A Leg Up
BOOST Dance Festival
Erickson Theatre, Seattle
16 and 23 March 2012
by Dean Speer
Refreshing is a term that has become so thoroughly embedded in our contemporary parlance that it’s all too common to think that it’s just as easy to refresh art as it is a page on the Internet.
If only it were that easy. You have to be creative, thoughtful, innovative, hard working, willing to invest long-term sweat equity, invite collaboration, seek support and, importantly, find a venue or home to present this work.
Seattle and Pacific Northwest area dance audiences are most fortunate to have several venues in which to enjoy the fresh and exciting – Eva Stone's annual modern dance festival on the “Eastside” in Bellevue, Chop Shop; Dance Festival Northwest at Centralia College; Marlo Martin’s BOOST Festival; and Pacific Northwest Ballet’s New Works in April.
My first-time experience in attending BOOST at Seatle’s Erickson Theatre on its lively Capitol Hill – the first of two weekends of this year’s edition of BOOST – featured seven different artists or groups whose number of performers ranged from one to over 10, each presenting works that were unique; from straight forward dancing to those with a message to one that was macabre.
One of the strongest choreographically was a solo – “Gravitas” by Catherine Cabeen – that impressed me as being along the lines of what of think of as historic or traditional modern dance. A lone female, Karena Birk, dressed in a long, black designed dress began astride in second position with a slow swoop and rocking from side to side that became increasingly faster and more intense until it broke into a dégagé with her back arm held high over her head while she leaned back on the diagonal.
Iyun Ashani Harrison opened the program with another "dress" piece – “Union (2010)” including its three men who carried in the first principal female, whose extensions were equally impressive. Setting her down, the principal male began a theme of slapping a body part [leg] which was quickly contracted. This theme was repeated but not particularly expanded or developed, other than setting a tone for the work. There appeared to be, perhaps not intentionally, references to the imagery of Martha Graham’s work – the women’s long dress skirtsbeing picked up while they skipped or turned and some of Martha’s “primitive” [early Graham] gestures. Harrison showed good grasp of form and composition until about two-thirds of the way through and then seemed to get lost in his own choreography. He concluded it with a brief return to the theme with most of the women on their backs spaced throughout the stage who waved and inverted their legs and ankles which gave the impression of undulating seaweed. The two other men ended on their knees, facing upstage, for what seemed a very long time. “Union (2010" had some very good moments such as a couple of circle formations. I would only suggest that Harrison plan his dances’ conclusions more – as Doris Humphrey wisely counsels: “Don’t leave the ending to the end.”
This piece was followed by a macabre work made by co-choreographers Maya Soto and Anne Motl that could be described as one part Addams Family, one part Mommy Dearest, and one part Haunted House that depicted an unseeing mother figure, murderous but adorable twins, a live body kept in a theatrical trunk, and projections of an old abandoned house on the back curtain. Very well performed, particularly by the mother figure, whose sharp and increasingly distressed solo was dramatic and disturbing. “The Snapping Point” showed just that – with long, red elastics that seemed designed to curtail the “family” and which was lurid and grotesque.
This was followed...with some relief...by Kristen Legg’s “may I...(my life as it is now)” which showcased some interesting female duets and shared weight partnering, popular as a type of modern dance genre in some circles. Legg’s bio reveals that she likes to incorporate classical lines into her work and this was nicely apparent throughout this dance where a lone figure, who appears to be an outsider, is unable to integrate herself. Classical line but contemporary twists.
Isolations seemed to be the palette of Elizabeth Chitty and Suzanne Myre’s “Nowhere Space (Excerpt)” duet who each and collectively showed good technique and some rolling floor motifs.
The title “Sound over taking your ears, volume taking over your body” kind of says it for what I believe is partly the premise of Kate Wallich’s contribution which reminded me heavily of Golden Idol pieces – gods and goddesses that rotate and turn, danced by Wallich and Erica Bagley.
Six black Naugahyde lounge chairs were the dancers’ partners in producer Marlo Martin’s “tenSIDES (an excerpt)” when the dancers fell into them face first, pushed them around, rearranged them, leapt over them, and yes, lounged in them. On the darker side, the characters seemed to have ‘attitude’ that played itself out, only occasionally revealing softer moments but mostly remaining pretty edgy. Perhaps the title is a reference to the catch phrase “There is more than one side to every story.” In this case, 10. Each dancer was fluid and collectively strong: Danica Bito; Gabriel Bruya; Jen Elder; Alex Goldstein; Christina Kennedy; Jill Leveresee; Nadia Losonsky; Christin Lusk; Anne Motl; and Michele O’Neill.
