Strawberry Fields and Dancing Forever
Chop Shop Bodies of Work’s Contemporary Dance Festival
February 16, 2014
The Theatre at Meydenbauer
by Dean Speer
I can easily recall the strawberry fields and horse ranches that have now, for the most part, been consumed by urban Bellevue, Washington, which has become one of the largest cities in the state and certainly the biggest suburb of Seattle.
I know from a personal friend that culture came early to Meydenbauer Bay via music and today a dance festival in 2014 through Eva Stone’s seventh edition of her exciting initiative, ChopShop [Bodies of Work] – an annual sampler of modern dance and sometimes contemporary ballet. I think this year her introductory remarks used the phrase “contemporary dance”as does the printed program.
She probably didn’t plan it this way, but there appeared to be some themes that developed this round. Two pieces that referenced Swan Lake [Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Black Swan White Swan” and Spectrum Dance Theatre’s “close to swan lake”], two that referenced the moon [LUNA by Anna Conner+CO and Gerard Regot’s “Dense Crystals” which used some of the music from Glenn Miller’s uncredited Moonlight Serenade], and I’m sure entirely coincidentally, a work titled “If you sink” by Bryn Cohn + Artists.
Fortunately none of the other works had anything to do with water, swans, or the moon.
Regarding choreography, the clear winner to me was Ballet Arkansas’ “Instantly Interruptible” made by Shayla Bott and beautifully danced by the trio of Leslie Dodge, Justin Metcalf-Buton, and Toby Lewellen. What needs to be changed out for this piece though is its sound score that did little to complement or drive the dance action and which mostly provided a dreary atmosphere of grey skies. The tone of the action seemed to be isolation yet the dance could have been elevated to an even better, poetic work had the music been great and not forgettably so-so.
I was happy to at last see “Black Swan White Swan” as I’ve yet to make it to Grand Rapids to see Patricia Barker’s company there. Performed by Laura McQueen Schultz and Nicholas Schultz, it presented the Act 2 pas de deux using modern dance gestures melded and undergirded with ballet technique. I liked its originality and how hard choreographer Márlo Radacovsky worked to make it so. My only pose fuss would be to nix the lifted “praying Mantis” pose – where the female has her belly-button facing the ceiling and arms, wrists, feet, and legs are flexed. It’s a trite shape that I’ve seen dozens of times and would hope that Radacovsky avoids in the future.
When choreographers reinvent the classics, I try to ask myself what a colleague once smartly and compassionately asked a confused patron during intermission at the Bolshoi Ballet a few years ago when they presented not their iconic “Romeo and Juliet” but a contemporary version where there wasn’t one ballet step or shape the entire time – “Did it show emotion?” “Could you follow the story?” “Did it move you?” In this case, yes, yes, and yes.
Regot is an interesting mover and his solo appeared to take place in or take its inspiration from one of those famous Spanish caves where you go to observe authentic Flamenco, except in this case, one with a shorter roof. Very authentic and sincere, his squat lunge in second position, reach, and twitch motif set up and became its basis.
Stone’s The Stone Dance Collective has some amazing, amazing movers in it. “You may want to adjust your dress” is one of those progressive, forward-thinking dances that pushes what the subject matter or topic of what a dance might be, its premise being that women are pushed into fashion – fashion that sometimes becomes both and prison and the liberator. I would have liked for her to have done more with the prop of the high-heeled shoes that the cast each had, rather than discarding them right away, as I been initially intrigued, thinking “What is she going to do with those?” The women rebel against the fashion mores but then at the end, seem to become part and parcel of the collective and “urge” a loner to move along into “her” fashion. Taking the Devil Wears Prada and turning it on its head.
“Belladonna” by Adam Barruch set to period music sung by a countertenor portrayed depth and a lyricism that transcended the actual material, the sum of the parts adding up to a lovely whole. Strongly performed by Barruch, he was aided on stage by Chelsea Bonosky,
The second half of the program had the sense of being stronger choreographically, overall, and it began with a piece I looked forward to seeing again, Price Suddarth’s “The Spaces Between” danced by Pacific Northwest Ballet student Saho Kumagi and PNB Company member Ezra Thomson.
Suddarth made good use of interesting movement motifs and repeated these throughout the duet. I would have liked for him to have developed these ideas more yet it was a dance that was clear throughout, enjoyable, with a tinge of melancholy. Kumagi and Thomson are excellent movers and of the caliber that compels you to seek out their performances.
Vincent Michael Lopez is considered to be one of the best male dancers – par excellence – of the Puget Sound region. Suggesting that it might be part of a larger work, his “10 Worlds: Prologue (Past, Present, Forward), is as serious as Lopez seems to take his dancing – high level of technique, a real topic or theme delved into deeply, not just on the surface. Most of the time I agree with Doris Humphrey’s compositional admonition that “All dances are too long,” except in this rare case, I found each section too short and not having enough time and chance to fully develop. I also thought the thread connecting the sections could have been stronger, finding myself thinking why something was happening? Random invention? Intention?
Except that it might be considered some kind of ritualistic moon dance, as in “Pull of the Moon,”I’m not sure what Anna Connor’s dance has to do with the moon, except that, if she’s familiar with Latin poetry – when the moon is mentioned you know they’re talking about anything, usually love, except the moon. Never-the-less, this being my third viewing of this piece, I was struck again how physically powerful it is and perhaps how hard it might be to do – having to stay in a second position lunge for a long time and whip around torsos and shoulders. Bravo to dancers Connor herself, and colleagues Julia Cross, and Autumn Tselios.
Bryn Cohn took on the challenge of using the poet of the piano, Chopin for music. A lovely choice. Cheerfully and brightly performed by Eric Berey and Yuliya Romanskaya, their duet was more impressionistic [as in the Impressionist Era] than dramatically etched. I’d call it a small series of petite riens – little trifles that suggested youth and a joyful upcoming Spring.
While most of Donald Byrd’s work and artistic bent seems to be making work that’s on the darker side and which seeks to make a statement of some kind, he doesn’t always take himself so seriously that he cannot present the lighter side of life, too. His “close to swan lake” is that lighter, sardonic and silly side – with each dancer in a white practice tutu, flapping and pecking about the stage. Although he could have gone somewhere with it, he and it didn’t, instead opting for amusement. Spectrum Dance Theater is also blessed to have a cadre of amazing and beautiful dancers.
Chop Shop Contemporary Dance Festival is and has become one of th region’s important venues – a place for choreographic voices to see and be seen.