The New Animals—Just what Seattle Needs

Written by Kristen Legg
Amy Johnson in rehearsal for The Council
Photo by Kenneth Shook
On March 9, 2012, Seattle’s newest dance group, The New Animals directed by Markeith Wiley, presented their first full-length work.  The Council is a look at the ins and outs of politics, democracy, and society in general.  The work combined Wiley’s unique blend of hip-hop and modern movement, Timothy Smith-Stewart’s beautifully written (and performed) script, and perfectly melded sounds by This Bitch Don’t Fall Off. 

After the short movement play, Talk Show Host, by boom! theatre company, and a too-long intermission (after having started the performance 25 minutes late), The Council came in session.  An announcement over the PA system brought viewers into the council meeting, explaining viewing rules, which became more and more absurd.  With each rule, The Animals popped and rolled their limbs, returning in unison to a poised line, as if prepared for a group photo.

The New Animals in rehearsal for The Council
Photo by Kenneth Shook
Amy Johnson, as the misfit, exploded out of a pile of suit jackets, flailing her body powerfully across the intimate space, only to be reeled in by the council and taken away.  The council came to their meeting table to discuss a controversial bill, a non-dance scene that, although interspersed with humor and choreographed paper shuffling, went on a bit too long.  From here, however, all expectations flew out the window.

Wiley’s group choreography filled the small Annex Theatre’s stage with intricate gestural phrases, and powerful, sweeping floor work. In a surprising moment, the whole cast suddenly rippled and flung themselves upstage right, leaving Danielle Hammer to pull them back to standing. Each dancer in The Council makes their own subtle movement choices while still moving as one with the group.  Sarah Butler’s disjointed, rippling isolations put any “robot dance” attempts to shame.  Gabby Bruya’s buoyant weight shifts and quick turns make her seem like an out-of-control bouncy ball, never stopping.  Jamie Karlovich’s recognizable movement style—held yet fluid, slightly hunched yet long—matched perfectly in a duet with Hammer’s extensions.

The plot line in The Council was a bit complex at times.  Council members grappled for control and power, worked out in their suits to self-help tapes (a wonderful little “jewel” featuring Bruya), and told personal stories, poetic and perfect, but strange in their placement.  Even so, the movement themes, diverse and driving music, and fantastic dedication from the cast kept the slow parts moving.

Johnson returned to the stage and was forced by Wiley, Butler, and Calie Swedberg into conformation.  In a perfectly matched duet, Wiley and Johnson barreled through the space with absolute trust of each other and their own knowledge of their surroundings.  Wiley seems to have a knack for pairing people up.  Jenny Peterson and Bruya bounded on stage into a stall, then stood and nodded as if nothing had happened. This led to a wonderful power struggle duet between the two.  In another two-some Butler and Wiley entered, each tangled in one sleeve of Wiley’s coat.  Though their duet at first seemed reminiscent of a piece from So You Think You Can Dance, Wiley took it to another level, adding violence and domination to the mix.  Another surprise duet was between Karlovich and Swedberg.  Karlovich delivered an emotional monologue while Swedberg undulated with grace and poise.

At the end of The Council, the tables turn—literally and figuratively.  The text from the beginning of the piece repeats, but things have changed.  No longer is the council a crisp, clean, unfeeling organization.  Their world has been tipped on end, battered, and torn, and a new council has emerged.  They stand, shirts ruffled, jackets ripped at the shoulder, ready for their next meeting.

The Council can be seen tonight, March 10, 2012 at The Annex Theatre.  Tickets may still be available online at http://www.annextheatre.org/2012-season/guest-productions/the-council/.  Otherwise, get there early for the possibility of open seats.