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Seattle International Dance Festival Kicks Off

by Dean Speer

June 1, 2012 -- Raisbeck Performance Hall, Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle, Washington

Seattle International Dance Festival founder and director Cyrus Khambatta has done an impressive number of things right – putting together a two week dance festival featuring both international and local artists, its funding and organization, putting out a print brochure/booklet about SIDF on the armchair rest of each theatre seat, and welcoming the audience and introducing the program in person.

The opening night program featured two quite different ends of the modern dance spectrum – the first a small Swiss ensemble – Compagnie 7273 whose solo guitarist, Laurence Yadi, and solo dancer, Nicolas Cantillon presented a mesmerizing 35 minute work. The second – Gansango Music and Dance whose “Soul of Africa” was just that – a 20 minute work that encapsulated much of what I think about its dance and musical roots.

The solo, “Listen and Watch” was done essentially in place by Cantillon whose tall, lanky body belied a solid technique and relaxed performance manner. In the intimacy of Raisbeck Hall, we were close enough to watch him sweat and sweat he did, beginning about slightly less than half way into it. The program note says that no movement was repeated and there may have been an attempt at this, but some phrases were repeated and exactly. It built like the music did – slowly and with intensity. I challenged myself to see if I could spot how it phrased, musically, and to see if I could count it. The choreography was in phrases of four and it was fun seeing where the downbeats occurred – sometimes it was Cantillon’s knee, other times it may have been a quick bump of a head nod or a hip.

There seems to be a trend, I’m given to understand, that European contemporary dance is performed in socks. If so, it’s one that I find disconcerting and a little bit of a cheat – neither ballet nor modern dance. The foot is a beautiful thing and I’d rather see a bare foot being beautifully used in all of its elegance than a sock, which to me, gives me the sense and feeling that it's somehow incomplete, the costume not quite finished – and a bit of a self-conscious deceit. Importantly, I find them distracting and not really contributing to the overall line or effect.

“Soul of Africa” was wonderful. It was everything that you could imagine it should be. Soulful, rhythmic, unusual, moving, and happy at the end. One of the costumes completely engulfed one of the dancers, giving us a sense of ritual and that this object was more creature or spirit that human. One of the male dancers did a terrific solo based on lynching – where his character was almost done in by this abhorrent practice but ultimately saved when someone cried “He’s innocent!” and how the demeanor of everyone changed and relaxed, becoming friendly and helpful. The piece concluded with the entire cast of four lifting us up with their joy of art and of what they were sharing.

Seattle International Dance Festival provides multiple types of acts and venues during its annual course – from the formally produced in the controlled environment of a theatre setting to site-specific, street dances. I look forward to what delicious servings Khambatta may offer in 2013.

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