevue, Washington

Director Eva Stone’s annual February modern dance festival, on the very day I attended, celebrated its fifth anniversary with yummy chocolate cake for everyone there, in the foyer after concluding the program...and which was preceded by a whole lot of delicious dancing.

While I found this year’s edition to have been not quite as strong choreographically as previous programs, it was never the less a very good afternoon of excellent dancing, a couple of choreographic nuggets and some impressive local debuts by artists not previously seen here.

Stone is quick-witted and her charming introductory welcome remarks were premised on numerals – numbers one through five, telling us her appreciation for the various artists, crew, and supporters that made this kind of large-scale event possible.

Modern/contemporary dance is wide ranging in its styles and implication and this was reflected in the variety we enjoyed from the stage. Portland’s BodyVox was represented by two clever and amusing video clips – in the first, “Advance 2009" a pair of dancers build a running dance through quite a few contrasting geographic locations: the inner city, the beach, the desert, on railway tracks, down a couple of paths whilst developing their theme to an upbeat pop musical score. The second was a nod to the iconic “Dying Swan” – in this case an office worker walking through the construction zones of Portland’s Pearl District of a few years ago, comes across the abandoned carcass of a love – who is revealed to be a very large John Deere backhoe, hence the dance's title, the playful “Deere John (2000).” We see the man being spun by the machine, riding in its bucket, and eventually being saddened when it runs out of gas.

Adam Barruch Dance, with Barruch and Chelsea Bonosky, was very strongly represented by his dramatic insertion, “Folie à deux” to music of that composer who’s popular with contemporary choreographers, Arvo Part. Intertwining, yet not really “relating,” this seemed to be an isolationist and nod to futurism idea carried out with clarity.

Bellingham Repertory Dance’s ‘Politics,’ excerpted from Daniel Stark’s “Politics, Religion, and Sex,” reminded me a bit of Kurt Jooss' “Green Table” where formally dressed men meet and argue the world’s fate – here with the cast in business attire (but bare feet) who are on different sides in chairs and who, during a romp to a peppy square dance tune, both cavort with and assault and blame each other, often in a cartoonish way. This dance was to the point and about the right length.

While I don’t know whether it is accurate to state that it’s his first return to the dancing stage, it was good to experience Donald Byrd’s solo – strongest when he moved, less effective when he felt compelled to read us a written message about the state of Jerusalem -- in his “The ‘little’ JERUSALEM DANCE.” Byrd is a powerful presence and mover on stage and the text, should it be necessary to read it, would have worked and flowed better had it been part of the accompaniment/sound and read by a vocally-trained actor. The dancing was broken up by walking over to a music stand, and then back to center stage to move again. This happened a couple of times. Does he doubt that dance is sufficient to render what it was that he wanted to say? With the title of the work, its score, and importantly, his powerful and commanding gestures, we in the audience got it and were appreciative that he did not back away from but courageously tackled current political and social issues.

Cyrus Khambatta’s work has been represented on past Chop Shop programs and this one, “Centrifugal Force” is a strong work that counters our visual expectations of dance that uses circles as a theme, efficiently danced by Eric Aguilar, Chris McCallister, Kaitlin McCarthy, Jenny Peterson and Meredith Sallee.

Penny Hutchinson’s trio, “Alien Dances” to a composer new to us, Vyautas Germanavicius – I didn’t quite “get” this piece, although in the words of the immortal Merce Cunningham to a mutual friend, “Nelle, there’s nothing to get!” I did very much like how well this trio of tie-clad dancers moved: Erinn Crosby-Dirth, Kai Berkedal, and Nick Van Deren.

Portland was also represented by Northwest Dance Project’s “A Short History of Walking” which featured the highly-trained and beautiful dancers, Patrick Kilbane and Elijah Labay who finish André Mesquita's piece with about the only actual walking in it by striding purposefully toward the audience. Before they get there, they engage, first as a solo, in off-balance moving poses and eventually some interaction – to an energetic and driving score that had lots of presence.

Stone’s own group, The Stone Dance Collective performed her “Piñata” had a blindfolded female first spit out candy/seeds? into a bowl who then stood upstage right and engaged in singular angst-ridden poses while a corps of women interpreted the rest of Stone’s dance. Perhaps a commentary on how games train or influence us.

Ellie Sandstrom [SANDSTROMMOVEMENT] duet for two women, “the Series For (For One/For Two) represented herself and fellow dancer, Hannah Crowley well. She seems to favor movement with oppositional pulls – feet going one way, arms another and understands that asymmetry in choreography is stronger than exact unison and deploys this effectively.

Jason Ohlberg’s contribution, “Sweetness of leaving,” was to a soulful country-western song, with four women outfitted in drab dance dresses seemed to be reflecting on states of loneliness.

“Allemande” was Joshua Beamish’s work which concluded this year’s program, performed by his ensemble, MOVE: the company. Beamish is essentially a ballet-mover with a contemporary twist. Culling from several Bach ‘cello suites’ – utilizing the Allemande movements -- his dance opened with Heather Dotto and Cai Gover and then the choreographer himself entering. I have the impression that he first makes his movement phrases on himself, as many choreographers are wont to do. I say this because they tended to look best on himself, partly I think due to his technique being slightly sharper than his colleagues but also that the movement “fit” him so well like well-worn and comfy shoes. My only suggestion would have been to have costumed Heather Dotto differently. Dotto is tall and a gorgeous mover but what she wore detracted slightly from her performance.

In all, Stone gave us a very satisfactory afternoon of previously unseen works that deserved to be showcased, making their way to the Eastside and to the region’s discerning audiences to support and enjoy.

We can hardly wait for what 2013 promises!

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