Karin Stevens Dance Explores Music Through the Ages

Written by Mariko Nagashima

Karin Stevens Dance presented their contemporary choreography to music from the 17th through the 21st century Thursday evening in the Black Box Theater at Edmonds Community College. The live accompaniment by the Starry Night Chamber Orchestra made for a visually and aurally stimulating evening.
The first work of the evening was performed to Bach’s “Suite for Cello No. 1 in G Major.” Opening with the “Gigue,” the show got off to a lively start. This section of the cello suite culminated with the four dancers holding their arms outstretched to the audience, welcoming the crowd to their production.  Other musical movements from Bach’s Cello Suite were interspersed throughout the show. “Courante” featured Morgan Houghton, the only male in the company, in a solo. Running on stage with a bright smile, Houghton looked as if he were searching for others to join his joyous escapade. His movement was extremely fluid as he transitioned from floor work to buoyant jumps, and the whole solo felt like a playful dance in a sunlit meadow. “Allemande” was another solo, this time by dancer Amy Daniel. Also lively in tone, the choreography was clearly driven by the beautiful cello music.  Daniel was then joined by Caprice Abowitt in a pleasant duet to the “Prelude” of Bach’s Cello Suite. Here, their intricate hand movements dissolved into larger sinuous motions with each cascade of the cello. The two continually rotate around each other throughout the piece, and then slowly back off stage at its denouement. Abowitt also performed as  soloist for Bach’s “Minuet,” and her charming stage presence continued to shine here. At one point she brushes each shoulder and pushes her hands away from her, breaking the confines of some imaginary restriction, and then continues to waltz across the stage. The final excerpt of Bach’s Cello Suite was “Sarabande,” a slow, pensive solo by Naphthali Beyleveld. Bathed in mottled purple light, Beyleveld appeared thoroughly engaged in the music. In a touch of melodrama, the stage blackened and the dancer exited—walking decisively into the one remaining beam of light coming from the front wing. 

Also from the Baroque era was Vivaldi’s “L’estro Armonico” which accompanied the ensemble work, Point of Departure. Opening with a solo by Stevens herself, the piece began with her slowly circling her hips, gradually increasing her movement to full body rotations in the center of a dimly lit stage. As the mood of the music shifted from melancholy to spritely, the lights brightened and Stevens was joined by three other dancers. The four whirl about the stage in complex patterns, often with their arms in an “S” shape, which complemented their curving trajectories. Stevens’ choreography continued to perfectly match each musical chord, as two more dancers joined the ensemble. At the end of the work, the six dancers come together to make a series of stilted geometric shapes before all whirl freely away.

An untitled work was danced to Mozart’s “Adagio and Fugue in C Minor,” representing the Classical Period of music in this historical overview. The starkly lit stage and five dancers clad in long black skirts—with the exception of Abowitt, whose skirt was scarlet red—created an almost gothic impression. The piece opened with five women moving sharply in unison. Seemingly mired in grief, they kneel and look upwards questioningly with their arms outstretched. As the four dancers exit leaving Abowitt behind, Houghton entered, and the two commence an expressive and highly physical duet. The work climaxed with Houghton leaping in a circle around the exhausted Abowitt. As she stretched one hand upward longingly, Houghton ran to her and tried to grab her reaching hand, but he falls short.

Tethered Selves, by far the most intriguing piece of the evening, was accompanied by the Romantic Era’s “Holberg Suite” by Edvard Grieg. In this commentary on the ubiquity of cell phones and preoccupation with texting in today’s society, the dancers all carried cell phones on which they pretended to text and search for service. In one segment a dancer was so absorbed in texting she took absolutely no notice of the three dancers moving directly in front of her. This quirky romp of a piece also offered some unique partnering, all done while the dancers focus on their phones. It wasn’t until the very end, when they all snap their phones shut, that they acknowledge one another’s presence.

The evening continued with a wistful duet by Daniel and Houghton set to John Corigliano’s “Voyage.” With this work, the musical timeline advanced into the 20th century. Though the energetic relationship between the two was rather tenuous when they danced separately, there were moments of true clarity and beauty when they moved in unison.

To incorporate contemporary music, two pieces composed by cellist Philip A. Peterson round out the program. The first, titled “For the Joy,” accompanied and motivated An Improvisation Toward Truth, a completely improvised solo by Stevens. In it, one shape melted into the next, all accompanied by nimble footwork and even feverish jumps as the music escalated. Stevens gave a committed performance and appeared entirely invested in the music as she let each chord echo through her body. Furies of Love, the evening’s final piece was set to Peterson’s “Arc, Infusion, Vapor, Texture.” Dressed all in brown with panels of autumnal colored chiffon attached to their backs, the dancers gave the impression of leaves or seeds blown about by the wind. Dictated by the music, the six dancers continually shifted their patterns, often shuffling about in a wide stance with bent knees, decisively flicking their hands in different directions. Stevens’ choreography continued to mirror the music as it became more and more frenzied, until ending rather abruptly when the music came to a halt.

As a whole, the show offered a glimpse of classical music’s evolution through the lens of perfectly matched contemporary choreography. The show continues Friday, January 28 at 7:30 PM in the Black Box Theater at EdmondsCommunity College. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets and range from $7-15. 

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