Hope Mohr Dance Visits Velocity on Northwest Tour

 Written by Mariko Nagashima
Hope Mohr Dance
Photo by Margo Mortiz
Hope Mohr Dance, a well established San Francisco-based modern company, performed April 29and 30, 2012, at Velocity DanceCenter in their Pacific Northwest debut. Both of Mohr’s works, a solo by Mohr herself and a large ensemble work, utilized intriguing visual elements and dynamic modern dance vocabulary.
A tangled web of red yarn in various phases of knots and crochet patterns was strung across the stage, in Plainsong, the solo by Mohr. Beginning by delineating her spatial boundaries, Mohr strung the red yarn from four chairs, creating a square frame for her ensuing movement exploration. Repetitive collapsing motions and searching eyes alluded to her yearning to leave her self-imposed margins, but this frustration was offset by a great sense of deliberation in each movement; she appeared simultaneously aggravated by and complicit in the situation. This mental conflict was further reflected in movement shifts from sudden bursts of energy to a balanced and calm exactitude. After plucking a pair of scissors from the net of yarn, she defiantly cut the string enclosing her, only to drop the scissors suddenly—a child caught in the act. Struck by her sudden boldness, she stepped definitively out of the space, into the unknown. An intriguing performer to watch, Mohr moved with a calm assurance that displayed her great clarity of line and steady grace. The work was aptly titled; the music was a simple song written by Mohr, and sung a cappella by Aleta Hayes. It made for a hauntingly stark yet fitting backdrop to Mohr’s cerebral explorations.

Hope Mohr Dance
Photo by Margo Mortiz
The second piece, Reluctant Light, was also a study in boundaries and contrasts. The featured visual elements were skeletal boxes of various sizes made of white PVC pipe. With no actual sides, only the delineations of prisms, the dancers could slide through or stand in the boxes, pushing past their perceived boundaries. But as often as not, they appeared fully fleshed out, with the dancers constrained inside of them or sweeping around and over them. Consequently, over the course of the piece, the boxes became objects of desire and frustration, sources of imprisonment and portals to escape. The relationships between the six dancers never became clear, instead an ever-shifting network of friendships and animosities. They swooped to each others’ aide in intriguing counterbalances in one moment, and then warily excluded one another the next. In terms of movement, there was a plethora of ideas on display, though most of it fell into the conventional modern category: sweeping curves, suspended lifts, and smooth dives to the floor. All was nicely executed, however, and the dancers reflected the same clarity Mohr herself displayed earlier. The unison sections were welcome respites from more muddled portions where each dancer performed their own phrases. After a child-like segment where each dancer took a turn suspended from the largest box and they tossed the smaller ones back and forth; they stacked them all together. The piece ended with them examining their handiwork, a wobbly, towering structure of their own obstacles. Though the skeletal boxes made intriguing props, by the end, all of their possibilities seemed exhausted; the piece finishes because they’ve done all they could with the set, not necessarily because it’s a fulfilling conclusion.

As a fairly isolated dance community here in Seattle, it’s always refreshing to see new dancers performing work by outside choreographers. Touring, however, is a large investment for small companies. Though Hope Mohr Dance was warmly received, the size of the house was discouragingly small for such a bold venture. This is the company’s first tour outside of San Francisco, and hopefully it won’t be their last. Next time, more dance goers should seize the opportunity to experience Mohr’s thoughtful and formidably performed works. More information about Hope Mohr Dance can be found at http://hopemohr.org/