Greed, Love, and the Garden of Eden

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Khambatta Dance Company concluded a three-year residency at the Kirkland Performance Center with their Friday, February 21 performance. The evening featured two restagings and one world premiere by Artistic Director Cyrus Khambatta. His Interview with the American Dream and Love Story incorporated multimedia elements to initially pose thematic content, while the premiere Vice and Virtue needed only Red Delicious apples to introduce its famous Eden setting. Conceptually innovative, the performance tackled weighty subject matter using its small company of five dancers.

Apple tempt E-M-K
KDC members Meredith Sallee, Ellen Cooper, and Kyle Williams in Cyrus Khambatta’s Vice and Virtue
Photo by Brianna Jones

For Interview with the American Dream (2009), Khambatta telephoned random numbers to solicit perspectives on the “American Dream,” used in excerpted form throughout the score (although often too quiet to understand). Khambatta’s choreography reacted to rather than reflected upon the subject, much like the telephone respondents. The groupings within the work produced a combative atmosphere, often with an isolated individual set against the others, and the “dream” turned into a game of survival. The highlight of the work was Meredith Sallee and Kyle Williams’ duet. Their fluidity enhanced the choreography’s exploration of causality and randomness—a polarizing magnetism. While Williams’ dancing was marked by lightness and ease, Sallee was the true star of the evening. Her effortless dancing and mature stage presence drew focus during both solos and group sections throughout the performance.

Another multimedia concept, Love Story (2008), began with a short video “meditation” on the subject of love, using edited interview responses. The choreography in Love Story was less connected to the projected interviews than in Interview, perhaps because it was an excerpt from a longer work. Khambatta’s three female dancers braided the space with well-rehearsed canons, their long legs cutting through the air. Sallee and Jeremy Cline’s duet made a poignant moment, with the dancers sharing caresses using only the backs of their hands—a delicately sensual touch. Love Story’s signature movement was an elegant folding and unfolding of the dancers’ bodies as they rolled from the wings onto and across the stage. This simple action could have served the work better with more prolific use (especially to conclude the work).

Vice and Virtue ended the evening with a 45-minute exploration of original sin. Sallee as the snake temptress and Ellen Cooper as Eve began in a pool of light center stage, undulating around each other with witty use of 1980s dance move “the snake”—their only physical contact was via a bright, shiny red apple. The dancers faced either front or back giving the audience a voyeuristic view over the shoulders of one dancer at any time.

E and J front dip close up
KDC members Ellen Cooper and Jeremy Cline in Cyrus Khambatta’s Vice and Virtue
Photo by Brianna Jones

In comparison to this strong opening section, the rest of the work felt less focused. Alexandra Madera controlled the apple in a trio with Williams and Cline, one reaching for the apple only to be forcefully stopped by the other while Madera posed as a mischievous vamp. When dancing separately, Madera, Williams, and Cline were shown at their best; their seductive undulations became full-bodied ebb and flow through arcing spines and sweeping legs. Cooper’s Eve offered Cline’s Adam the glossy red orb, her body arching mostly at floor level against his stoically straight stance. Again, Khambatta posed one dancer (Cline) with his back to the audience, highlighting Cooper’s face and movements as temptress before he succumbed and took a bite. Repeating the first duet between the snake and Eve, Adam joined the women within the circle of light, rippling together in orgiastic waves. Dancers each carried their symbolic apples onstage, Sallee wove between their reclining bodies as a vampire offering and consuming forbidden fruit.

In content, Vice and Virtue showcased more of the former than the latter (the sole exception a confusing moment of apple offered as compassion), as did the thematic content of the entire evening. All three pieces featured costumes and lighting in black or red, a dramatic visual choice that tended to blend the works rather than separate them. Each work also relied on heavily similar choreographic signatures (extended legs swinging over other dancers and one dancer leaping through the air to attach at another’s midsection) that by the second work became repetitive. Other factors also detracted from the evening, notably jarring audiovisual editing of both the multimedia and the music and the vague programs which lacked show order and failed to credit dancers or designers.

Khambatta Dance Company’s strengths lie in Khambatta’s ambitious choreographic vision and inventive concepts (as well as in dancer Sallee). Vice and Virtue represents the second in a ten-year series of choreographic endeavors (Truth and Betrayal premiered 2013), so KDC is sure to continue to explore weighty topics. With great sections of choreography and innovative ideas, the company displays a potential shining beneath the surface. Perhaps they will find more polish on the road—KDC is getting ready to embark on a tour through the Pacific Northwest, followed by a tour to India.

More information about Khambatta Dance Company and its upcoming found at khambattadance.org.