Written by Mariko Nagashima
Karin Stevens Dance teamed up with local nonprofit band JUBILEE this Friday, April 15, at the Fremont Abbey, in an evening designed to promote awareness of the fight against modern day slavery. Titled The New Abolitionist Movement, the show featured choreography tailored to and inspired by seven of JUBILEE’s songs, which the band performed live. The surfer-esqe folk rock sound and whirling modern dance were offset by poetry slams in which local poets brought to light the struggles of modern day slaves through emotive recitations. Touching on issues such as sexual slavery, child prostitution, and human trafficking, these thought-provoking readings lent the evening a somber note but also informed the audience in an artistic way.
The concert opened with JUBILEE’s “Word of the Poor,” accompanied by an ensemble dance alternating between slow motion movements and light jumps with quick arm gestures that mirrored the bossa nova feel of the music. With references to slavery through depictions of physical labor and several lifts in which one dancer appeared to be a yoke around another’s neck, the piece was clearly designed to make a statement. Later, exclamatory leaps and bounds signaled hope and redemption suggesting a way past these struggles.
Dancers Victoria McConnell and Amy Daniel were featured next in a striking duet to music titled “Useless to Compete.” Swathed in red light, the two manipulated each other, one swinging limply before twisting and falling into one another’s arms. There were also lovely moments of weight sharing and release, often evoking a feeling of futility.
In “Your Eyes,” a much mellower ballad, Stevens’ choreography expressed the compassion and empathy humans are capable of. The piece arced and whirled to the soulful melody of the music. In several poignant moments, the dancers simply embraced and swayed together. The quartet of dancers ended with elbows linked in a circle and heads bowed in reverence.
Stevens’ choreographic style is grounded yet maintains a sense of expansiveness. Her dancers were calm and poised throughout the performance making the dance more accessible to the viewer. They moved fluidly through the movement, luxuriating in each step without being sluggish. And while the steps themselves often appeared repetitive, it was evident that great care was taken in the quality and intention behind the movements. This was particularly true for the next two pieces, “Today,” performed alongside a duet by Daniels and Keneniah Bystrom, and “Odysseus,” a solo by Stevens herself. In both, the movement seemed to ebb and flow, driven by the cascading music.
The final piece was set to the song “This Mourning is Warm” and involved the whole company of eight dancers. Beginning with a series of lunging poses that shifted with each piano chord, the group exuded strength and tension. The dancing escalated with the music, and when several of the drummers got up and stood among the dancers with their instruments, the movement had hints of African influence, with bent knees and scooping arm movements. Definitely the most dynamic piece of the concert, it was a joyous celebration of hope.
All in all, the evening demonstrated a way to create and share art, not just for the sake of art, but for a noble cause that is often overlooked in present society. Karin Stevens’ use of creativity to combat human suffering was a reminder of just how powerful art can be. In addition to half of JUBILEE’s record sales being donated to an organization that battles human trafficking internationally, a portion of the ticket sales also went to Seattle Against Slavery, a group that raises local awareness of modern day slavery.