This weekend, the University of Washington Dance Faculty Concert showcased its undergraduates in an eclectic range of choreography performed at Seattle’s Meany Hall for enthusiastic audiences. UW Faculty members Rachael Lincoln, Wilson Mendieta, Mary Sheldon Scott, and resident artist Holley Farmer composed a program that once again established the department as a true educational force in Seattle dance.
coats, a duet restaged (and co-choreographed) by Rachael Lincoln featured dancers Caitlin Bennett and Megan Stutesman—a pair of movers whose technical talent was apparent even amidst the work’s minimalistic vocabulary. Wearing fitted dress pants and bare on top, the dancers began by engaging in a meditative gestural sequence using two suit jackets suspended from the ceiling by black ropes. Bennett and Stutesman clothed themselves in the coats, slowly spoking their arms through the sleeves with a sense of deliberate intention—an intention juxtaposed with their distant focus, creating for interesting polarities within each body. The piece progressed into a far more full-bodied onstage experience as the dancers hung, spun, and swung from the coats in unison, using the height of the space as much as the length and depth, thereby suspending time between the ceiling and the marley floor. With the use of suit jackets as an implication of professional rank and nudity as a contradictory form of ownership, coats stood out as a stripped down exploration of movement, its potential, and women as a subtle image of power.
Holley Farmer, a UW MFA alumna and current artist in residence at the University, premiered her newest work for this weekend’s lucky audience. Farmer’s solo, run down, was an uplifting composition that showcased her athleticism, stage presence, and lines as dancer, but also her diverse background as an artist and choreographer. Like coats, run down began gesturally as Farmer entered the space with a t’ai chi-like quality, articulating her fingers and arms in a snaking series that took her towards a large misshapen bean-bag. The work became more dynamic as Farmer’s movement became far more angular, lifted, and frontal (clearly inspired by her twelve years with Merce Cunningham) as she ran through the space, kicking between laps. Ultimately, she made her way back to the beanbag, at which point her movement became less angular as she sat in, gestured near, and pulled the large prop offstage. Though moments of stillness could have helped establish a more digestible through-line between the first and second half, run down provided an exciting look into Farmer’s latest steps as a renowned American artist.
Wilson Mendieta’s Incarcerated was a stark thematic shift in the program: it came across as an over-dramatized commentary on corporate America and the modern family—a statement on over-stimulation, institutional expectation, and interpersonal damage. A young woman attempting to get the attention of her distracted husband set the scene with grand sweeping gestures and tender touches, immediately establishing a character dynamic in which her male counterpart was the clear focal point. The work then transformed into a prop-driven frenzy of khaki-clad dancers who surrounded the man and took him on a psychological ride full of leaping/falling sequences, duets and trios, agonized thrashing, and the constant shifting of the set (comprised of a couch, armchair, rug, lamp, and several hanging metal structures). Though the complexity of the set and the constant writhing of dancers onstage appeared melodramatic and left little room for interpretation, the movement itself was beautifully embodied and technically performed.
Mary Sheldon Scott’s Seven brought a refreshing vibe to the second act. The most structured piece of the program, this work was more contemporary and technical in aesthetic and showcased the dancers’ individual talents as well as their ability to work as an ensemble. They performed variations on the same movements, which, although very linear, seemed inspired by avian mannerisms. Dancing all at once, they worked with the phrases as individuals and in duets or trios, but created compositionally holistic patterns that conveyed a beautiful sense of unity and structure. Various characters emerged amidst stylistic choices, changes in costume, and the use of props in series of solos that used the same general aesthetic while still emphasizing the personalities of individuals. Despite being a hair too long, Scott’s work successfully showcased the dancers, their presence, and form.
The evening ended with cans, another work by Lincoln. Emotionally dark, the piece used hundreds of silver cans that were rearranged in countless ways from small towers to stacks. The dancers (wearing layers of black and gray clothing) moved fiercely though the space lunging and partnering or reorganizing the props in various patterns. Though the use of cans could have been an interesting focal point, they ultimately distracted from the movement, making the composition appear busy, frantic, and overly long–subsequently ending the show on both a dark and disorganized note.
Despite a general over-use of props throughout the whole show, this year’s UW faculty concert was still a worthy artistic production that demonstrated the immense capacities of UW’s undergraduate students. All five of the works displayed great technical prowess paired with presence, intention, and uniformity, reminding artists, patrons, and appreciators of what this program has to offer.
More information on UW’s dance program here.