While the spectacle of virtuosic, technical dancing and flashy costumes is inviting to many artists, choreographers at the Converge Dance Festival proved that subtle, pared down dancing can be just as artistically fulfilling—if not more so. With the exception of a few pieces, the artists showed how powerful subtlety can be when paired with a strong point of view. The show, presented by Sapience Dance Collective at Velocity Dance Center, ran May 2 and 3.
The program opened with Gestation, featuring choreography by Lilah Behrend and videography by Gabriel Behrend. The sequence of clips—from moving sheets, to Lilah dancing in front of a graffiti wall, to footage from a sonogram—suggested an atmosphere of vacuum-like suffocation, yet with a curious sense of nostalgia.
The next work, Sarah Seder’s Ernestine Tells A Story, explored dementia. Rolling subtitles appeared on the back screen as a recording of two older ladies chatting played. One was Ernestine “Erna” Mercer, Seder’s grandmother (to whom the piece was dedicated), telling a story from her childhood. Suddenly, the sound switched to big-band swing music and three dancers in pastel dresses performed a quirky phrase chock full of hand gestures and belly slides. Ernestine’s narrative returned as Seder danced a gestural solo that corresponded with the words. As she repeated the solo multiple times, both the text and movement had longer pauses like a broken record, as though Ernestine (and Seder) lost track of her story over and over again, forgetting more each time. Eventually, dancers Eileen Wingfield and Kimberly Holloway transitioned from just watching Seder dance, to helping her finish her movements with a touching tenderness. Each hand grasp was filled with love, and even as the dancers listened to Ernestine’s story for the umpteenth time, they listened with understanding.
A mile of stones, choreographed by Sarah Kathryn Olds, exhibited intricate dancing but with a fragmented concept that left more to be desired. The lights came up on six women in white dresses, doll-like hair and makeup, and vacant gazes to match. As the piece progressed, they became more aware of each other. Suddenly, the sound score shifted to a series of recordings of podium speeches on women’s rights. What followed was a sequence of athletic phrase work that led the dancers to weave in and out of the floor. Although the dancers delivered the demanding choreography, the work lacked organization. Ideas of gender equality, womanhood, strength and fragility were all referenced in the relationships on stage and in the sound score, but most of these ideas never fully developed. Instead, the same athletic phrase work was repeated over and over in a ripple, without going anywhere new.
Katy Hagelin’s excerpt of The Machinery’s Conundrum (Part One) fell into the same trap. Although the dancers delivered virtuosic performances, the work’s structure was incoherent. The costumes, too, posed unanswered questions. One group wore a red and black body suit that embodied a slick and futuristic aesthetic, and the other group wore white leotards and skirts that projected an ethereal sense of purity—the two never felt like they belonged in the same world, and the narrative didn’t explain the reason behind their coexistence. The fragmented narrative may simply be because the piece was an excerpt of a larger work. In its shortened version there just wasn’t time to fully develop the characters. Even so, too many out-of-place elements ultimately distracted viewers from the narrative and the dancers’ strength.
The three pieces after intermission all featured a pared down, grounded aesthetic. In Amy Weaver’s not now honey, mommy’s dancing, a heartwarming exploration of life as a dancer and new mother, dancers in solid-colored outfits performed solos and duets while Nathan Churchill-Seder played percussion and cello. Through passages of spoken text interwoven with the dancing, the group successfully encapsulated the compromises, sacrifices, and frustrations that dancer-mothers navigate.
Mari Engel’s Disorientation ~ Euphoria ~ Routine was a refreshing take on classical music. Subtle movement shifts, such as going from turned in to turned out hips or performing a simple tendu combination, addressed the lilts of Yo-Yo Ma and Bach’s music in unexpected ways. Although the choreography didn’t call for high kicks or fast turns, the minimalist aesthetic allowed the dancers’ calm and resilient spirits to shine through.
The highlight of the evening was Wade Madsen’s work, Three Mothers, danced by Behrend, Seder, and Weaver. In the beginning section, the ethereal quality of the classical choir music contrasted well with the choreography’s grounded nature. A series of voicemails from the dancers’ mothers followed, and these continued as the dancers performed spoken passages that highlighted their mothers’ strength and love. The key element here was the dancers’ maturity and how well Madsen exhibited it. While the dancers all have highly developed technique, it was ultimately their mature sophistication that lifted the piece to fully embody the spirit of motherhood.
Converge Dance Festival runs May 2-3 at Velocity Dance Center. For more information on Sapience Dance Collective, visit their website.