Velocity Kicks Off Season in Style

Written by Mariko Nagashima

Yukio Susuki/KINGYO at the Big Bang! Party Remix
Photo by Tim Summers
VelocityDanceCentercontinued to establish its reputation as “Seattle’s contemporary dance hub” with a 3-day panoply of dance performances and installations at their annual Fall Kick-Off event Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, September 14–16. With 2 nights of traditional sit-down performances and 1 night, dubbed the Big Bang! Remix Party, where over 30 artists performed simultaneously in all three studios, the weekend provided a freeze frame of the Seattle scene. Several performances were reprisals of shows seen around town this past season and others served as teasers for what audiences can look forward to this coming year. Here are a few of the weekend’s highlights:

Friday:

Amy Johnson in CC: The Tramp (excerpts)
Photo by Tim Summers
A standout in Friday’s performance was the new collaboration between PNB/Whim W’Him dancer Andrew Bartee and Velocity mainstay Kate Wallich. Bartee and Wallich premiered Crash Case, an ultra-deconstructed version of the traditional ballet duet where they seemed to braid their bodies together in partnering sequences and emit a subtle aggression in solo sections. They paused with one fist raised before shuffling sideways and stretching with marvelous elasticity to Lena Simon’s shimmery soundscape. The piece showed a growing maturity in Bartee’s choreography, marking their partnership as something for dance fans to get excited about in the coming year.

Sarah Butler’s performance of Alex Ketley’s Memory is Parallax was another highlight. Ketley, a San Francisco-based dance maker, has a particularly gestural movement style, which fit seamlessly on Butler. Her exceptional clarity and magnetic stage presence made for an incomparable performance. Amy Johnson also performed a jolly tribute to Charlie Chaplin in CC: The Tramp (excerpts). This quirky delight featured spot-on musicality and a willingness, much like the actor himself, to not take itself too seriously.

Saturday: The Big Bang! Remix Party

With Velocity’s multiple studios, hallways, and front stairway occupied by performing artists, the Big Bang! felt like a zany museum where the art exhibits stare right back at you and even implore you to interact. Was it overwhelming? Absolutely, but what a wondrous thing to be overwhelmed by! The beauty of the Big Bang! is how it showcases the multiplicity of ways dance can be performed, viewed, and experienced. Each group created a distinct mood in their corner of the space. Unfortunately, the actual movement vocabulary across the board all felt fairly similar with many oft-seen modern dance tropes, just dressed up in different costumes. Much of this repetition, however, could be attributed to the confined space each group was performing in.

The theme of the evening often seemed to be more elaborate costumes and less dancing. Some examples include the mummy-like Alice Gosti who sat on a small stool and coiled herself in toilet paper until her head resembled a giant white pin-cushion and Colleen McNeary, perched in the alcove above the restrooms quietly preening herself with feathers emerging from her fingertips and back. Paint was also a theme of the evening; Erica Badgeley playfully dipped her hands and feet in blue and red to imprint her pathways on a sheet of cardboard, and Seth Sexton and Rachel Green covered their bodies in black and white paint and traced outlines of their figures.

Seth Sexton and Monica Mata Gilliam at the Big Bang! Party Remix
Photo by Joseph Lambert
Some acts were simply bizarre and many qualified more as performance art than dance, like Vanessa DeWolf and Brenna Fredrickson lurking in a dark stairwell with towering white afro wigs and poufy bows under their chins, the counseling session via Skype with Curry and Dillon, or the gender bending outfits of Syniva Whitney. Many called for audience participation, though some were more successful than others. Highly entertaining was the group Cabin Fever, who allowed viewers to choose which scenarios the infectiously fun musicians and dancers would perform (they ranged from enacting scenes from the film “My Best Friend’s Wedding” to playing the mouth trumpet). The ultimate in audience participation, however, was the tongue-in-cheek Do It Yourself by The YC. The group set up a synthesizer and a live-feed camera in a closet suffused with flashing lights, letting the viewer create their own dance party, or whatever else they pleased. Moments of quieter beauty were found in Britt Karhoff’s in the nick with a metronome that allowed the audience to set the tempo of her spiderlike movements along the studio’s brick walls, and Lorraine Lau’s Exercise in Vanity where she posed on small pedestal with mesmerizing beauty.

At the end of the exhibition was shake it off, refreshing in its simplicity. Elia Mrak stood on Velocity’s front steps with his eyes closed, softly shaking his body while bluesy tunes played from a boombox. Signs implored viewers to take a moment to reflect on their experience, choose a new tape to play, and write a word in chalk on the sidewalk. Mrak perfectly encapsulated the need to let the beautiful sensory overload of the Big Bang! wash away as viewers stepped into the cool night air.

Sunday:

Sunday’s sold-out show featured a stellar line-up of Seattle strongholds: Donald Byrd, Zoe Scofield, KT Neihoff, and Maureen Whiting among others. Though several pieces on Sunday’s program were excerpts of larger works, two in particular seemed to end far too soon: Zoe Scofield’s eleven. and Danielle Agami’s Sally meets Stu. In a reprisal of this summer’s Strictly Seattle work, eleven, set to Ravel’s “Bolero” unfolded with simmering sensuality. The fleet of women sat in straddle for most of the piece, curling their fingers on their lips before snapping their arms in angles across their torso, all the while pointing and flexing their feet, advancing toward the audience with sultry stares. The work’s slow and intricate build hooked the audience; it was a shame to see it end. Agami’s piece featured a luscious wave of human limbs, undulating across the stage as five women melted through a continuously blooming flower of floorwork. Agami, a captivating performer, danced in this excerpt as well, her every movement imbued with calm intention and boneless fluidity. Fortunately, the troupe will perform the piece in its entirety again in November.

Ezra Dickinson and Maureen Whiting in Belly
Photo by Tim Summers
Byrd’s excerpt of LOVE offered a harrowing look at the emotion. The two dancers, Shadou Mintrone and Vincent Lopez, thrashed, shook, and whirled with precision, terror in their eyes. Not even the end, where they leaned toward each other as if to kiss, offered any tenderness, only unrelenting compulsion. Whiting’s Belly was somewhat lighter in mood. Belly featured an almost primeval vocabulary of gestures and a good deal of crotch-grabbing and floor humping. Whiting and Ezra Dickinson, costumed in bulky fur loincloths and tuxedo shirts with spikes protruding from the shoulders, created a baffling yet intriguing statement on the essence of human nature.

Velocity’s Fall Kick-Off put the season in nice perspective, with promising acts to look forward to and many from last season to remember fondly. The eclectic mixture of voices present throughout the weekend showed how Velocity continues to provide a home for Seattle dance artists to experiment, perform, and create.