Monochromatics in Seattle
Seattle Dance Project Number 4
29 January 2011
by Dean Speer
One of Irving Berlin’s most amusing songs goes:
The theatuh, the theatuh
What's happened to the theatuh
Especially where dancing is concerned
Chaps Who did taps
Aren't tapping anymore
They're doing choreography
Chicks Who did kicks
Aren't kicking anymore
They're doing choreography
Heps Who did steps
That would stop the show in days that used to be
Through the air they keep flying
Like a duck that is dying
Instead of dance
Julie Tobiason and Timothy Lynch’s Seattle Dance Project gave us both real dance infused with a notion and nod to “choreography” this past Saturday night at a venue that’s just right for an intimate dance experience that’s best shown off in a proscenium [read rectangle] shape with plenty of room to move – Seattle’s new-ish Erickson Theatre, adjacent to the old Masonic Temple and across from Broadway Performance Hall.
The comfortable seating and dressing of the stage area – wings with shin-busters designed and well-run lighting [they know to bring up the house lights in between pieces so we can read our programs], large foyer for mixing, and (importantly, as I was with my nearly 92 year-old father) clean, new, spacious and bright restrooms.
As the saying goes, “A good theatre experience begins at the Box Office.” So it was here with two prepared, radiant, women helping out all of us patrons.
There is a shift at Seattle Dance Project, and I’m not sure why this is --it just is – of moving away from ballet and modern dance “fusion” to more emphasis on the modern dance side. Of the works presented, Stacy Lowenberg’s “Rodin” was the most overtly balletic. The other works on the program, performed beautifully by dancers who, for the most part, in past lives were exclusively ballet dancers, were definitely of the modern dance vocabulary.
The directors also programed the works smartly, carefully building a program where the works complemented each other and led to the last work on the bill, a dance by someone who, while a longtime and experienced stager of the works of other choreographers, is relatively new to creating dances herself, Hilde Koch.
I liked and enjoyed the choreography throughout, finding Molissa Fenley’s opening work the strongest.
Fenley’s dance, “Planes In Air,” is one of five sections from “The Prop Dances” where the dancers either carry or wear props made especially by a visual artist and to a score by a contemporary composer. In this case, Betsy Cooper and Alexandra Dickson carried very large fans – the kind and size of which have been used as fireplace screens --here they were white, apparently made of paper and used in a way that gave off a flavor of the Orient.
All of Fenley’s dances are long, without being visually verbose and this one is also athletic, with the pair hopping, making small rhythmic jumps, developées and fondu arabesques – intricately weaving, exchanging fans, and concluding with a centerstage pose.
Heidi Vierthaler now works primarily in Europe and SDP has been fortunate to snag her creative mind and talent for “Surfacing,” set to music by Andy Moor. This essentially seemed to be a dance about a volatile menage a trois – Lara Seefeldt, Michele Curtis, and Oleg Gorboulev with an interloper, Cooper, stirring up the mix. Mark Zappone’s costumes were clean and effective.
“Al Poco Tiempo” by Ellie Sandstrom mixed a contemporary sound score overlaying Mozart with three dancers, one of whom – Tobiason – seemed to be functioning as a classic Greek Chorus, while real-life husband and wife, Alexandra Dickson and Timothy Lynch engaged in a duet that alternated reaching/yearning with repelling.
Emily James' costumes, particularly the one for Tobiason, need to be re-thought. Instead of softening her line and making it more feminine, it had the unintentional [unless it was intentional?] effect of being ghastly. Simple lines are better, more clean, and certainly more flattering. This light blue creation looked like a frock that had gone through a shredder. It also was not draped well – so much so that when Tobiason made her initial entrance, I didn’t know who it was for the longest while; when I realized who is was, I was shocked. The ones for Dickson and Lynch were only marginally better.
Stacey Lowenberg has been described as one the most spirited dancers of PNB. This lively and effervescent attribute was clear in her “Rodin” duet made on Michele Curtis and David Alewine. Costumes were simple, showing off the dancers and choreography well. I enjoyed the many lifts and partnered shapes Lowenberg devised – her movement ideas, while using classical ballet idioms, were re-mixed into fresh and lovely phrases, with a hint of the dramatic.
Using the entire SDP company of eight, Koch’s “Torque” is her first choreographic creation, and it was interesting, beginning with Tobiason prone on her back downstage right on the floor and the other dancers slowly making their way onto the stage even while the crew was changing out gels in the lighting instruments and re-dressing the space. Some of this impressed me as being in-the-moment, perhaps a structured improvisation. Koch built the dance into what looked like random singles, duos, and small groups, but were in fact planned with military-like precision and surprised us nicely when the group broke out into tutti “mob” dancing, sometimes in two straight lines, which, fortunately, Koch knew not to allow them to linger in this formation for too long and changed them, front to back, and then broke it up further.
As popular and as tempting as it might be to use the music of Philip Glass and that of Arvo Pärt, I would like to suggest and see dance makers observe a moratorium and instead seek out other contemporary composers. Using this pair’s music has been overdone. While perhaps initially compelling and inspirational, after awhile their work becomes monochromatic – providing more “atmosphere” than temperature and becoming ultimately, for me, boring. There are many composers out there who would be thrilled to have their work choreographically represented.
This said, the overall patina of the evening resembled Seattle's January weather – in texture and feel. The program consisted of works that were serious in nature throughout, with only an occasional lighter spot poking its way through.
Seattle Dance Project has from its first performances set for itself a standard of choreographic and artistic excellence that’s to be admired and respected and one that has the dance-going public looking for its next venture.