Chop Shop Provides Diverse Look at Seattle’s Thriving Contemporary Dance Scene

Written by Mariko Nagashima

Chop Shop: Bodies of Work, a contemporary dance festival hosted by Stone Dance Productions, brought together a well-rounded mix of modern dance companies from the greater Seattle area for the fourth year in a row. This weekend’s performance at the Meydenbauer Theater in Bellevuepresented everything from Spectrum Dance Theater’s expansive arabesques to Zoe/Juniper’s contorted gestural movement, offering a broad glimpse at the range of Seattle’s dance community.

Opening the program was Trap Door Party presented by Bellingham Repertory Dance. This piece featured six dancers, each with their own box of light to which their movement was confined. Such precise lighting, done by Matt Christman, heightened the sense of drama in the piece. While each dancer was isolated in her own box, they all moved in unison through an aggressive floorwork phrase, rebounding from one shape to the next with each beat of music. The distinct tension between the dancer on center stage, the only one in white while the rest wore black, became even more apparent as she was circled and ominously manipulated like a puppet by another dancer. The girl in white got the last word, however; the piece ended with her moving to the front of the stage and stopping in a crouch, chest lifted, arms splayed defiantly.
In Tonya Lockyer’s piece, a tiny ship in the vast outer space where the air is quiet and transparent, Erica Badgeley danced a solo portraying a winter scene filled with childish whimsy. Badgeley, wearing a red coat and white fur cap, moved with a lovely expansive quality as she sensed the cold and playfully explored the stage. She seemed to skate across the floor at times with her movement perfectly shadowing Edvard Grieg’s sweeping music. As snow began to fall in the center of the stage, Badgeley revolved slowly—mesmerized by the sprinkling flakes—leaving the audience with a serene and wistful image.
SD/Prism Dance Theatre presented Freeze Frame, a funky tribute to female empowerment. The three women in the piece, Taylor Romar, Emma Sanford, and Amber Weiss, each danced a solo while the others stood solidly behind, almost like backup dancers in a music video. Filled with dynamic jazz layouts, pencil turns, and soaring extensions the women’s movement embodied Diana Reeves’ lyrics, which proclaimed “I am a woman, I am an artist…I sing no victim’s song.”
Wade Madsen choreographed and performed Unlucky, a slinky piece set to the jazz stylings of Miles Davis. Wearing a dapper blazer and fedora, Madsen transported the audience back to the Roaring 20s and the heyday of the Jazz Age. While walking in slow motion, he mimed lighting up a cigarette, ordering a drink, and wiling his way through a card game. As the smooth saxophone chimed in, his movement expanded and he stretched and slinked across the stage in looping arcs. Winding down, he settled to the floor, his fingers trickled upward with the last riff of the sax before he lay down completely.
Establishing a much more somber mood was Quark Contemporary Dance Theatre’s Once and Never Again. Delving into the ideas of destruction and desolation, this piece opened with a diagonal line of dancers facing a wash of light coming from the front corner of the stage. In various groupings of twos and threes, the dancers broke away from and reformed their line to hauntingly beautiful chanting music, while gradually advancing toward the light. As all the dancers exited, soloist Alethea Alexander entered. After a slow and sustained phrase, she tried to join, or at least break apart, the line that reformed at the opposite end of the stage; she ran and jumped horizontally at it, to no avail, as she was merely caught and set down. Walking stoically through the dancers who have rejected her, she separated herself, only occasionally gazing in the direction the ensemble exited. Her movement gradually carried her out of the slowly dimming lights.
Distances by Catherine Cabeen and Company was next on the bill and, with a slide and acoustic guitarist seated on stage, was the only piece with live music. Choreographed and danced by Catherine Cabeen and Echo Gustafson, Distances explored how relative amounts of space affect two peoples’ relationship. Beginning with studied and luxurious weight sharing, the two lugubriously twisted themselves together demonstrating their extreme grace and control while in close proximity to one another. When they did break apart to dance independently they were magnetically drawn back together. Ranging from frenzied to meditative, their finely articulated movement and ability to move as one organism left the audience captivated.
Eva Stone, the creator of Chop Shop, presented her company The Stone Dance Collective in a grandiose piece titled Readymade. Opening with a solo by Joseph Schanbeck, the piece toyed with the idea of what makes us human. After hastily donning a blazer from a hanging rack, Schanbeck thrashed and twisted through a dynamic solo, balancing flurries of movement with brief moments of stillness. As he walked slowly away, three women entered, backs to the audience, through a gap in the back curtain. The lights slowly rose to reveal that the dancers were topless, wearing only a long black skirt. Dancing together in silence, their backs remained to the audience creating a striking image. Three other women entered, and after clothing the topless women in black shirts, the six expanded across the stage. Stone’s grounded choreography is punctuated by small gestural movements, a head turned to look over the shoulder here, fluttering hands with outstretched fingers there. The operatic music lent the piece a sense of grandeur and the long black skirts were used to great effect. In the final moment, the dancers slowly spin, looking up, holding a skirt edge to the ceiling.
Zoe/Juniper brought their unique blend of visual art and dance in an excerpt from A Crack in Everything, seen earlier at The A.W.A.R.D. Show. The piece opened with Zoe Scofield slowly contorting her body, a red string attached to her mouth mysteriously extending into the wings. Twisting about in her signature deconstructed style she remained tethered by her jaw until a light flashed and she disengaged. The lights returned to Scofield tracing her image in chalk as her body repositioned itself against a wall at the rear of the stage. This almost childish endeavor strangely contrasted with the music: the lofty operatic tones of Franz Schubert. In another flash, she exited leaving behind the tangible echo of her fleeting movement scrawled across the board.
Spectrum Dance Theater finished the evening with Donald Byrd’s aptly titled Longing. The dancers began seated in chairs illuminated from below with fluorescent lights. Rising to dance in duets and trios and an all male quartet, each dancer seems to yearn for anyone besides their given partner. The dancers’ refined ballet technique shone as they flawlessly executed suspended leaps and whirling combinations of pirouettes. Soaring classical lines were punctuated by abrupt flexed feet and running motions in one particularly striking section where Joel Meyers partnered Tory Peil and Ty Cheng partnered Kylie Lewallen. Each dancer left the stage chasing after the one who exited before them. In the end only Peil and Meyers remained; when Peil fails to return his longing gaze Meyers exits, leaving her in isolation.
In addition to innovative dance performances, Chop Shop also featured master classes and lectures throughout the weekend. The festival continues on Sunday, February 13th at the Theater at Meydenbauer at 3PM. Tickets are available through BrownPaperTickets.com.