At the opening night of the UW Faculty Dance Concert on January 23, 2014, three professors of dance at the University of Washington played with the conventions and expectations of dance and invited the audience to come along for the ride. Instead of trying to create something aesthetically beautiful or purposefully shocking, these dancers, artists, and academics set out to experiment and play with movement and relationships. While each choreographer’s personality was felt in their respective pieces, the evening had a delightful sense of fluidity and unity from one piece to the next.
The evening began with Jennifer Salk’s Beats Me, a piece about competition and collaboration performed by current undergraduates and alumni. After the show, Salk explained that while the piece originally started as a collaboration between dancers and musician Paul Moore, it took an unexpected turn toward a piece about competition. With intense focus, the dancers often moved in unison both in silence and to arrhythmic music, taking nearly imperceptible cues from one another. The intensity of their focus often evolved into a competitive, even aggressive movement style. At other times, this same intensity caused the dancers to soften and slow so that they could work together to achieve the same timing or movement quality. Even still, the dancers sometimes challenged each other with purposefully contrasting movement qualities or pace, and yet their focus and connections were always apparent. As it progressed, the competition aspect became much more clear. The costumes slowly changed until each dancer was clad in a blue or red tracksuit and began to play foursquare in a taped outline of a the game’s court.
The competition at the end of the piece was not particularly serious; even in moments where the music, speed, and competition intensified. The work’s playful nature conveyed a sense of comedy that was engaging even as it strayed away from conventions, but whether it was a commentary on the nature of competition, or simply the unexpected outcome of Salk’s creative process remained unclear.
This theme of challenging dance norms continued in both works by choreographer Rachael Lincoln. Lincoln wrote, choreographed, and performed in May & June, a dance film equal parts quirk and woe. The narrative told the story of twin sisters who were utterly inseparable and relied on each other for love and companionship. Set in a white room with a white couch, the film toyed with perception. It maintained focus on the two dancers’ discrete movements and revealing facial expressions, but often flipped them upside down or sideways. The movement itself was gestural and abstract, but overall fairly minimal. The eloquently written narrative stood alone as a poetic story full of eccentricities and vivid imagery, which were only intensified by the short dance phrases and unexpected camera angles.
Lincoln’s second piece, Pony, also focused on the relationship between two women. A struggle for dominance played out as the two dancers showed off their pride, then reverted to insecurity. As they interchanged dominant and submissive roles, it became clear that these positions were dependent on the other. When one dancer was left alone onstage with her arms held high and her chest reaching proudly for the sky, she seemed to feel uncomfortable in her pride and lowered her arms as if confused. Similar to May & June, Pony had a constant air of quirk and even a bizarre comedy throughout the piece largely due to the dynamic relationship between the two dancers.
The final piece of the evening, Jürg Koch’s From Here, was as much a dance as an investigatory sensory experiment. From Here asked the audience not only to watch a dance, but also to hear it and imagine it—all at the same time. A large group of dancers dressed in bright primary-colored street clothes took turns dancing across the stage while others stood upstage at microphones and told bits of stories, spoke random words, made sounds, or instructed the dancers onstage. All the while, a man standing in the very middle of the stage interpreted and performed the words being spoken in ASL.
For any one person in the audience, the piece would look, sound, and feel differently, depending on who one decided to watch or listen to, or one’s ability to see or hear. In the program notes Koch explained, “In experimenting with interpretation, description and performance, we hope to discover more about the rich potential these overlapping forms have in the artistic process.” While the piece was, at times, a bit hectic and hard to follow, it was, in part, Koch’s intention and ultimately, he succeeded in combining different sensory mediums in one cohesive work.
For more information on the show or the University of Washington Dance Program, visit their website.