Mixed repertory shows can often end up a grab-bag of unrelated works that may or may not make a whole greater than the parts, or even go together at all. Ktisk Contemporary Dance dealt with this issue by organizing their program’s diverse dances around the idea of childhood nursery rhymes and the very unchildish meanings they can contain. Though some works were less literal to the theme than others, this approach gave the audience an instant lens of interpretation that one could follow or abandon as one liked.
To set the scene, each piece was preceded by a shadow puppet film illustrating a nursery rhyme; these films on their own would be interesting to see expanded into a larger work. They had a baroque sensibility of elaborate and whimsical curlicues and detail, while also being vaguely sinister.
The first dance of the evening, after the shadow puppets reenacted Humpty Dumpty’s great fall, was Rachael Forstrom’s Tooth and Nail. Eight dancers—seven women and one man—arrayed themselves as four couples, constantly weight sharing in a kaleidoscope of partnering. They were like one tumbling structure made out of two people. One could imagine the pieces of Humpty Dumpty that never could get put together again. The groups of two merged into groups of four, with someone constantly striving upwards just to be displaced by the next person’s attempt. The dance ended with all eight together, and a final attempt to rise out of the group.
Lullaby for Meat Covered Skeletons of Stardust by Eric Eugene Aguilar followed, paired with the ever-creepy (how is this supposed to help children sleep?!?) “Rock-a-bye Baby” and associated falling cradle. The first section, to somewhat amorphous music, featured six dancers moving with a sense of slow-motion, often twirling around in place. It could have been a dream-like reenactment of the wind through the treetops. In the second section, a stronger beat came in, and the dance likewise shifted gears into a more active, rhythmic mode. The dancers sometimes encountered each other, almost seeming like random particles colliding—or perhaps stardust.
The first half of the evening concluded with Noelle Chun’s well-structured Denim Mermaids (“Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow”). The collection of Woody Guthrie songs referenced plants and nature, and Chun brought out the nursery rhyme’s line “pretty maids all in a row” as her five dancers frequently lined up, playfully interacting, switching places, and passing dance steps back and forth. The inquisitive experimentation that these sections displayed was reminiscent of Trisha Brown’s Line Up pieces in the best possible way. The most playfully humorous piece of the evening, it finished with the dancers making wild faces as they slow-motion flapped their arms and took giant steps as Guthrie sang “take big steps, fly like a birdie flies.”
Mr and Mrs Sprat, choreographed by Philippa Myler, included the program note that the piece reimagined the poem of Jack Sprat “as an allegory for modern dating—the search for a soulmate, someone who completes you.” Even without these guide posts, the piece very clearly showed people trying out different ways to fit in, different people to belong to, often to humorous effect, such as with a repeated half-vogueing-half-cheerleading dance phrase, that got more over the top and weirder with each iteration. Beyond the four dancers, Sprat featured Issac Castillo playing cello, double bass, and ukulele live. Not only did he play, but he interacted with the dancers throughout the stage, intrepidly running around the space, joining their dancing, even lying down in their pile, still playing his ukulele. It is too rare of a treat to see dance with live music, and Castillo’s participation showed up what we’re often missing.
The evening ended with the large group piece We All Fall, choreographed by Forstrom. Of the evening’s works, it related most directly to its nursery rhyme, “Ring Around the Rosie.” It did this both through an atmosphere of childhood play, with the dancers costumed in festively-colored street clothes, and through an atmosphere of foreboding, the dancers’ collapses and the lighting changes reminding us that the nursery rhyme refers to the plague. As the dancers played hand clapping games, or chased each other around the stage, sometimes they seemed engaged in innocent fun, but sometimes the mood would become more strained, like they were barely holding panic and desperation at bay. The mix of frivolity and darkness made for an engaging work.
Founded in Columbus, OH, Ktisk Contemporary Dance is a relative newcomer to Seattle. The way the program brought together a variety of work and connected it around a theme of common investigation, as well as the strength of the dancers, make Ktisk a welcome addition to the community. More information can be found on their website.