Stuck in the Middle at Double Vision

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Double Vision’s title reflects the show’s dual choreographers, Ashleigh Miller and Tara Dyberg, who showed work this past weekend at Velocity. It could also easily be referring to the multitude of different talents on display from these two women, both of whom performed in addition to choreographing. Miller, in particular, appeared in four out of five pieces while also contributing to the making of the music and projections that were an almost constant component for the evening. Each an accomplished dancer in her own right, Dyberg and Miller displayed a high level of technique and polish that also extended to the rest of the evening’s cast.

Ashleigh Miller in her work, kid in the West Screen shot by Stephen Byrne
Ashleigh Miller in her work, Kid in the West
Screen shot by Stephen Byrne

The opening solo by Miller, Kid in the West, gave a first look at what seems to define Miller’s work—her petite frame contains an agility that flows and shifts like hot honey, but never loses its exacting edge. Projected images ranging from a residential street, to a parking lot, to a mountain stream cycled behind Miller. Each image interrupted the previous with a blurring and visual crackle that indicates technological disruption. Miller mirrored this with hand agitations that disrupted and refocused the mellifluous series of grounded spirals. The same few images cycled through again and again, reiterating the importance of these specific images, but if there was a story to be found here it was unclear.

 

Performing again in her own duet, About Face, Miller’s quality of quiet precision is well matched in her counterpart, Claire Mitchell. The two’s rhythms and shapes played delightfully off each other, each finding quick stops and starts. Rising and falling from a mid-level crouch, they became two leggy creatures appearing to hover just above the ground. Distorted synth singing combined with nature sounds (also a Miller original, produced by Colin Votteler) combined evocatively with the nuanced movement. The piece only suffered from a bit of unresolved timing between the two dancers. Either Mitchell was watching Miller for the steps, or Miller was plowing ahead without listening for her partner’s timing. Either way, a little more rehearsal would make those uncoordinated moments a little less distracting from an otherwise subtle and interesting relationship.

Claire Mitchell and Ashleigh Miller in Miller's About Face Screen shot by Stephen Byrne
Claire Mitchell and Ashleigh Miller in Miller’s About Face
Screen shot by Stephen Byrne

Miller’s group work, Compatibility Mode, was an expansion/iteration of an earlier work, A Crowdsourced Guide to Generation Y, which premiered last fall. Four dancers in grey and white began humming, gathering, and spilling organically, lit by an ever-morphing Rorschach test of light projected on the floor. Kim Holloway broke away momentarily in a solo that displayed her incredibly articulate spine and powerful dynamics. But what started as interesting enough soon plateaued. The dancers remained at a mid-tempo pacing that seemed confined by one electronic beat after another. The structure of the choreography remained as predictable and even as the tempo (a duet happening while the other two walk on a grid, followed by a switch in roles, etc.). Even the lifts were so anticipated that it took all the surprise out of the choreography. With the exception of Mitchell, whose focus and presence imbued a human live-ness to her performance, the dancers seemed to play the role of detached automaton. Perhaps the piece, which according to the program explored the “effect of increasing technological immersion on the human condition,” was intended as some kind of meta-commentary on the mundane-ness of the plugged-in experience. If not, something more needs to happen.

 

A moment here to talk about the projections: very rarely in Seattle dance do multimedia performances have the precision of Double Vision. The picture fit Velocity’s cyc like a tailor-made glove. There was never a distracting technical foible—a moment of blue screen or a play arrow appearing over the picture. The transitions were seamless, and that in itself is worth mentioning. Kudos to Vin Hill, who did the projection mapping, and to Ilvs Strauss’ light design, which never felt like it was competing with the projections. The content of the collective projections were also well done, with efforts from Miller, Bryon Carr, and Hill. Whether these were a repeated distorted image, or a matrix of scrolling digital ticker tape, the images presented their own aesthetic perspective. There was some relief, however, in the rare moments the dancers stood alone. It begged the question, does the multimedia component add to the dance? Or distract from it? These conflicted feelings could be another allegory for our technology-satiated lives.

Dyberg showed two pieces in the show. In the first, Rachet, Dyberg began drawing by circles on stage with a laser pointer, followed by being caught uncomfortably in pools of light. Other dancers entered and began in kaleidoscopic choreography as if each were a cog in some kind of abstract machine. Several dancers self-manipulated their bodies into shapes before the four dancers exploded into fast-paced counter point. Then it was suddenly over. Dyberg’s choreography showed its own flair, but continued the evening’s theme of precise and technical. Rachet had a lot of interesting elements, but was over before it began. Hopefully Dyberg will continue to explore.

Ashleigh Miller and Tara Dyberg in Dyberg's La Fille & Rose Photo by Stephen Byrne
Ashleigh Miller and Tara Dyberg in Dyberg’s La Fille & Rose
Photo by Stephen Byrne

The last work of the night, Dyberg’s 2014 La Fille & Rose, plays off the beloved children’s book, The Little Prince. The beginning has Lucie Baker drawing the iconic elephant-inside-a-boa-constrictor image that begins the book as Dyberg softly instructs Mariko Nagashima on how to perform The Snake. This blending of images falls away to a more illustrative construction where text of a story is projected on the back wall, and the dancers act out the narration. This story is about La Fille (Miller), who travels to different planets and meets business people obsessed with money, kings obsessed with power, and socialites obsessed with their own image, doing a dance with each. While it felt a bit demonstrative and silly at first, Dyberg stuck with the format long enough that it worked. Tinged with humor and sweetness, it was a fun play on the narrative tradition of story ballets, but for the most part lost the sense of wonder and mystery that made The Little Prince famous. The few exceptions were the opening scene, along with a duet at the end between La Fille and Nagashima’s masterful embodiment of The Snake, which rippled and shuttered in a most delightful snake-like manner. Both of these had enough complication to feel deeper than a simple performance of the plot.

Everything of the evening was very well done, and the attention to detail is obviously high for these two artists.  From a big picture perspective, however, many of the pieces were missing a certain something. How could all of La Fille & Rose be imbued with the same genuine personal connection set up in the first scene? What would happen if someone refused to participate in the clone world of Compatibility Mode? The pieces all felt just a little too contained. Unleash them! Destroy them! With a little added surprise, complication, or extremity, these talented dancers could easily take this material to new heights.