Legg and Martin Split an Exemplary Evening

Written by Kathryn Hightower

badmarmarDANCE in without context or provocation
Photo by Joseph Lambert of Jazzy Photo

This was a successful weekend for Seattle modern dance. Split Bill, which ran April 20 and 21, 2013, at Broadway Performance Hall featured badmarmarDANCE and Redd Legg Dance, whose works made for a cohesive and impressive event. Both featured technically strong dancers, atmospheric music, and physically-demanding vocabulary.


The night opened with Redd Legg Dance’s An Irritating Cerebral Itch, which mixed clean, balletic unison with powerful solos and touching duets. It was clear that choreographer Kristen Legg had vision and strong work ethic, as the dancers moved with precision and intensity. In the opening, a beam of light illuminated Carla María Negrete Martínez in a fetal position, her near-nudity revealed as she blossomed open. Her gorgeously sculpted legs and perfectly arched feet grabbed the imagination. Her dancing was pitch-perfect throughout the piece, and her emotions the strongest of all the dancers in Itch. Toward the end, her duet with Karen Baskett provided a solid framework for Legg’s vision.


Wedding dresses took on roles of their own in a rousing group section full of taffeta-swishing and desperate, vulgar skirt-grabbing. After the group left, Martínez and Baskett stood holding hands, looking like a sad wedding photo. The touching duet that ensued was charged with emotion. The strongest movement was an incredible lift that revealed the strength of Baskett, who held Martínez in fetal position, neatly wrapped around her waist.


Redd Legg Dance in An Irritating Cerebral Itch
Photo by Joseph Lambert of Jazzy Photo
The most poignant moments of the duet, both of which required moments of stillness, were unfortunately cut off. When Martínez faced the audience and removed her dress trepidatiously, revealing a red bra and matching underwear, she began moving instantaneously; the viewer needed to see her standing there vulnerable, to allow the moment to sink in. Similarly, when Martínez grabbed her dress and covered herself modestly, she left Baskett alone. Baskett began moving immediately, which lost another opportunity for stillness.


The atmospheric original compositions by Alexander Bishop were reminiscent of a movie soundtrack. This was especially successful during an initial trio section with lyrics about love; the deft organ solos and Motown-style beat during the wedding section added an ironic feeling. At other times though, the music’s slow dreariness made the dance sections seem too long.


badmarmarDANCE’s without context or provocation suffered from the same problem. A medley of compositions by Johann Johannsson and Loscil, the soundtrack also featured clips of monologues by the dancers themselves. The sections felt long, likely because the dancing was so physically demanding, the music was atmospheric, and the piece followed Itch, which was similar in music and mood.


Choreographer Marlo Martin articulated many great ideas in the piece, each of which could be explored and developed in the future. One strong section included two huge screens which moved eerily around the stage and doubled as projector screens. As two dancers explored the edges and surfaces of the screens, they appeared to drown in projected water images that seemed to pour and bubble over their bodies. This gave way to shadowy images of flocks of black birds seeming to fly overhead while the dancers remained low to the ground. Both invigorating and enthralling, this section left the audience wanting more.


badmarmarDANCE in without context or provocation
Photo by Joseph Lambert of Jazzy Photo

Another striking visual effect was created by Meg Fox’s superb lighting. In a row at center stage, each dancer cast two perfect shadows. It was lovely to see the still shadows, but even more interesting to watch them curl and stretch with the dancers. Just as Legg’s wedding dresses became another dancer, these intriguing shadows joined Martin’s cast.


Though the cohesiveness of the evening was undoubtedly appealing to the eye, it ended up a bit exhausting. Because the two pieces were so similar, neither could really shine. There were plenty of chances for comparison, but not many for contrast. It would be interesting to see these well crafted pieces juxtaposed against something rhythmic, brightly colored, or humorous, to make each one feel more singular.


Regardless, Split Bill provided Seattle with an exemplary evening of contemporary ballet and modern dance. Both Kristen Legg and Marlo Martin are accomplished choreographers full of interesting ideas that are just “itching” to be explored. Is that enough provocation?