Program II of the second week presented four works not previously seen and three repeats. Victoria McConnell and Kenaniah Bystrom’s “Ode to Exhalation and a Spark: Excerpt” was another "chair" piece, albeit this time with folding white wooden chairs with seemed to evoke the spirit and place of a revivalist meeting and which included, downstage right, the lighting of candles of the declamation of text by a couple of the dancers. Four dancers of technical power and strength how moved freely throughout – Bystrom; Christin Lusk; McConnell; and Mariko Nagashima.
“Abnormalities of the Thorax: Abdominal Viscera” made by Eric E. Aguilar, was a work using six women in halter-top dresses in what seemed to be the mood of a nightclub, and where Jennifer Elder was featured. Elder is a mover and her strength and experience were nicely showcased.
On the somewhat silly side – and a bit too long [Humphrey also states “All dances are too long.”] but fun was Calie Swedberg and Martkeith Wiley in their own “Make Cents Make Cents” where off-stage helpers liberally tossed coins of the realm onto the stage – and onto the dancers. Another shared weight piece, Swedberg set the tone by allowing herself to smile early on, letting us know this was a light work. Each dancer wore glasses which served two functions – one was to make them appear geeky and the other as goggles. They also wore goofy and outlandish gear which helped give us the clue that this was not an overly serious Modern Dance With A Message. To strengthen it, I would only suggest some tightening and some more extended development of their expository motif – not a longer piece, just edited a bit.
For my money, the absolute best work on either of the programs came, hands-down, in the form of Jeanette Jing Male’s solo, “Unseen.” It was brilliant in concept, development, and execution. Male’s eyes were wrapped with a blue blindfold, and being in front of a set of two secured and slightly folded flat panels, she uses this to suggest a prisoner-of-war’s angst in being confined in the deepest and most profound sense. There was a depth and maturity to this artist that really had me paying attention and on the very edge of my chair. And when she did a real [Graham] contraction, I was sold and knew we had a genuine artist here. So much so, that I looked up her biography and was impressed that not only is she a Cornish College of the Arts graduate, she has furthered her studies and knowledge in very real ways including at the Graham Center in New York.
I very much liked how she built her solo, exploring the space – including make a handstand [think wall pushup position] and pressing up and out from the walls, trying to escape. It concluded, as I recall, with her dropping to the floor, hunched down in a half-sitting, half-kneeling crouched, defensive position. One of the best compositions I’ve experienced in a long time; a fine lesson in choreography.
On a general rehearsal and compositional note – avoid too much unison. Unison should be used for effect and if used too much, actually dilutes its overall, visual (and aural if sound/music) effect. Unison movement is also darned hard to bring off 100 percent and there were a few times during the course of the two weekends where the dancers, while mostly in ensemble, were a bit ragged, mostly in when and how a phrase might be initiated.
On a personal note it was rewarding to see two of my former students well represented – Jennifer Elder and Suzanne Myre and that BOOST also boasted two University of Utah graduates – Elder [modern] and in Program Two, Mariko Nagashima [ballet].
My only other comments would be to the choreographers – bravissimo for finding your voice and the courage to share it with us. Continue to work, study, and make art. Our community is the richer for it. I can easily remember when dance in Seattle and environs was thin and months would go by without anything – pretty dry. Now there are enough events and happenings that conflicts occur which means us dance-lovers have to make choices we didn’t even happen to think about before.
You are, I’m sure, grateful to visionaries and go-getters like Martin who have taken their dreams and are making them real through important venues like BOOST Dance Festival. In the early ‘80s I was the producer and director of the monthly SPOTLIGHT!: Seattle Dance series held right across the street at the Broadway Performance Hall, which occupies the shell of the historic Broadway High School gym, and which for three years showcased all of the dance known to us in the greater Puget Sound – a ballet, modern, and ‘other’ group on each program. So I know what it takes to successfully pull off programs, shows, series and festivals such as this one and we also have to applaud Martin for being such a gracious and welcoming hostess. She surprised us all by passing out cookies toward the end of the last show. It as partly to cover a set being cleared off of the stage but what a delight never-the-less.
Would that all art ends with food that not only feeds the soul but the body and in spirit too. There never seems to be enough support for the arts and dance but BOOST is one way that’s doing it and doing it well.