As the Eastside’s biggest—only?—dance festival, the annual Chop Shop Contemporary Dance Festival provides a wide array of performances each year. Festival organizer and producer Eva Stone said in her welcome speech, “I’m confident that there are many people out there who like dance, they just don’t know it yet.” A sampler platter event like Chop Shop, then, is a great way for a dance newbie to test the waters, especially as Stone facilitates classes and lectures around the event for anyone curious about getting to know more about the sometimes mysterious entity known as “contemporary dance.” The performances for Chop Shop 2014, which opened February 15 at Bellevue’s Theater at Meydenbauer Center, packed a lot of dance into two hours. The ten showcased companies included local, national, and international groups, and while the prevailing aesthetic leaned toward contemporary ballet (or at least line-driven modern dance), the common ground for the whole evening was the high quality of the dancers on stage.
Stone also presented her work with Stone Dance Collective’s “…you may want to adjust your dress…”. Featuring six women in purple dresses, the dance was driven by “found text from American television” that centered around appearances and the importance of dress. “Fashion is the most powerful art I know,” quipped the recorded voice over the dancer’s long legs and tight turns. A particularly striking moment came when the performers, spread out in a horizontal line, danced in unison, but one dancer was silhouetted against the cyc, her shadow four times larger than the dancing bodies on stage. She was the same dancer who, at the end, was forced into a pair of heels and made to walk upstage toward her shadow, each step pushed forward by the dancers surrounding her—a sinister ending.
Returning to Chop Shop for the second time, Adam Barruch Dance (New York City) presented an excerpt from his work, Belladonna. Memorable for its atmosphere as well its performers, Belladonna’s chiaroscuro lighting and countertenor vocals of Daniel Taylor gave the piece a darkly Renaissance feel as Barruch and longtime collaborator Chelsea Bonosky danced separate but related solos. Barruch’s movement combined fluidity with a clear specificity of initiation. Each phrase flowed from his body like water, but found shape and clarity in how he punctuated the movement with a gesture or a stillness. Bonosky’s solo echoed these qualities, but her movement was more bound—as if her character carried a greater weight than Barruch’s. The final image of her seated facing away from the audience, her hands forming little wings below her bared shoulder blades (an angel or a demon?) expressed pain and pity all at once. This easily stood alone as an excerpt, but it makes one eager to see the full work.
Also from New York, Bryn Cohn + Artists performed if you sink, a charming duet danced by Eric Berey and Yuliya Romanskaya. Cohn created a relationship drama in miniature that didn’t dwell too much on emotional display. The swells and lilts of the Chopin piano music were enough to suggest an emotional ride beneath the surface. Through crisp, matter-of-fact movement, the back-and-forth of a romance became clear as the pair traded off who was needy and who was supportive. The couple spent a good amount of time dancing in unison, too—a nice break for the eye that showed off the darts, quirks, and quick transitions of Cohn’s choreography.
Gerard Regot’s Dense Crystals was a brilliantly composed solo, and the evening’s clear standout. Hailing all the way from Barcelona, Regot combined his incredible physical skill with smart choreography, knowing precisely when to change pace and when to end—an especial challenge for dancemakers. Regot danced as if under the low ceiling of a cave. His deep lunges, punctuated gestures, and suspensions in unexpectedly satisfying places gave his piece a watchful, guarded air. The music (by the choreographer and Sigha) sharpened the edges of the image was creating, with a stark percussive theme that gave way to a more melodic music box chime. Dense Crystals ended like a good short story ends: it’s frustrating because one wants to stay longer in the piece’s world, but satisfying because it doesn’t give too much away.
The three contemporary ballet pieces (Grand Rapids Ballet/choreographer Mário Radacovsky, Ballet Arkansas/choreographer Shayla Bott, and PNB’s Price Suddarth,) were similarly beautiful to look at and all featured skilled performers. The choreography, however, seemed too tethered to the confines of classical ballet vocabulary, and it qualified as contemporary primarily by virtue of a flexed foot or an unclassical transition moment. All made for lovely examples of classically based 21st-century ballet choreography, but the composition of these works seemed so staid in relation to the more unabashedly “contemporary” works that it was hard to see them in their own light.
Anna Conner+CO showed an excerpt from her upcoming evening-length, LUNA. She has shown this excerpt before, but it’s always wonderful to watch her dancers undulate and slice in razor-sharp unison. Vincent Michael Lopez’ Pocket Inc performed 10 Worlds: Prologue (Past, Present, Forward), a nude-clad quartet of dancers writhing, rolling, and reaching beyond their bodies’ edges. Spectrum Dancer Theater closed the show with Donald Byrd’s close to swan lake, a crowd-pleasing parody featuring a cast of men and women in white tutus, swan arms with a flat-footed run (like real water fowl instead of the magical variety), and highly physical choreography.
While the choreography ranged in depth, this year’s Chop Shop featured high quality dancing across the board and a surprising proportion of well-plotted endings. It’s a well-curated, well-produced festival whose good reputation will undoubtedly only continue to increase.
For more information on Chop Shop, visit the festival website at chopshopdance.org.