Four of Seattle’s emerging choreographers got their big break recently at Velocity Dance Center’s Bridge Project, a showcase of work created over a four-week residency. It’s safe to say they all rose to the challenge of the pressure-cooker time frame. The show ran January 30 to February 1, 2015.
The evening began with this border called my back by Adriana Hernandez. Dancers in white slinked and withered on the floor among slips of paper with words like “poor,” “smug,” or “weak” written on them. The dancers attached those words to others’ clothing, thus “labeling” them. Although the labels charged the piece with meaning, they eventually were left aside and became a utilitarian prop as opposed to an integral part of the work.
To the lilting movements of Nico Torres’ pulsing music, Hernandez interspersed finger and hand gestures that resonated beautifully, especially in Velocity’s intimate Founders Theater. An edgy sense of tension also loomed, as if something (a thought? An emotion? A spastic response?) could burst the seams of control the group strived to maintain. This band of a people had a shared history of pain, and they tried to keep it under the surface. At the end, as each dancer did their own high-powered, virtuosic solos, they either broke free of the bonds of uniformity, or reached a high enough edge that the tension started to show its face.
Second on the program was Dylan Ward’s Eat the Heart -or- Waltzes for People Who Sometimes Do Bad Things. This year, in honor of the University of Washington Dance Program’s 50th anniversary, Velocity partnered with UW Dance by giving residency to a UW alumnus, and Ward was the inaugural recipient. His piece featured impeccable live street drumming by Colin Ward and five dancers in pedestrian clothing. This is not Ward’s first time presenting work with Velocity, and Eat showed his growth as a director/choreographer. His choreography has grown more compositionally intelligent—playing with timing and inserting gestural quirks to virtuosic steps. It also helps to have committed, intelligent, and technically proficient dancers, all of whom radiated intimate bonds with each other, whether platonic or familial, that were apparent on stage.
This was especially clear between dancers Andrew Hallenbeck and Erin McCarthy. At one point, McCarthy audibly told Hallenbeck to stop dancing and proceeded to walk him through a different movement phrase, as Hallenbeck followed absent-mindedly. Yet despite the skillful choreography, music, and dance, there was something slightly missing. Relationships emerged and dissipated, but there wasn’t much effort in making the audience invest in any of those interactions. Some parts felt like witnessing a college house party from the outside: young, beautiful people had fun, talked, and danced with each other for a night, but nothing evident ever came of it except the fun. And because of the dancers’ close bond, it was clear the audience wasn’t invited.
After intermission came Hannah Simmons’ Your Dreams are Growing Teeth, set to music by Atticus Lazenby. Four dancers stood behind panels of sheer fabric hanging from the ceiling, and each started their own distinct movement phrase—walking through the fabric, rolling it up, pressing hand gestures into it, or a methodical floorwork solo. Every so often, they finished their original phrase and moved on to another. Both systematic and organic elements appeared throughout the work. The repetition of material showed a mathematical structure, yet within those solos, each dancer sustained a sense of discovery and anticipation—like something had just happened, or was about to happen, and they were either reeling from or waiting for it. The fabric panels evoked images of human clones in tubes; the dancers were not only learning the logical systems of the world, but the irrational humanity within it. Given all that, the piece would still have benefited from more of a compositional arc. While the repetitions were interesting, they created a monotonous experience that needed more variation.
In the post-show discussion, Simmons, who studied math and dance prior to coming to Seattle, told the audience that during her original process and in the Bridge Project Speakeasy (held the previous weekend), she used movement-responsive projections which were cast over the scrims and dancers, and onto the back wall. While that multimedia element would have undoubtedly added a layer of meaning to the work, the piece sans-projections still felt complete, and showed Simmons’ intellect and poignancy.
The Architecture of Being, by Coleman Pester of Tectonic Marrow Society, closed the show. Fifteen dancers composed a single mass on stage as they walked, danced, and squirmed through the space — a sight doubled in volume by the exposed mirror on the back wall. Within this melee, soloist Patrick Kilbane slid, thrusted, and slinked fervently through the pack as Bret Gardín’s dystopic sound score played. Near the end, soloist Marlyn Yvonne joined Kilbane in a tactile and fiery duet. Nothing came of the relationship, however, making it feel like a love affair hastily tacked on to the end of an apocalyptic movie. Pester showed a knack for creating beautiful images with the crowd, like a straight line facing the mirror with Kilbane the only one facing side, or an almost centipede-like chain of bodies. While trying to focus on both Kilbane and the mass was sometimes distracting, both evoked incredibly rich images and Pester effectively juxtaposed the power of one against the power of many.
With only four weeks to create their work, each choreographer managed to construct a world full of humanity and vivacity. Seattle will be lucky to witness where their intellect and fervor takes them next.
For more information on The Bridge Project and Velocity’s other programs, visit velocitydancecenter.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated Adriana Hernandez’ name, as well as the title of her work, this border called my back.