Seattle Dance Project 5
Friday, 20 January 2012, ACT Theatre
by Dean Speer
Love Song Waltzes is top on my “deserted on a tropical island” play list. I’ve long been intrigued with what choreography might look like to either or both of these song cycles (opus 52 and 65), and, having never seen the Balanchine version all the way through, have had to content myself with imagining what a ballet to this music might look like. A few years ago though, I was compelled to make my own ballet to opus 65 for my students at the Arlington School of Dance. [Proudly, we were even able to use live music – one piano, four hands, and four singers as the parents raised the funds for this.] We’ve traveled great distances just to hear performances of these song cycles.
So my anticipation was great and I was excited when Seattle Dance Project announced its fifth project of its young artistic life, “Brahms Afoot.”
Programmed to conclude the evening, Penny Hutchinson had mixed choreographic success with her work, “Liebe, Lust und Liede” set to the opus 52 and very well performed by Inverse Opera musicians, pianists Glenda Williams and Minjie Bao with singers Jenny Shotwell, Sonia Perez, Aaron Shanks, and Randy Scholz. The best sections were those where she let the dancing happen; less successful were those where artifice was imposed such as having the women begin in formal wear and heels, pretend sore feet, go off, and come back having changed into bare feet and red dance dresses while men stayed in their formal wear, merely doffing their jackets. With the stage set for a formal dinner party – table, chandelier and chairs, it would have been better to have no costume change and to have had the women in the dance dresses only – or to have stayed with the initial formal wear. Bare feet at a formal dinner party? Really?
The main problem was a dramatic one – too many ideas introduced in what is essentially a series of very short musical and dance numbers. One simple premise and its development, would have sufficiently strengthened the piece, rather than a salade russe.
More intuitive on my part, I had the feeling that Hutchinson didn’t quite know what to do with or how to best deploy these highly-trained and beautiful dancers – Betsy Cooper, Alexandra Dickson, Ezra Dickinson, Iyun Harrison, and Timothy Lynch. For example, the radiant Gavin Larsen, making her return to the dancing stage, was greatly underutilized. Her contribution was lying prone under a dinning table on her side looking bemusedly at a gentleman caller, and then after having changed into the dance dress, making rélevé dévelopées into effacé and chausés into rélevé passés – for the most part simple ballet steps and vocabulary. Was Hutchinson afraid of “breaking” Larsen – of giving her work that might have been too athletic for a comeback? The movement given to Larsen seemed out of place with that given to the others.
As I said, the best sections were those where Hutchinson allowed pure dancing to happen to the music; when this did happen, it was very effective and lovely.
Molissa Fenley is a prolific choreographer and her “Planes in Air” is a very nice piece which was debuted a year ago by Seattle Dance Project and which was a pleasure to enjoy seeing again. Each deploying a giant-sized fan, dancers Betsy Cooper and Alexandra Dickson alternately moved congenially through a series of long arabesque lunges, small jumps and hops, and shapes that wove around each other, and in turn, getting a short solo.
“To Converse Too” was also good to see again and was probably the strongest work on the evening’s program. My only fuss would be that the excerpted Bach ‘cello suites really should be done with live ‘cello accompaniment, rather than use the recording heard here. Edwaard Liang begins his dance with the group – Cooper, Michele Curtis, Dickinson, Harrison, and Lynch and then develops this into a duet for Curtis and Dickinson, a trio, a duet for Cooper and Lynch, more solos and concluding with the full cast.
Next on the bill was Kent Stowell’s just-right duet for Curtis and Lynch, his “B6" to a score by William Bolcom. In pointe shoes and a tux-type top and black tights, Curtis was neatly showcased as were Lynch’s considerable partnering and dancing skills and experience. Curtis has extension to spare and the many shapes, twists, turns, and partnered tangles were fun and visually interesting.
One piece of Jason Ohlberg’s opus, “Departure from 5th,” is an illustration of the policy, “Just because you can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.” In this specific instance, a high cringe factor for me – having a recording of some of the dancers explain their insecurities about their bodies over the loudspeakers to us defenseless audience members. While occasionally some of the comments were amusing, this really was not needed and didn’t add anything to the dance itself – and has already been quite thoroughly explored and exposed by the musical, “A Chorus Line.” The other piece of stage artifice that I found not needed was the covering up of the dancers at the end under a large cloth put over them by three “Fates.” This came out of nowhere, and if they were going to deploy this cloth as a prop, it should have been introduced earlier. It really served no purpose except to, perhaps unintentionally, suggest that Ohlberg was stuck for an ending and this is what he came up with. I’m reminded of Doris Humphrey’s compositional admonition and wise thought, “Never leave the ending until the end.”
If the premise of his work is to show us how and why the dancers have moved beyond only ballet in their respective careers [“Departure from 5th” – get it?], then all he has to do is show us this by their dancing and not by providing additional editorial commentary. Again, as with most dance works, just giving us the dancing is all that’s needed, and when he did, there were indeed some very strong passages for us to digest and enjoy. Effectively deployed and dancing cleanly and clearly were Cooper, Dickson, Curtis [who wins the stamina award for being in the most pieces], Harrison, David Alewine and Lynch with Fates, provided by Cornish College of the Arts – Narissa Herndon, Irene Folkerts, and Katherine Murphy.
Artistic Director Timothy Lynch’s eye is toward masterful works and each season he pulls together an impressive team of dance artists, creators, collaborators, and supporters. Contributing importantly to the area’s arts scene, we look very much forward to whatever Project 6 may bring.