|Choreography by Jennifer McLeish-Lewis
Photo by Yvonee Chew
The final program in the Seattle International Dance Festival’s Inter|National Series opened at Raisbeck Performance Hall on Saturday, June 22, with introspective works from an international, multi-lingual group of performers. Jennifer McLeish-Lewis brought a trio from Nanaimo, B.C.; Paulo Lima came from Brazil to perform a solo study of his spirituality; Seattleite and Version Excursion dancer Ingrid Porter presented a duet; and, in the most thematically international offering, Ghana’s Wuza Wuza Dance Company collaborated with Seattle’s Version Excursion.
McLeish-Lewis’ MUSE (with original soundscore by Jesse Zubot) was a contemplative exploration of women. This trio, which brought to mind the archetypal maiden-mother-crone life cycle of the feminine, featured three dancers in dresses: Nicola Jackson, whose speech was accented by her London background; Geneviève Johnson, whose French set the multi-lingual tone for the show; and Holly Bright, who had a few wise years on the other two, and whose silence was striking. The arc through a woman’s life provided the piece’s structure as the woman passed the focus from one to the other in solos and brief duets that featured simple modern dance movement and thematic gesture. The slow and constant pace detracted from the overall impact of the piece, but two images stood out. The women’s focus had a keen specificity—their faces were inscrutable and carefully blank throughout, yet there was a suggestion of roiling emotional seas just below the surface (a not uncommon, but worth-exploring trope in art about women). Second, the piece navigated a successful ending, with Bright walking on the backs of Jackson and Johnson, her body wobbling honestly, but trekking determinedly on.
Porter’s Mosquito Song, danced to Queens of the Stone Age’s song of the same name, featured Constanze Villines and Rachel Forstrom, who looked remarkably alike when dressed in the same skirt-shirt combo with a red stripe of fabric down the back. Beyond the obvious mosquito-blood reference, it was unclear how the costume’s red stripe and red cyc related to the choreography, which looked like a class combo danced in unison and light canon. The most interesting part of the piece was how the dancers looked like mirror images of each other. Placed one diagonally behind the other, Villines and Forstrom looked like a single person reflected in a broken mirror, which, combined with the unison (and where it could be effective if developed more), created a slightly sinister tone.
Dominiq – A Choreographic Study on Spirituality was a lengthy solo work choreographed and performed by Brazilian artist Paulo Lima. Lima created striking images, setting a dark stage with candles, flying to the floor and landing simultaneously with a dramatic change in lighting, and struggling with his own body. The spoken and sung text (both live and recorded) was all in either Portuguese or Latin, and, unfortunately, something was lost in translation. For the first half of the piece, the choral and organ music (reminiscent of Phillip Glass but went uncredited) provided musical markers of Christian spirituality, but the text surely added nuance. Lima’s dancing itself included lots of surprising, capoeira-influenced floorwork; he has a knack for transitioning seamlessly from the gawky to graceful. Though the staging did not expressely showcase his unique style of movement, one got the sense that Dominiq was less concerned with aesthetics as it was with a metaphysical exploration of the self.
Full Circle, the collaboration between Wuza Wuza and Version Excursion, proved the evening’s deepest, most questioning work. The premise and choreography devised by Yawuza Alhassan (founder of Wuza Wuza), Awal Alhassan, and Erin Nichole Boyt (founder of Version Excursion) felt deceptively simple, and had the confusing, fragmentary atmosphere of a dream. Music drifted in and out, either via A. Alhassan’s live flute playing or a recording of Josh Groban and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Three women (Villines, Forstrom, and Boyt) moved in their own world and then paused as if asleep for long periods, to the apparent confusion of A. Alhassan, who would look searchingly at them and silently ask an audience member what was going on. But there was more underneath the surface of their curious interactions. The work used African dance but without the full-immersion, drums-and-dance extravaganza that American audiences have come to expect when they see “African dance” advertised. Instead of an exposition of folk or cultural traditions, this was concert dance whose vocabulary was based in traditional West African dance but whose composition and intent were informed by international contemporary dance. And it turned out to be a comment on cultural clash and cultural fusion, appropriate for this American-Ghanaian collaboration. The American performers existed mostly separate from the Ghanaian on stage, the Ghanaian danced and then cheerfully confronted the American audience about a hesitancy to connect and participate in the dance. It is unclear precisely what the work wanted to say, but it functions as the opening gambit in a conversation about how two dance cultures (or cultures in general) coexist: do they ever fully integrate? Do they create something new? What aspects of your cultural tradition do you compromise when you meet another?
The second program of Weekend II of SIDF’s Inter|national Series provided a very quiet, unobtrusive end to 2013’s festival. Any one of these works would have been better programmed in a concert with more variety in tone, but it was also interesting to see such a similarity arise in pieces hailing from different parts of the world. And the concert was not without its deep moments, especially with Full Circle’s companionable uncertainty. SIDF is an important institution in Seattle dance precisely because it brings in dancers from all over the world, and next year is certain to bring another illuminating festival.