Ideas Abound in While We Are Human

Written by Kaitlin McCarthy 

Sapience Dance Collective in While We Are Human
Photo by Jenny Peterson

This past Friday, June 29, 2012, Sapience Dance Collective opened its evening length work While We Are Human, directed by Victoria Jacobs and created in collaboration with other Sapience Collective members Willow Fox (set), Nathan Seder (music), Sarah Seder, Lilah Steece, and Amy Weaver (dancers). Sapience has chosen to transform a non-traditional dance space, the Tashiro-Kaplan Community Room in Pioneer Square, into their theatrical world. The lobby is adorned with fabric, clothing, and household items that give it a grandma’s attic kind of feel. The relationship of dancer to audience is likewise non-traditional, with the eloquently written program inviting audience members to “Enter this room. Stand where you want. Move around. Find what fascinates you.”

The show begins as the four dancers enter the lobby area, rearranging the various clothing items strewn about. They are task oriented, but not pedestrian; Jacobs looks suspicious and dramatic, while Weaver is poised and presentational, and Seder twirls from place to place. They perform improvised solos directed at specific audience members, and then adorn them with hats and ties.

Next, the audience is led to an adjacent room, where Jacobs has donned an enormous patchwork skirt that completely envelops the rest of the cast. Upon closer inspection the skirt is made of many items of clothing tied together. Viewers gather around the space, intermingling with set pieces crafted from crates to resemble crude buildings. Throbbing electronic pulses and live drumming accompany Jacobs as she circles her upper body, eventually waking the bodies that squirm beneath her skirt. Struggling and stretching away from them, the skirt extends the line beautifully, highlighting the expressive musculature of Jacobs’ upper body.

Sarah Seder in While We Are Human
Photo by Jenny Peterson
As each dancer is revealed, she performs a solo that seems to struggle against an unspecified angst. Sometimes a second dancer joins in a marked unison from the sidelines, at one point this develops into a duet between Weaver and Jacobs with some hesitant partnering (opening night jitters?), but their relationship remains unclear. The dancers’ different personalities remain consistent throughout the show, but their significance is never addressed, and their relationships are too transient to build anything but passing meaning. 



Another brief duet involves a struggle where Jacobs undoes Seder’s pony-tail, presumably so Seder’s hair can swing free in her solo, but it is not a well-concealed costume adjustment. The hair (and later a silk scarf) are delightful and beautiful to watch, but overshadow what would otherwise be non-descript modern dance, and the importance of these elements is not clear. Jacobs does a better job justifying the re-doing of Seder’s pony-tale when all four dancers do their hair simultaneously, which transitions nicely into a refreshing pedestrian section. The dancers don shoes and coats, and maintain fake conversations on their cell phones while setting up chairs for the audience and re-arranging set pieces. The abstract dance continues, but with a more traditional audience to stage relationship. Umbrellas are introduced briefly into the choreography, and with the more pronounced presence of the building sets, the dance shifts to a distinctly urban environment. Several interesting moments occur when the four bop in unison to techno music, each distinct personality reading on their faces, and when dancers in stretchy cloth bags roll across the stage, but both are over too quickly to develop.  When the set is moved closer to the audience the movement of the dancers feels constrained. While this merely seems poorly staged at first glance, all the pieces fall into place and the work begins to make sense. The swath of objects from the lobby, the giant skirt made of clothes, and the ever-encroaching buildings all speak to a struggle with modern urban life and the disconnect from our environment. In the final moments, Jacobs bares the skirt around her shoulders with a kind of dark resigned pride, and as the lights fade, the skirt consumes her.

Jacobs presents many interesting ideas in While We Are Human, but perhaps too many to take in at once. The message is there, but much of the content seems built into the set and costumes and less tied into the dance vocabulary. Jacobs’ grasp and performance of the movement is beautiful, but some of the nuance and articulation seem lost on the rest of the cast. Jacobs would do well to delve deeper into a few of her interesting choreographic ideas, refocusing the language of the dance to be as strong as the theatrical elements.

While We Are Human runs each weekend through July 15, with Friday and Saturday shows at 8:00pm and Sunday shows at 5:00pm. To reserve a ticket (recommended), email sarah.joy.seder@gmail.com. Suggested donation: $12-$25. For more information visit sapiencedance.org.