Performances by dancers and musicians collided at the second annual CONVERGE Dance Festival last weekend, April 24-25, 2015, at Velocity Dance Center. Produced by Sapience Dance Collective, the festival aims to foster community among artists, and new choreographers are selected each year to show their work under a unified theme. This year’s theme was live music, and the evening pulsed with a raw, collaborative energy as dancers moved to vocals, guitar, drums and more. Viewers familiar with and passionate about the dominant trends in Seattle modern dance would have found much to appreciate in CONVERGE. However, those with shorter attention spans and less patience for the avant-garde may have been challenged at times.
That’s not to say that the evening didn’t have highly entertaining moments. Like in Let Yourself Go, an ensemble number choreographed by Sapience Co-Director Sarah Seder, when the performers embodied the spirit of a choir with both voice and body. Along with guitarist Nathan Seder and singers Karis Pratt and Catherine Matson, the ten performers sang along to gospel songs and later, in a fantastic conclusion, to Irving Berlin’s “Let Yourself Go.” Lines of performers held steady while small groups burst triumphantly through with luscious, swirling phrases, and later, they improvised and partner-danced with one another generating palpable joy in the theater.
Compared with the boisterous warmth of Let Yourself Go, the three pieces at the top of the evening were much chillier in tone: Corina Dalzell’s Underpinnings, Kimberly Holloway’s same.other.known, and Amy Weaver’s Two or Three. In Underpinnings, graceful female voices and a steady beat from an original composition by Riley Skinner provided the impetus for Dalzell’s choreography. Together they created an effect of understated sensuality. Nico Tower added spice to the muted vibe of Holloway’s same.other.known. Tower began with vocalizing into the microphone, then kept busy at her keyboard throughout the dance while she manipulated and created music on the spot. One couldn’t help but be baffled when she casually pulled out an electric violin, adding yet another shade to an already masterful creation.
In addition to Tower’s stellar accompaniment, dynamic choreography was prominent in same.other.known, which began with one dancer somersaulting over the shoulder of another. Holloway showed off a gifted cast of movers in individual break-out moments from unison phrasing—these short solos, including Holloway’s own potent performance, are what made this piece shine. Weaver’s choreography in the following duet was also strong. Though the headpieces—long, flowy nun’s habits, that were fascinating to watch fly through the air—piqued some curiosity, one wondered if more would be revealed about this strong costume choice in the planned larger installation of the work. Two or Three was athletic and almost mesmerizing as Weaver and Sarah Seder rhythmically moved from the floor to the air with strength and command to Nathan Seder’s powerful drumming.
The second half of the show was decidedly zanier, and included Noelle Chun’s It’s not Raining it’s Tuesday, made in collaboration with the dancers, and the finale, Follow the Bouncing Red Ball by Alyza DelPan-Monley. Chun’s piece began with the dancers entering in darkness and sounding like a pack of clumsy tap dancers. When the lights came up, the tap shoes, which turned out to be heeled boots, remained, but the dancers had gone. The piece then forayed into a meandering collage of the dancers speaking and partnering one another as little rubber balls placed on the inside of their boots squeaked like high-pitched whoopee cushions. The piece ended with one dancer singing a song about dust bunnies that plague her house, followed by each of the other five women overloading the dancer’s arms with all their boots.
DelPan-Monley’s Follow the Bouncing Red Ball, an homage to the awesomeness that is karaoke, was an aptly chosen closer. In true DelPan-Monley style, the eleven joyous, energetic dancers were decked out in a rainbow barrage of high-waisted shorts, jumpsuits, and other eclectic duds. A truly cheer-worthy moment (though there were many), occurred when the dancers spoke the initial lyrics of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” Like a theater game, each dancer, vocalized and physically embodied a single word; stepping out in front of the group word-by-word to create sentences. When the audience eventually got wise to what they were saying, suddenly, “YOU ARE THE DANCING QUEEN, YOUNG AND SWEET ONLY SEVENTEEN!” triumphantly burst from the speakers much to everyone’s delight; one half expected glitter to come pouring from the ceiling.
Interestingly, the biggest surprise of the night didn’t come from dancers singing karaoke in DelPan-Monley’s piece. Rather, it happened in Jody Kuehner’s Pelt, the second-to-last work of the evening. The stage was pitch black and filled with the chirping of crickets, rustling of grass, the sound of a summer evening. Though the lights were dim, the viewer could slowly make out three adult forms wearing head-to-toe rabbit costumes like shadowy figures from Donnie Darko. They rose from face-down-on-the-floor, slowly walking toward the audience, surveying the people with calculated steps. And then they stood downstage, simply staring outward; their human faces masked behind whiskers, chubby white cheeks, and jolly expressions. Thankfully, the piece wasn’t entirely terrifying. Later, the bunnies took viewers deeper down the rabbit hole into a psychedelic realm. While the costumed dancers hop-hop-hopped like cottontails, saturated Easter-egg colors coursed through the room.
One couldn’t help but appreciate the dramatic theatricality that Kuehner’s piece added to this year’s CONVERGE, a festival where, despite its largely experimental aesthetic, still managed to offer a little something for everyone and allow for a diversity of experiences. Viewers undoubtedly laughed, pondered, maybe even sang or danced from their seat (and possibly questioned if they were tripping on acid-laced Easter candy) throughout the evening. Sapience Co-Directors Sarah Seder, Lilah Behrend, and Amy Weaver have much to be proud of. They’ve created a festival that celebrates contemporary dance, but felt welcoming to all.
More information on CONVERGE Dance Festival and Sapience Dance Collective here.