In the words of Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.” The sentiment also happens to be true in the case of last weekend’s dance concert, enROOT, at Velocity Dance Center. The choreographic line up, chock full of recent graduates and fresh Seattle transplants, was a sampling of many unknown voices. Two sold-out evenings showed that audiences were willing to take a chance on these nine new works.
Although most of the pieces were short, several were particularly sweet. Tetraspectives, by the trio Althea Fantast, was a light-hearted but well composed piece where the dancers peeled in and out of kaleidoscopic formations with equal parts grace and rhythmic interest. There was a brief argument about whether a certain color was red, peach, or coral, and the playful tension resolved both thematically and in the snappy, precise choreography.
Another trio, Tribe, choreographed by Kimberly Holloway, transformed the dancers into brown bird-like creatures with face makeup, crested headpieces, and articulated movement that emphasized the skeleton. The dancers fully embodied their creatures—quick focus shifts of peaked attention initiated sharp shapes that then rippled and softened as the perceived threat subsided. In a short time, Holloway successfully took the audience on a journey through these creatures’ experience, which, while not exactly narrative, developed linearly as the creatures interacted and discovered.
Closing off the first half was Alyza DelPan-Monley’s unabashedly kooky The Logarithmic Curve of Something Else. A cast of twelve, along with several freestanding painted landscapes, filled the space with psychedelic colors and freewheeling joy. Quirky gestures and abundant jumping up and down made an explosive greek chorus of over-the-top characters. The piece had all the pleasure and imagination of a Dr. Seuss book with little surprises at every turn. A comically evasive question-and-answer session by DelPan-Monley herself interrupted her own piece in what may have been a light ribbing of the artistic elite. While a little more attention to unison and staging could have clarified the piece a bit, DelPan-Monley is clearly fluent in conducting energies and highlighting the unique qualities of each individual, even within a large group piece.
A few solos were also standouts. Chance, Allow Me, performed and choreographed by Corina Iona Dalzell, took inspiration from the grace of Meryl Streep’s academy award acceptance speeches. While there were no overt references to Ms. Streep, Dalzell managed to create a presence onstage that was equal parts delightful, awkward, and wholly relatable. Like a floppy clown, she interacted thoughtfully with her quirky props, including wrapping herself in a tape measure and breaking through tissue paper drums. A garbled voice gave a (perhaps drunken?) thank you speech over the sound system, which created an interesting environment for Dalzell’s perfectly timed expressions and unexpected and specific gestures.
Las Dos began with the striking image of choreographer Kathryn Hightower wearing a suit and sitting up straight in tiny chair, a pair of scissors poised in her hands. The image was allowed to resonate as Bobby Womack’s haunting voice filled the space and Hightower used her presence to draw attention to every subtle movement. A video projection behind her shifted the attention to a long-haired dancer in a long white dress (whether it was Hightower or not was unclear) who moved in a distinctly unnatural way. A recorded interview of several voices speaking about gender norms played, and Hightower exited, entering again in the same long white dress. She lounged before the projection, seeming to have a confrontation with the image. This meditation on the gender binary spoke volumes for its seeming simplicity. The themes were subtly but clearly integrated into the choreography, images, and presentation. The one misstep was the recorded interviews, which were too obvious and trampled Hightower’s understated, nuanced choreographic communication.
The success of the evening should also be credited to newcomer Angelica DeLashmette, whose enterprising spirit organized enROOT. Her piece, WHITE|BLACK was an equally ambitious endeavor. It began with one dancer whispering menacingly to another as two others manipulated dancers attached to ropes like puppet masters. Sweeping turns, kicks, deep contractions, and “modern butt rolls” to the ground felt typical of the stale angst that has become a weary theme in modern dance. A projected animation of upsetting newspaper headlines accompanied the dance. Perhaps intended to remind the audience of the terrifying nature of the world, the projection missed its mark with a few highly dubious headlines, such as “Americans Now ‘Racist’ for Waving American Flag” mixed in with reports of bombings and kidnappings. The choreography proceeded through a textbook development, ending with the striking image of a dancer fighting her way across stage with ever-longer puppet strings stretching behind her into the wings.
Most of enROOT was light and fun, which was refreshing, but choreographing something weightier proved to be an additional challenge. Taking on heavy topics directly can make work too cut and dry—without complication the choreography becomes generic and ultimately doesn’t contribute to the issue at hand. Even an otherwise well constructed piece like WHITE|BLACK can easily succumb to these pitfalls. Las Dos is a better example of asking the right questions: What can dance say that other media forms cannot? What connections are made? What accepted truths are being questioned? If the intention is to be emotionally moving, the presentation of emotion often backfires. Kinesthetic empathy is not so simple. There needs to be more for the audience to discover. Festival concerts such as this are a great opportunity to showcase first drafts. Hopefully many of these pieces and choreographers will continue to develop their voices.
enROOT was performed November 21 and 22, 2014, at Velocity Dance Center as part of the Access Velocity program. Other artists included Dana Stream, Kori Martodam, and Ktisk Contemporary Dance.