Seattle Dance Project Highlights Women Choreographers in Project Four

Written by Steve Ha
Last night Seattle Dance Project opened their run of Project Four, an assortment of works by female choreographers.  From fresh perspectives to seasoned, internationally acclaimed artists, Project Four presented unique female voices through modern dance styles.  Although choreography is a profession often dominated by men, the creativity on display by the talent behind Project Four indicated a necessity to bring more women choreographers into the spotlight and encourage those showing potential to pursue the craft.

The opening number, Planes in Air, was created by Molissa Fenley and first previewed at the Fremont Abbey Arts Center last month.  Invigorated by a different venue and lighting, it was a dive into weightlessness, with dancers Betsy Cooper and Oleg Gorboulev handling large, fan-like props in sweeping curves and long lines.  Dreamlike, they carved three-dimensional shapes into the air, sometimes gliding upon it and at other times twisting those shapes until the air bent to their will.  Fenley’s piece induced a sense of relaxation, as the movement involved generous bending of the knees and liquid feet, polishing all roughness away, which was further enhanced by a contemporary score of silvery cello notes and delicate chimes.  Planes in Air proved to be sensually striking—the result of collaborative efforts by a craftsman, a choreographer, and composer.
Heidi Vierthaler’s work, Surfacing, started with a lone lamp on stage, the primary lighting source radiating a golden glow.  The piece began when a woman led a man onto the stage, dressed in muted earth tones, their hands pressed together but never grasping.  She was deliberate in direction and silken with a fluidity in her spine, while his movements were erratic and awkward.  One by one, two more dancers joined the rather stark picture, showing exceptional clarity in isolated gestures that provided an eye-catching contrast when juxtaposed against the peculiar movements of the male dancer.  The quartet of Betsy Cooper, Oleg Gorboulev, Lara Seefeldt, and Michelle Curtis appeared largely unaware of the others’ presences and yet as the score of nondescript, garbled noises seemed to rise in volume, so did tensions in the shared space.  Vierthaler truly has a gift to make vivid the obscure relationships between people, giving them a material substance through bodies and negative space.
Al Poco Tiempo, choreographed by Ellie Sandtrom, began with performer Julie Tobiason alone on stage, exploring the space with her eyes and leaning ever so slightly away from the center of her body in a circular motion.  Her georgette dress, in pale shades of blue, invoked classical imagery of the Roman pantheon, suggesting the idea of her role as a modern day goddess and narrator of the dance.  When a strip of light was cast dead center, she came to life in energetic fashion, confining herself to only that light but filling it with spirited phrases of movement.  As a newly imagined Venus, Tobiason, by virtue of her divinity, summoned two dancers from opposite sides, who rushed to each other as if she had cast the proverbial love spell upon them.  However, the duet between Alexandra Dickson and Timothy Lynch was far from a romantic pas de deux and more indicative of a relationship set in reality.  There were moments of tenderness and ire, of forcefulness as she pushed him towards the ground and trust when she fell into his arms.  The music oscillated between the lusciousness of Mozart and becoming a driving, percussive force, as primal as a rapid heartbeat and providing the perfect temperament for the narrative.
In Rodin, choreographer Stacy Lowenberg took inspiration from the French sculptor Auguste Rodin and transformed it into a balletic, ephemeral duet for Michelle Curtis and David Alewine.  Dressed in simple brown costumes, Curtis and Alewine engaged in grand lifts that combined both structure in luxurious extensions and organic twists of the body.  Set to piano music by Phillip Glass that cascaded into the ear, the pair took flight as if they were two autumn leaves falling, willing each other to live as they fluttered to the ground in their final descent towards the earth beneath them.  It was not a dance of death but of life in its final moments, tinged with melancholy but with a sense of graciousness.  While the duet was all too fleeting itself, its transience added to its poetry.

The finale, Hilde Koch’s Torque, is a piece that blurs the lines between beginning, middle and end, distorting any sense of time or space.  Stagehands visibly worked to make alterations while the house lights were still on, and yet the dance, in silence, had already begun.  One dancer lay on the floor, while another slipped in and out of the curtains at the back.  When music finally began, it was stop-and-go, the movement on stage reflecting its sporadic nature.  A group of dancers rocked back and forth in place, facing away while others intermittently broke off into solos.  The fragmented nature of the work was almost maddening, but in each dancer Koch had identified the tools she would use to construct her dance, which built itself in front of the audience’s eyes.  When the company in-full conglomerated into unison, the patterns they wove seemed to come out of nowhere and yet retained an air of familiarity.  Musically, the morsels of piano and violin heard earlier were layered together to form a fantastically moving score, the dancers having also tapped into internal rhythms that allowed them to move as one and trust each other in acrobatic, whirling lifts.  Koch then deconstructed her dance as well, or perhaps let it fall apart, with simpler, angular arm gestures and without the virtuosity exhibited in the wilder sections.  The conclusion, a trio with Lara Seefeldt being manipulated by two male dancers, saw her become a veritable eel in their hands, and provided a quiet end to a brilliant roller coaster ride.
Project Four is as diverse as it is intellectual and uninhibited, showing a wide scope of dance through a female lens.  Several evening and matinee performances at the Erickson Theater off Broadway remain for this weekend and next, with tickets available for purchase at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/141397
For more information on Seattle Dance Project and its performers, please visit http://www.seattledanceproject.org/