Northwest Dance Syndrome brings mélange of dances in ‘Collide’

Written by Steve Ha

Northwest Dance Syndrome proved that variety is truly the spice of life in the opening night of their show Collide.  Featuring local choreographers, it was an evening of unique perspectives and eclectic styles, all under the umbrella of the modern dance genre.
The opening number Nincompoopiana, an unusual blend of puppetry and dance choreographed by Carla Barragan, had a group of performers outfitted in colorful costumes with detailed patterns reminiscent of Aztec art, slowly ambling across the stage in measured steps like alien gingerbread men.  Eerie at first, they became oddly intimate when their relationships became more recognizable, for example when one began to dance a phrase of movement, the others would follow, establishing a familiar teacher-student relationship.  Later in the piece they called to one another and indulged in playful games in a jungle boogie of percussive music layered over ambient forest sounds.  Their unearthly quality seemed diminished by the end, the creatures having made clear to the audience that there were few differences between them.

In Kristen Legg’s Cantica renati, members of Redd Legg Dance lay scattered on the ground, with a balletic duet filling the voids.  As the duet blossomed from smaller gestures and subtle glances to more expansive movement, an awakening began, the dormant bodies coming to life, unnoticed at first as their hands gradually ascended into the air.  One by one the dancers arose from the floor, suspending their bodies in off-kilter extensions and tilted classical lines.  Thrusting themselves into waves of arabesques and high leg kicks, they maintained a gentle airiness like leaves rustling in the wind.  Their arms moved in a fascinatingly delicate manner, with no movement wasted as they found succinct pathways.  The effect was spiritual, concluding with a haunting image of the entire company standing still, expressions aloof as they calmly reached in opposing directions, elongating in vertical lines that left the audience speechless.

Choreographer Maya Soto had two works in the program, putting on display her full range as an artist.  Her first work, simply titled Word, was a fusion of hip-hop dance with modern influences, taking dance from the street and morphing it into a staged, performance art.  Maintaining the attitude that is central to hip-hop, Soto juxtaposed popping and locking with loose, weighted contemporary movement, exploring a full range of bodily aesthetics, while shifts in lighting revealed several moments where the dancers’ interactions with their shadows were just as significant as their violent struggles with each other.  Showing great contrast in her other piece Lullaby, Soto toned down the hip-hop and successfully extracted a soft, almost lyrical quality from it, in a narrative dance that told the story of a young woman’s vision of herself in a dream.  While one performer slept on stage, the dream apparition would walk in place or engage in subdued isolations that cast a spell over the entire theater.

In the most carefree piece of night, choreographer Anne Motl brought warmth and a feminine ease to her work, Loretta’s Garden.  In floral sundresses, a group of coltish girls frolicked in a blithe whirlwind of athletic and luxurious dancing, sharing tender moments as they passed flowers amongst themselves.  A significant shift took place when they reentered the stage in dresses with more modest coloring, representative of growth and maturation.  However, the spirit of the movement remained unchanged as they delighted in leaping off a small platform in the middle of the stage, youthful girls once again.  As one dancer in white lay down on a bench, with her beloved friends surrounding her, it became apparent that the jubilee was perhaps a celebration of her memory and that the bonds of sisterhood ensured a lovesome nostalgia.

A vastly different interpretation of sisterhood could be seen in P.S. I am not catching you, a trio performed and choreographed by the dancing troupe, The Post Scripts.  Three dancers in hooded sweatshirts arrested into a multitude of interactions, some manipulative, some forced, and others cordial.  The shortest of the three, Morgan Nutt, always seemed to be playing catch-up with the other two, throwing herself into a series of aggressive rolls on the floor in pursuit of the others, like a young child chasing after the older sisters she admires (but refuses to admit her idolization for out of pride).  The roles reversed when she seemed to pull the strings, making beckoning gestures with her hands as the other dancers took their turns on the ground.  Virile, and yet with hints of comedy, this work captured the essence of a disharmony only siblings can understand.

The finale, Bake You a Cake choreographed by Gabriel Bruya and headlined by Northwest Dance Syndrome dancers (Soto, Motl, and Teresa Hanawalt) capitalized on characteristics of 1950s housewives.  In vintage dresses with full skirts, the women charmed the audience with socially expected ladylike movements, such as fussing with their aprons and dainty tilts of the shoulders.  Bustling about like dolls, they set about the task of acting as “proper” housewives, but sometimes yielded to impish behavior like dancing cabaret-style on an overturned table, or smashing the fanciful cakes they had baked and haphazardly smearing them .  As they did so, other women entered the stage, strutting in a single file line while bringing in more baked goods like an army of Stepford wives.  By means of melodramatic facial expressions and theatrical movement, Bruya played on themes of femininity and social expectations in clever fashion.

Providing a diverse cross-section of Seattle based artists, Collide is sure to strike a chord and enrich perceptions of dance and performing arts.  Two opportunities remain to see the show on November 6 and 7, 2010 (8:00pm) at the Erickson Theatre Off Broadway.  Tickets are available at the door and online at BrownPaperTickets.com.