Rebecca Goldstone in Sally meets Stu. Photo by Tim Summers.
For 10 years, Gaga, the creation of Israeli choreographer and Batsheva Dance Company artistic director Ohad Naharin, has been spreading across the globe. As a mode of movement research, Gaga uses sensation, imagery, and improvisation to awaken, bring awareness to, and experience pleasure in the physical body. Seattle audiences have been primed to Gaga through the works of Zoe Scofield, who studied the method in Israel at Batsheva, Kate Wallich, who worked extensively with Zoe before branching into her own Gaga-based practices, and now Danielle Agami.
Agami is a former dancer of Batsheva and close colleague of Naharin. She has been the executive producer of Gaga USA and helped stage Naharin’s repertory around the world. Now, taken under the wing of Velocity Dance Center, she’s living and working in Seattle. On August 31, 2012, her newly formed company, Ate9, presented her first full-evening work, Sally meets Stu, for Seattle audiences at the Century Ballroom. The sense of history-in-the-making could not be denied in the setting of the ornately decorated stage, chandeliers, and creaky wood floor.
Sally meets Stu was a multi-faceted work that satiated in its complexity of movement vocabulary, open-ended narrative structure, high level of individual embodiment, eclectic musical choices, and sophisticated use of staging. At its most basic level Sally is a series of five scenarios about the progression of the two titled characters in their relationship from first meeting to eventual marriage and beyond. Led by deadpan narrator/dancer Nadav Heyman, each scenario has its aspect of levity, quirky circumstance, and inexplicable events. For instance, in one scenario, Sally and Stu have a child together. In another Sally comes home from work one day and Stu stabs her in the neck fourteen times.
Ariana Daub and Sarah Butler. Photo by Tim Summers.
There is a constant tug and pull between macro and micro in storytelling, grouping, staging, and lighting (brilliantly done by Amiya Pennebaker-Brown) that dismisses why such things occur, merely that they do. The ending sequence with its flashing vignettes of a family and dog in the kitchen, old-timey crooners singing on a stage, and a woman convulsing bare-chested on the shoulders of her partner, drives home the multi-dimensionality of both actual and potential experience, which is a realm that belongs to the performing arts as well as quantum physics.
What is the most breathtaking about the work is two-fold. First, Gaga permeates the fulfillment of the movement. Agami possesses a limitless vocabulary ranging widely from concrete sources such as traditional folk dancing to the ambiguousness of serpentine and idiosyncratic articulations. In each chosen movement the richness and complexity of the body in motion was felt keenly. Second, Gaga has allowed each individual dancer in this hand-picked cast of twelve to fully access his or her own physical potential in a way that is intensely genuine.
In almost any other kind of work, this cast would seem uneven with its mix of technical ability and performance experience. Yet, in Sally each dancer is seen and can be appreciated in detail—among them our own stunning Seattle dancers Erica Badgely, Sarah Butler, Matt Drews, Chantael Duke, Tara Dyberg, and afore mentioned Wallich—while also delivering precise and driving sections of unison. Who knew that balancé en tournant could have the power of a lion stampede?
Agami has created something gratifying in many ways, and not only because she is an acknowledged expert in what she does and is giving that level of knowledge to Seattle dancers and audiences. Sally meets Stu is a debut that deserves repeated viewings and creates anticipation for what might come from this new company as it develops.