Abbey Grown opened on the breezy spring evening of March 28, showcasing an interdisciplinary group of artists who have found roots in the Fremont Abbey. Curated by Victoria McConnell, the performance celebrated the support that the organization provides for performers and artists in Seattle and shined a light on the important role of the audience in sustaining the performing arts. As the audience entered through a small door on the lower level of the Fremont Abbey, they were greeted by Magic in Nature, an art installation by Josh and Charlotte Rodenberg. The installation filled the space with a circle of constructed birch stumps, some topped with crystals, others with carvings, one with a creepy red video of a talking head. At the center of it all, a tree trunk with a skull-shaped knot stood on a bed of live grass. An earthy scent permeated the room, bringing the audience into the realm of the piece.
For the rest of the evening, the audience moved upstairs, where the performers of Yellow Etiquette were already onstage. Their presence and activity blurred the line between “performing” and being on stage, while creating a more intimate relationship with the audience. The piece, created and performed by Doug Barber and Elana Jacobs, played with high sass and deep vulnerability. The duo found a balance of fun and awkward in exploring the idea of having doors to your inner self all over your body, alongside the casual spontaneity of old country music shows. As the lights dimmed, Jacobs began moving casually, playing and twirling without a care until Barber spoke up. “Margie,” he said, “Margie, you’re dancing again.” So began their banter, carefully scripted to feel unrehearsed, led into sweeter and stranger territory. Here, Jacobs’ movement quality was controlled, strong and careful as she balanced in deep tilts, yet free and willing to give into gravity when she fell out of them. The duet revealed an infectious relationship, openhearted, honest, and gently flippant.
Kimberly Holloway choreographed a constant rise and fall of dancers, paper, and words in Swell of Utterances. As the piece opened, a trio of dancers sat along the back of the stage, moving through set gestures with increasing speed and intensity as though involved in an intense conversation. A voice came over the sound system: “It starts… with a word.” A duet sat a table downstage, playing a card game of small cards bearing self-describing adjectives provided by the audience. The structure of the piece felt like a swell of ocean, rising and tumbling through the space, converging on dancers driven almost to madness by the papers, or the identities written on them, and dissipating as another idea arose. Each dancer’s skilled and fluid movements carried the constant ebb and flow of the piece, seamlessly moving between floating attitudes, low lunges, and graceful lifts. The contrast of this rolling atmosphere with the frantic twitches of those lost in the words evoked a ceaseless river of life and loved ones, carrying us past our individual crises.
In Arc and Arrow, choreographed by McConnell, a dichotomy of movement vocabularies took the stage. The piece began with video projections on two screens hung across the back corners of the performance space. On one screen, Marissa Quimby explored sharp, angular lines, dancing against a line of sand dunes. Opposite her, Italy Padilla stood under a huge bridge, moving her body in smooth circles, wrapping herself around the space. As the video ended, the dancers entered the stage, fully embodying their respective vocabularies—Padilla the Arc and Quimby the Arrow—both intrigued by and suspicious of the other’s natural state. As they studied each other, their narrative morphed from conflict to collaboration. For much of the piece, the choreography felt manic, with both dancers constantly moving in vastly different ways. To McConnell’s credit, unison arrived at the exact moment it was needed, giving the audience a rest from the clash and giving the piece a tidy conclusion.
Music and dance performances were interwoven throughout the evening. Acoustic singer-songwriter Pepper Proud charmed the audiences with her quirky innocence. In a clear, sweet soprano, Proud shed light and optimism on all things natural and personal, from her kite-like self-love song to a breezy ballad of a South American night. Holloway accompanied Proud on a darker piece that burrowed into the depths of fear, each performer contributing a vital piece of the final product. After accompanying Arc and Arrow, Julia Massey and the Five Finger Discount (Geoff Gibs and Dominic Cortese) performed a solo set with driving buoyancy. While the lyrics were not always decipherable, the energy of the music carried the message of each song, exuberant and promising.
Abbey Grown had a short run, but the Fremont Abbey isn’t going anywhere, and neither are the artists. For information about the space and the community of artists and art-lovers it supports, visit fremontabbey.org.