It Must Have Been Violet Shows Clarity and Creativity

Written by Mariko Nagashima
Susan Haines in Duet
Photo by Ed Miller
While the contemporary dance company It Must Have Been Violet’s program claims similarity to the color violet’s existence “at the end of the spectrum of light, just at the edge of the invisible,” it seems that IMHBV is not so much invisible, as just extremely under the radar. Perhaps that’s because its three artistic directors live in Bellingham, Washington; Durham, North Carolina; and Jacksonville, Florida. The company is a collaborative effort between Susan Haines (WA), Carol Kyles Finley (NC), and Talani Torres (FL), who discovered they shared similar ideas about dance on film and onstage while in grad school together and, several years later, launched IMHBV as a platform for their cross-country creative explorations. The few that attended their show this Saturday evening, August 11, 2012, were rewarded for sitting in the sweltering heat of the University District’s Open Flight Studio with a performance filled with interesting concepts, clean movement, and fresh faces.
Torres’ piece Juncture, an homage to the resilient and domino-playing culture of Cuba, opened the show. A duet by Hannah Lindberg Andersen and Alona Christman, the work featured clear and efficient movement patterns filled with linear battements and diagonal counterbalances that nicely suited both Bellingham-based dancers. With a video of old Cuban men intently playing dominoes projected on the back wall, the dancers sat at a small table, mirroring these games with perfect seriousness, their shadows flickering on the screen. They broke up sections of movement by occasionally returning to the table, and, as they sat for the final time, it seemed to reflect the enduring nature of this tradition despite Cuba’s political turbulence.

In Saturn Return, a solo by Seattlechoreographer Rachel Grant, the audience was carried on an intergalactic journey to sounds of NPR’s “Star Date” lectures, which morphed into a search for love to the bluesy vocals of Dinah Washington. Wearing a frilly white tulle skirt and a bejeweled white leotard, Grant cleverly played off the words in her soundscape, her body rolling gently to the words “ripple through the galaxy,” and peering playfully behind her to Washington’s “there are stars over my shoulder.” Grant gave an assured and endearing performance, carried largely by her full commitment to facial expressions, which provided an added charm.

The most well articulated piece of the evening in both concept and execution was Haines’ My People Are Better Than Your People. Both title and text, which was projected across the back wall, were excerpts from Barbara Kruger’s 1994 installation at Serpentine Gallery in London, and dealt with themes of judgment and objectification, which the choreography echoed. Dancers Andersen and Shannon Tallman moved fluidly; dramatically flung arabesques and sudden flicks of the elbow or leg provided unexpected punctuation. The overarching themes were articulated with large swaths of fabric. Andersen draped one over her body and assumed model poses on a pedestal while Tallman wound the other around her feet and eventually around her head before simply walking away as the words “How dare you not be me,” bled together across the back.

In Duet, Haines danced with a video projection of herself moving in front of a mirror. In a highly intriguing effect, her shadow added a fourth outline to the mix, making what was in reality a solo, often become a quartet of the same figure. While many movements lined up with the film projection and all featured long stretching lines, it seemed almost stream of conscious. The physical ramblings of the mind looping back on itself in separate stretches of time.

In Finley’s Three Downfalls, Finley used caricatures to chart three scenarios of disappointment with wit and humor. “Avalanche” featured dancer Sheryl Scott as a glammed-up rocker chick jamming out to the soothing piano chords of Johann Sebastian Bach. Her every head bang and punch of the air was perfectly timed to the tinkling piano but curiously disconnected as well. In “Funny: Night After Night,” dancer Ashley Spear played a clown trying desperately to get a rise from the audience with a repeated silent shtick of shuffles, showmanship, and goofy jumps. Her concern at the lack of response continued to increase, only amp-ing up the comedy factor, before she fell to the floor in defeat. Matney Murad perfectly displayed the monotony of office work in “Canned.” With one foot stuck in a waste-paper bin, she dragged herself onstage and through each movement with a fitting ennui. The three scenarios were clever, perhaps overly literal, but certainly entertaining.

The final piece of the evening almost too far away to remember featured dancers from the Dance Gallery, a collective based in Bellingham. The fairly traditional modern dance movements ebbed and flowed nicely through geometric patterns and partnering moments but never conveyed a real intention or purpose. Not a standout choreographically, it was definitely refreshing to see such a diverse group of dancers (both age and body types) moving with such clarity and precision.

As a whole, It Must Have Been Violet’s show displayed a range of techniques and clever uses of film and technology. Though there was not a huge amount of overlap between the directors’ diverse locales, (except with Juncture by the Florida based choreographer and featuring Washington dancers,) the three directors have enough similarity of vision to create a cohesive program. Indeed, it’s a testament to the spirit of collaboration that this cross-country endeavor was so successful.