Rarity and Intimacy at SCUBA
A collaboration between cities, artists, and venues, The SCUBA National Touring Network for Dance annually brings together artists from Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle and puts them on one bill. The show tours to each of the four cities and Seattle had its turn this past weekend, April 25-27. The performance brought an array of exciting dance theater to sold out crowds at Velocity Dance Center and a rare peek into dance ecosystems across the country.
José Navarrete and Debby Kajiyama comprise NAKA Dance Theater, the San Francisco representatives of the year. Their piece, Bailout! or Can you picture this prophecy? The temperatures are too hot for me, took inspiration from Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and the Fukushima nuclear crisis. The response to tragedy isn’t obvious, however—NAKA clearly works in symbols. The piece (an excerpt of a longer work) surrounds a red knitted sculpture that is essentially two sweaters connected at the wrist with extremely long sleeves. As Navarrete and Kajiyama shared the sweater they counterbalanced and played with the logistics of distance and connectivity. Kajiyama also had a wonderful section where she toyed with a microphone—amplifying the sound of it hitting her knee, her elbow, her belly, her face—different body parts creating uniquely pitched hollow notes. All of Bailout!’s images were loaded, like they could be the metaphor for a thousand things, but the piece ends without resolution, leaving a sort of void of possibility behind it.
Philadelphia’s Nichole Canuso presented Midway Avenue, a solo in which she recreated her childhood home using masking tape on the floor, spoken text, and movement. Chopin piano preludes provided the music. What Canuso has created is one of those rare pieces that is as intelligent as it is accessible—peeling back the layers of how we understand the world as children and how those memories surface as an adult. She took the audience on a guided tour, explaining where the guinea pig cage was, and where the Christmas tree stood, and where her mother came out to her when she was nine years old. It’s the kind of intimacy rarely experienced with strangers, and Canuso made it funny and engaging with plenty of surprises along the journey.
SuperGroup, the Minneapolis trio of Erin Search-Wells, Sam Johnson, and Jeffrey Wells, blended comedy-theater and dance in The Tent Has Been Pulled Down. The performers wove through the space, limbs swinging in a sort of parody Cunningham style whose comedy was only enhanced by their swirl-patterned full-body leisure suits. Simultaneously, the three conversed in the voices of different characters: members of the fashion industry, feminist bloggers, and grandmothers trying to figure out how “kids these days” use the computer, to name a few. The voice characterizations were excellent and an exceptionally clever commentary on current culture. Each performer had an arsenal of distinct voices in their repertoire, making the conversation easy to follow even without scenic context. Punctuating the dialogue were the well-timed and hilarious thwap of a limb casually swinging into the body of another dancer, like a passive aggressive “accident.” The dancers were in almost constant motion for the entire piece, but the theatrical aspects of the speaking dominated the work. SuperGroup is clearly brilliant with political satire, but aside from the thwaps, much of the dancing was unmemorable and less integrated into the themes of the piece.
In addition to the touring aspect of SCUBA, Velocity commissions a new work by the selected Seattle artists. Elia Mrak and Erica Badgeley’s piece, Paraphrase, was the result. The work began with the two in an extended embrace accompanied by the kind of hopeful, building music that comes at the end of a romantic comedy, but it was not unwelcome. In fact, the whole piece was infused with a kind of simple, peaceful love. Badgeley constructed a circle on the floor with flower petals while Mrak floated through the space with his agile movement in and out of the floor, telling abstract stories with his hands. They’d then share a smile or a glance. There wasn’t much to the piece, and it felt a bit underdeveloped, but they did convey a quiet intimacy that is the rare subject of dance pieces. Refreshing and honest in a scene that is angsty more often than not.
Thanks to SCUBA, touring in the dance world is no longer reserved for the most established companies. It gives audiences in four very lucky cities to see the innovations in dance that are happening across the country. Dance scenes can be very localized, so often what is “current” does not reach beyond the city’s borders. SCUBA promotes the kind of cross-fertilization and idea exchange necessary to broadening dance’s recognition on the national arts scene.