Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and the bill of ORANGE delivered it in spades. With work from Shannon Stewart, Kaitlin McCarthy and Jenny Peterson, Amelia Reeber, and the inimitable Pat Graney, the program balanced wit with tenderness, risk-taking exploration with careful craft. All of the choreographers are making serious work, delving into rich thematic content with skill and honesty. Performed for just two nights (May 29 and 30) at Velocity Dance Center, ORANGE felt like a very Seattle-y show, in the best possible way.
Stewart’s work PROGRESS, (originally performed and developed through Velocity’s Bridge Project earlier this year), explored order and disorder. The work layered flocks of ballerinas in nude leos and black tights with a crew of thrashing dancers—their mosh-like phrase-work began the piece and gradually built into a frenzy. The ballerinas first appeared individually, illuminated in the open doorway to Velocity’s back studio, and later entered the stage in sequence, all the while intoning the word “one” to further emphasize their uniformity. Their tidy lines of tendus and passés encroached on the moshers’ wild hair-ography until the blur of bodies collapsed on the floor. The work’s final phase had Stewart herself calling directions at the dancers through a megaphone from the corner of the stage. “Lines. Ambition. Static. Destruction. Go.” Each directive was cleverly manifested: a set of linear lifts, a diagonal of balletic leaps, an impressive balance, and a brawling fight to name a few. The whole thing further disintegrated into a pulsing mosh that eventually left Stewart dancing alone, repeating the directives to herself. The work’s structure brought forth questions about the nature of progress (is entropy simply inevitable?), and whether both disorder and order are necessary to move forward. And though the two ideas opposed each other throughout, Stewart managed to show the satisfaction—individual liberation or the thrill of being part of a group—that can be gained from both.
McCarthy and Peterson’s jointly choreographed work Papoose was a thoughtful portrait of a mother-daughter relationship. Their integration of props was particularly strong: an oval mirror was both used to show their reflections and tilted to create elongated pools of light. To begin, Peterson unrolled yards and yards of white knit scarf in a circle with light from the mirror guiding her path. The ensuing movement phrases each offered different observations on this complex relationship. They stacked their bodies, one on top of the other in the same positions, folding together like jigsaw pieces when they moved: two people cut from the same cloth. Later, they stepped rigidly as if in high heels, then paced in subtly evolving mirrored patterns. Though the repetition allowed for each image to resonate, several instances stretched too long without continued development. What really anchored the work was the duo’s clear connection. Quiet moments of tenderness quickly morphed into imbalance, as if one had imperceptibly demanded too much of the other, tipping the scales. Both are exceptional performers, but McCarthy particularly showed a purity of movement and emotional reach that deepened the work.
Local improvisation luminary Amelia Reeber presented the solo Coeurridor. She stumbled out from the curtains in red leggings, a loose white top, and an assemblage of red flowers on her head that gave her a vaguely rooster-ish look. A fluid and engaging performer, her movements ranged from sinusoidal body waves and pelvic gyrations, to small precise gestures and wildly flapping arms. Though the solo never explicitly revealed what it was about, Reeber’s intense focus was captivating as it shifted from playful, to sultry, to serious, and ended with a final beckoning stare as she backed away from the audience.
Graney’s two offerings of the evening, girl gods and the show’s titular ORANGE, were presented after intermission. The excerpt of girl gods certainly gives dance-goers a lot to look forward to—the full length work will be presented at On the Boards and in installation at the Frye Art Museum in the fall of 2015. In a pre-show announcement, Graney explained that the piece is about women and rage; each of work’s vignettes approached a facet of this subject. The carefully crafted snippets were minimalist but potent, and all shrewdly performed by Michelle de la Vega, Sruti Desai, Sara Jinks, Jody Kuehner, and Peterson. Graney has pinpointed the female rage that seethes under the surface, quietly and fiercely. This simmering anger occasionally explodes (the women thrashed on the floor in cocktail dresses and heels), sometimes softly implodes (Peterson removed her pants and blouse while in a headstand against the back wall), and sometimes is maddeningly shaming (Kuehner painstakingly, albeit hilariously, dressed herself in children’s sized pink leggings and miniature sweater). In perhaps the most grotesque image, Desai sat with two boxes of cinnamon candies by her side. She ate one, then two, then handfuls and handfuls until her cheeks bulged and the sticky red juice dribbled gore-like from her mouth: its innocuous indulgence turned into self-inflicted pain, and the audience groaned as she reached for the second box. girl gods is already an finely articulated work that will undoubtedly only strengthen in its further development.
Graney prefaced ORANGE by describing it as a straightforward musical visualization, inspired largely by phrases from Kuehner’s weekly modern class at Velocity. The work progressed in the same way a class would, beginning with smaller stationary movements and increasing in complexity to jumps, turns, and extensions. Though the music (a bluegrassy arrangement of strings by Edgar Meyer with Joshua Bell) felt a bit conventional, the movement nicely highlighted its ups and downs. The all-orange ensemble of tank tops, brief underwear, and sneakers showcased the athletic physicality of the four dancers (Stewart, Peterson, Sarah Seder and Vanessa Koepsell). The quartet’s skilled technique and their pleasantly shifting patterns, along with the cheerful lights and music, combined to make a perfect closing piece for the eclectic evening.