Ashani Dances: A Promising Young Company Extends Its Repertoire

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Ashani Dances in After Snow
Photo by Joseph Lambert
For its 2013 season, two-year-old Ashani Dances premiered three works by Artistic Director Iyun Ashani Harrison at Capitol Hill’s Erickson Theater. Each piece tackled different thematic material through varied dance genres, blending pointe work, ballet, modern, and Afro-Caribbean dancing for an evening showcasing talented performers.
After Snow opens with four women inverted over their partners’ shoulders in a hushed moment of suspended movement, a pose echoed throughout the piece. Harrison interwove dancers in fluid patterns from ensemble, to pas de deux, to trio, solos, and back to ensemble. Harrison’s choreography shined in the second movement. The use of stillness and slow progression as Ariana Bird, Christina Kennedy, and Thomas O’Neal drifted across the floor perfectly matched the atmospheric music of local composer William Hayes. In one of many haunting moments in this section, Christina Kennedy glided slowly over the lunging back of Thomas O’Neal to silently alight upon the floor. The fourth movement duet between Trevor Miles and Sean Rosado echoed this same slow quality as arms and hands pushed and pulled, softly creating tension through twisting scapular contortions. Although at times dancers seemed constrained by the limited width of the stage, the energy of their extended lines cut short, the dancers’ technical ability was consistent throughout.
After Snow highlighted the quiet qualities of the original musical composition well. As the music had few dramatic changes in dynamics, the choreography did not use much allegro vocabulary. Female dancers en pointe executed inaudible transitions through their shoes. Costumes by Michele Curtis in earthy neutrals of sky, soil, and snow completed the muted aura of melancholy. According to the company’s Facebook page, this work depicted a “personification of the fleeting beauty of winter’s first snow and anticipates the darkness the season promises.” In After Snow, Harrison succeeded in reproducing the muffled weight of winter.
In Like Sand Between My Fingers, standout dancers Sam Picart and Brenna Monroe-Cook danced within a dream world of light and shadow designed by Meg Fox. Picart walked into a central circle of light and began a spiraling solo of isolations juxtaposed with fluid sections of dynamism. Syrupy suspensions cut with frantic footwork as the movement circled always back to the central light focus. Picart’s dancing was effortless as he flung his body through almost nightmarish outbursts. Monroe-Cook entered halfway through the work, once Picart had exhausted himself on the ground. Fox’s lighting became drowsy and warmly feminine for this solo section in contrast to the strong confidence of Monroe-Cook’s dancing. She moved as if to consume physical space, not a single step wasted nor energy misused, finally leaving the stage in darkness like a dream. Picart’s fragmented and tortured final solo after her exit seemed a final scream after awaking to an unpleasant reality.
In Artifact, Harrison was inspired by traditional dances experienced during his childhood in Jamaica, an influence evident throughout the piece. Artifact began with a series of solos inside a rectangle of light, soloists left the ensemble one by one to perform in a humorous game of one-upmanship. A group of five women danced a call-and-response. Lunging ball-changes, whipping necks, pounding feet, and clapping also contributed to the Afro-Caribbean elements. A male trio diverged from this thematic material as Ben Morrow’s music became more Asian in tone, with higher-pitched cymbals in contrast to the earlier pounding drumbeat. Harrison’s choreography diverged from earlier sections as well, consciously sensual and languid. Artifact returned to the ensemble format in conclusion with dancers feeding off one another’s energy to build to a peak before an unexpectedly soft finish.
In the realm of contemporary dance, certain choreographic conventions seem to emerge often: gestural choreography inserted into rather than presented as a seamless element of the work; an overuse of movement during silent musical transitions; and an intentional break with the traditional “beginning, middle, and end” structural framework. While Harrison’s second season offering occasionally stepped into these practices, overall, this young company showed great promise. With this ensemble of thirteen technically dazzling dancers, Harrison has gathered an impressive cross-section of Seattle artists fluent in multiple dance styles.
Ashani Dances’ 2013 season performances run evenings at the Erickson Theater at 7:00 PM through Sunday, June 9. For more information, visit www.ashanidances.org.