Now in its fifth year, BOOST dance festival has become a cornerstone of the Seattle dance scene. This year’s show opened on April 4, 2014, to a sold-out house at the Erickson Theater. Produced by Marlo Martin, the festival draws large audiences with established choreographers like Michele Miller, and uses the interest to introduce worthy newcomers to the big leagues. Though none of the choreographers featured were obscure to those deeply involved in the dance community, the festival undoubtedly draws viewers who wouldn’t risk a show with a less-established reputation.
The evening opened with Erica Badgeley’s Rest-less, a surreal and wonderful dreamscape. Wrapped in huge piece of white fabric like an endless skirt, Hallie Scott stretched and wriggled in half-awake perplexity. Fausto Rivera, fully covered by the sheet, seemed a ghostly creature, strange and familiar as dreams often are. As the piece progressed, their interplay morphed from discovery to tenderness to blatant trust, Scott falling backwards into the outstretched arms of the fabric. The piece revealed a side of Badgeley that isn’t as obvious in her recent collaborations with Elia Mrak, demonstrating her enviable creative clarity and ability to carefully craft movement that shapes unexpected and realistic worlds.
In GO Stop Falling, by Maya Soto, dancers struggled on an endless mission to get somewhere. The piece never stopped moving, alternating between rhythmic, pounding runs and more despairing gestural phrases while cutting through crisp formations. The dancers gave highly expressive performances, committed to the ferocity and angst inherent in fighting a losing battle. By the end of the piece, the audience was almost as exhausted as the dancers, having watched them struggle for minutes with no gains to show for it. Even as they walked slowly forward into the fading lights, one had the impression that they would be knocked back again in a moment.
Kristen Legg’s Retrograde 93, a straightforward music visualization pumped with as much sass as strict balletic form allows, provided a light counterpoint to the more emotionally charged works of the evening. The dancers were clearly skilled and intensely trained ballerinas, drawing clean lines and executing snappy petit allegros, but their performance hinted at the tendency of dancers in this market to fall out of a consistent class routine. Each section flowed seamlessly into the next, revisiting and adapting themes to tie the piece together, though the overall structure of the piece lacked a dynamic arc for the audience to grasp.
After intermission, Michele Miller’s I AM the Bully hit hard—smacking the dancers literally, in a graphic look at bullying. The piece, like a nightmare, opened on a vacuous note, a line of dancers whispering “you are alone… even if someone could hear you, they wouldn’t care…” as Victoria McConnell danced apart from the group, pushing herself up, trying to stay upright. Recordings from an interview with bullying victim Caine Smith reinforced the feeling of hopelessness and ostracism, as his words “they want me to change who I am” looped over and over. Miller used the large cast to its full capability, forming intensely organized mobs and unruly groupings of duets and trios. Some of the dancers seemed to move in and out of the roles of bully and victim, and the piece could have gained even more power from highlighting those shifts.
Kaitlin McCarthy and Jenny Peterson collaborated to create Papoose, which lived in another dreamy universe of mirrors and crocheted garments. The piece pulled great strength from innovative use of the props and the vividly fearful and intimate relationship between the dancers. The lights revealed McCarthy’s face in the mirror, detached from her body, lying on the floor underneath it. She turned her head side to side, swinging her legs back and forth, while Peterson sat nearby, completely still and watching the audience intently. In a repetitive floor section, their ever-connected movements slowly progressed through subtly altered permutations that could slip by unnoticed if the audience didn’t pay close attention. Here, the piece lost some of its otherworldly enchantment, proving that technically remarkable material can be a double-edged sword.
badmarmarDANCE, Martin’s company, performed her piece, Wake State post-lucid dream, to close the show. The piece felt like a stressful dream, the kind that’s riddled with the grief and anxieties of waking life. After a section of duets, a poetic voice-over describing various dream images joined the dancers, an addition that could have been emboldened by a more ceremonial delivery. For the last section of the piece, chairs popped up around the edges of the stage, creating a space in the round, where audience members were invited to sit. Though this undoubtedly provided a thrilling experience for those members of the audience seated along the back of the stage, up close to the vigorous abandon of the final section of movement, it felt superfluous, as almost none of the remaining choreography acknowledged this change.
After this year, BOOST will be a bi-annual event, meaning it won’t be back until 2016. Martin stressed that this choice was made because of the recent movement of local dance artists to self-produce work, an indication that the community is thriving. While this is good news, those independently produced shows don’t have the capacity to draw such large audiences. BOOST also excels in producing works that showcase sharp artistic visions and well-honed technique, which feel refreshingly conventional in comparison to much of the material produced in Seattle. Seattle artists and audiences relish the weird and experimental, but it is important to maintain a space for more clearly distilled bodies of work.
BOOST dance festival runs one more week, with performances on April 11-13 that will showcase an entirely different group of choreographers, known and unknown. More information about the festival is available at boostdancefestival.org and tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets.