Now in its ninth year, Full Tilt is an established production that provides choreographers and dancers opportunities to create and present work. To be a part of the performance, choreographers submit an application, and then pick dancers through an open audition, a process that can facilitate some unique collaborations. This year, it brought a diverse set of dancing bodies and personalities to the stage, adding to the production’s overall richness. On Full Tilt 2014’s opening night (Friday, May 10) at Velocity Dance Center, audiences enjoyed a polished and eclectic evening of dance.
Bryon Carr’s multimedia-heavy opener, Home+away, transformed the blackbox-style Founders Theater into a dynamic space with limitless possibilities. Occupying Carr’s landscape of abstract sound, lighting, and video were four highly-skilled dancers who showed off first robotic, and then athletic movement phrases à la Merce Cunningham. The costume of shorts and tanktops effectively played into the physical similarities between the quartet (three women and a man), all of whom were relatively the same height with the same slender, muscular body type. As the choreographer and concept director, Carr worked with his surroundings, rather than simply creating a dance, and then moving it into an arbitrary performance space. His choices to expose the studio mirror (amplifying the number of performers on stage) and to have the dancers pull the curtain over the mirror were cleverly choreographed. The lighting alternated between dark with colorful lines of video projection, and segments with full, warm washes of light. The dancers sometimes seemed exposed without the dramatic effect of the projection. Ashleigh Claire Miller, a dancer with a crop of red hair and a fiery stage presence, stood out even in these more vulnerable moments—her luscious movement and fearless eye contact with the audience were irresistible.
Next up, Mountains have feelings too, was choreographed and danced by Noelle Chun and her cast. Clad in pedestrian attire, the connection between the ten women was tangible in this whimsical, abstract journey. When the lights came up, the dancers were seemingly carried back and forth across the stage, as if in a washing machine, a satisfying and stormy water sound mixing them together. While the piece wasn’t always relatable, a particularly effective moment came after the dancers created a cacophony of aggressive shrieking and yelling. At the zenith of this unbearable mayhem, the music switched to the calm, welcome sound of classical music, and the dancers broke away, one at a time, moving in a diagonal across the space. The contrast of the two moments was particularly intriguing.
The third work, a trio called Close, included concept, direction, and choreography by Ilona Roth with additional choreography contributed by Alyza DelPan-Monley, Alexandra Madera, and Alysha Shroff. The work’s strength rested in the virtuosic dancing, especially from powerhouse mover DelPan-Monley. The title, as well as the beginning and end, suggested having to deal with one’s personal space being violated. Initially, DelPan-Monley stood center stage, her nervous, darting eyes telling a story. Standing next to her, Madera created a tarantula-like movement with her fingers, hovering dangerously close to DelPan-Monley’s face. A few other elements introduced later, like an audio recording of the Marc Jaffee’s poem, “I am the King of Repetition,” seemed out of place, because it was not immediately clear how they related to the work’s larger goals. This instance did, however, present an opportunity for a dazzling series of whirling, flat-footed pirouettes by Shroff. The voices and layering of sounds offered an edgy, modern soundscape, which at times climaxed into a track with a heavy, almost hip-hop bass. When it seemed as if the trio were about to seriously break it down, they launched instead into a phrase that was still dynamic, but more bound than expected with such surging music. These “dancier” moments showed off the innovative ways Roth is able to blend a musical theater background with contemporary dance. The piece ended with one of the dancers asking an audience member to give up her chair, and then the three women literally sat on top of one another as they discuss instances of people sitting too close to them on the bus.
In contrast to the evening’s heavy contemporary mix, Jerene Aldinger’s heartfelt Sunt Lacrimæ Rerum brought full-bodied dance sensibility to the evening, as well as a weightier more relevant topic. An excerpt from Aldinger’s The Legacy Movement, the piece was inspired by the choreographer’s work as a hospice volunteer and oncology nurse. The program note read, “Embrace the life we share and value the legacy left behind.” Despite a few technically shaky moments, the five dancers in white dresses moved with a balletic grace that expressed a touching story. Unfortunately, the choice to use the black wings severely shrunk the space for the dancers to move, and the static lighting didn’t do justice to Aldinger’s dynamic choreography.
The finale, DelPan-Monley’s Fabrications for the Everyday Occasion, was a silly, bizarre, and joyous romp through many a costume change. Pedestrian bopping lent a feel-good mood to the piece, and, coupled with colored skinny-jeans and striped shirts, almost gave the work an appearance of a Gap commercial. From the beginning to the end, the dancers shed and donned colorful clothing, transforming as the piece progressed. Ultimately, they put on sweaters that, when partially turned inside-out and worn on their heads, bore fabric cut-outs of men’s faces. While it wasn’t exactly clear what was happening, it didn’t matter: the audience was giggling throughout the highly-enjoyable work, and it was nice to see a piece that didn’t take itself too seriously.
Despite being a full-length evening performance, with only five works and repeat collaborators/dancers from piece-to-piece, there was something about Full Tilt 2014 that felt brief, or not fully realized. Additionally, while the choreographic processes produced fruitful and intelligent art, sometimes being inspired by a concept, while helpful for movement generation, can end up feeling like an inside joke or story that only the performers understand, making the material less relatable. High art, of course, can and should challenge the audience to think critically, but this can risk shutting out the casual viewer, which was the case for several of Full Tilt’s works.
Despite that challenge, there was no denying the talent and professionalism behind this production which was apparent even if more abstract contemporary dance isn’t one’s cup of tea. Now nearing the decade mark, it’s clear that this well-oiled machine is a vital part of the Seattle dance performance calendar; it not only successfully identifies choreographers on-the-rise, but provides an outlet for more established dance-makers, as well. Fumi Murakami (founder/producer/artistic director), along with her co-founder, Kelly Smith, and four assistant producers have created an invaluable opportunity for Seattle dance artists that’s worth getting involved with in any capacity—as a performer, choreographer, or audience member.
To learn more about Full Tilt, see evokeproductions.org.