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Bill Evans Reunion Concert
28th Anniversary

McCurdy Pavilion Theatre, Centrum Centre for the Arts
Port Townsend, Washington

August 10, 2002
By Dina McDermott


Often referred to as the "Father of Seattle Modern Dance", Bill Evans returned to the region for a week of workshops and classes. The week culminated with a triumphant Reunion Concert, comprised of Evans himself (dancing in two solos), alumni of his companies and schools, and friends. Choreographer-dancers Holly Bright and Jenny DeLeon traveled from Canada and New Zealand respectively to honor Evans, who at age 62 danced with utmost ease, grace, strength, beauty and total aplomb. In the solo section of Suite Cava (dedicated in memorial to composer Michael Cava) Evans' legs sailed up way beyond a 90-degree extension, and he whirled effortlessly through a quadruple pirouette. Most impressive was Evans' sense of spatial awareness, clearly influenced by his most recent studies of Laban-Bartenieff movement principles. Evans introduced, lecture-demonstration style, each dance in the concert, which was made up mostly of solos. His wry, witty and sentimental commentary truly enhanced the audience experience and gave a personal perspective on his body of work.

Bill Evans' company was based in Seattle from 1976 through 1984, during which time he really put Seattle modern dance on the map, and influenced an entire generation of dancers here. Evans has had a multi-faceted dance career, starting out with tap dance as a child, then ballet, then modern, culminating with his recent focus on Laban-Bartenieff studies. He has subsequently taught at Indiana University, and currently is a Professor of Dance at the University of New Mexico. Prior to these current academic posts, Evans was honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship, numerous awards from the National Endowment for the Arts; his company toured nationally and internationally. One of the 'core', charter company members Shirley Jenkins presented a solo Around Heaven, danced to music of Ray Charles. A white, whirling dervish, with a costume reminiscent of Isadora Duncan, Ms. Jenkins arms writhed and swirled in mesmerizing patterns.

A group piece presented by Bellingham's Dance Gallery, Colony, was based on Evan's recent artistic residency with the Maori people of New Zealand. Evans was struck by archival photos he saw in their museum there, which showed the 19th century Maori ancestors, forced to dress in high-necked Victorian collars, heavy, floor-length skirts, and stiff, severe pantaloons worn by the men. He found himself compelled to make a choreographic statement on this painful "culture clash". Christian Swenson, Gail Hielbron, Wade Madsen, and group pieces jointly presented by Bill Evans Dance Company and Light Motion presented other solos. Unfortunately, I needed to leave the concert early. Unsure of the ferry schedule back to Seattle, I did not want to be stranded in the wilds of Olympic Peninsula. Therefore, regrettably, I missed the final two pieces by Jim Freedman/Theresa Coleman and Evans' final solo, Dances for my Father. Overall, the evening had an upbeat, celebratory feeling, a sense of affirmation and triumph during an uncertain era.

One final note: after looking in some modern dance reference books, I find Evans name mentioned little, if at all. Could this reflect what some folks claim as the East-West coast bias of many critics? Meaning, many believe that unless a choreographer or company is based on the East or West Coast (Evans early-mid, formative career was in Salt Lake City), or at least in New York or San Francisco, they have little chance of being noticed or reviewed by the big-name critics, and hence going down in the history books as a 'major' artist. I was surprised that Evans, who had a major company in the 1970's and received several notable, national awards, is not given more mention in the history books.

 

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Edited by Marie.


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