Strain and Sparseness at Chop Shop 2013


Written by Kathryn Hightower

Sarah Poppe of The Stone Dance Collective in Eve, reconsidered by Eva Stone.
Chop Shop Contemporary Dance Festival, 2013. 
Photo by Rex Tranter.

Eva Stone has curated another successful evening of ballet-based contemporary dance. Chop Shop: Bodies of Work, presented February 16 and 17, 2013, by StoneDance Productions and The Theatre at Meydenbauer, featured ten choreographers. The sparse staging, the color washes of white, green, and blue, the classical music, and the earthtones of the costumes seemed to have been consciously chosen by the choreographers to fit the overarching theme of the night: tension.
Several duets stood out as prime examples of the theme, especially Donald Byrd’s Scorched (Excerpt), which featured two duets. While showcasing his dancers’ strong ballet technique, Byrd created tension between sharp, linear movements and wavy S’s and O’s. A change from lime green to white light, and from duets to group work, seemed to signal tension between heaven and earth. The quartet struggled to reach upward while being pulled downward in graceful falls and tight convulsions. The final, poignant image was of all four dancers sitting with hands clasped in prayer.
Two pieces featured strong group work: P. INC’s Grace, in arm’s length and Mid-Columbia Ballet’s Set Theory. Grace,choreographed by Vincent Michael Lopez, was the only work in the performance with a set. Joel Cain designed a blue chair with a back shaped like a giant fork and a white wall that looked like a huge metronome. Despite its size, the set’s placement far to stage left and the way the dancers ignored it after the first thirty seconds created an atmosphere of sparseness. Similarly, Set Theory, choreographed by Georg Cantor, created an atmosphere of sparseness despite filling the stage with fifteen young dancers. Each dancer wore the same grey-blue tunic, a pseudo-unisex costume that created a corps de ballet sense of sameness. The work seemed to convey mathematical coolness rather than emotional intensity. In contrast, the costuming in the highly emotional, Grace emphasized the uniqueness of each dancer, though all were coordinated in black and bright royal blue. Midway through the piece, one dancer pulled on a red satin ribbon on the head of another dancer, whose movement grew more intense until she was completely drained. Later, the other dancers stood in a line upstage, watching her struggle to stand on her own. One by one, each dancer tried to help her but failed, except for the very one who pulled her ribbon in the first place. The piece succeeded  in conveying the struggle faced by the choreographer’s disabled niece, to whom the piece was dedicated.
Ty Alexander Cheng and Sara Paul  in Vincent Michael Lopez’s Grace, in arm’s length
Chop Shop Contemporary Dance Festival, 2013. 
Photo by Rex Tranter
The highlight of the evening was Eva Stone’s own Eve, reconsidered, which explored aspects of femininity. In the beginning Stone introduced a recurring theme: a woman bent over with her hands on her knees breathing heavily and loudly as if in childbirth, at the top of a rectangle of light. She leapt, spun, and slid intensely, using her breath to help her push through powerful movement. She ended on the floor, pelvis up-stretched, before being told to “Wake up!” or “Snap out of it!” The most poignant section of Eve featured five women on fold-out chairs in a horizontal line. Like a choir of bells, the dancers embodied with perfect timing the operatic voices in a famous Léo Delibes composition. They did so by using their hands to open and close their knees, as if the voices emerged from between their legs. The deadpan expression on the face of each well-rehearsed dancer added to the dry sarcasm of this section and of the piece as a whole.
Chop Shop’s sixth year was a successful one, with motifs laced seamlessly through the works. The simplicity of lighting and costuming created a sense of sparseness in every piece, even with extreme set pieces. All of the works depicted strain and tension in politely balletic, understated ways.
Chop Shop is a crucial festival for the eastside, and indeed for the entire Seattle area, and it is a joy for audiences and choreographers to see it grow each year. To keep Chop Shop growing, and to learn more about the festival, visit www.chopshopdance.org.