Zesty Grooves At Ate9’s Homecoming
Homecomings are always a celebratory affair, but even more so when the centerpiece of the celebration is Danielle Agami and her LA-based troupe, Ate9 dANCEcOMPANY. From June 19-21, as part of Velocity Dance Center’s Guest Artist Series, Ate9 figuratively lit the Seattle dance scene ablaze with their high-powered, multi-textured brand of artistry showcased in MOUTH TO MOUTH. To warm up the audience for Agami’s fierce group, Seattle’s Matt Drews opened the show.
As Velocity’s Artistic Director Tonya Lockyer highlighted in her pre-show speech, Ate9 was established in 2012 in Seattle as part of Velocity’s inaugural Made in Seattle program, which since then has provided opportunities to many dance-makers like Amy O’Neal, Kate Wallich, and Alice Gosti—to name a few. Lockyer also noted that it seemed fitting for Drews, a founding member of Ate9, to be part of the split-bill.
Drews filled the role of opener beautifully with his solo, The Weltgeist; a piece created during a Velocity Creative Residency this spring. Clad in white pants and a beige bib, his movements shifted back and forth between calm tension and ferocious turbulence. Drews’ focus and lines were captivating, with limbs that seemed to move before his thoughts registered it. He twisted, contorted, and slithered across the floor to electronic drones and pulses from Garek Druss, and then played with a fringed fabric originally hung from the ceiling. When he draped it over his arms, Drews looked almost phoenix-like, rising from the ashes more powerful than ever. In The Weltgeist, less is surely more.
Yet, the night still belonged to Agami and Ate9, and they proved that more is more. Thwacking legs, acute awareness, and full-throttle energy dominated the stage, even if it took a while to get there. Stark images opened the piece: the dancers cutting Ariana Daub’s dress, Agami and Thibaut Eiferman kissing (a recurring image referencing the title), and a trio with Agami, Genna Moroni, and Sarah Butler moving slowly through a series of poses. When Daub earnestly tried to join, the trio excluded her repeatedly.
What followed was everything but the kitchen sink: Pink Panther masks, helmets, contorted faces, even potatoes. It’s as if Agami wasn’t concerned with asking “Why these elements?” but instead, “Why not?”. Characters emerged throughout the work, as though the cast—dressed eclectically in colorful dresses, blazers and briefs, or leotards—went down memory lane, encountered different characters, and took snapshots of the everyday. Occurrences like feeling left out, ignoring something that’s trying to catch your attention, or throwing a tantrum colored the stunning and complex unison sequences, fugues, and series of trios and duets. The sound design, featuring music by Jodie Landau, Radiohead, and Nina Simone, among others, added to the whimsy, the puzzlement, the oddity, and the wonder.
Ate9’s virtuosic movement was a joy to watch—a mix of gestural and highly technical, with complex rhythms and unexpected physicality. Based on Gaga, a movement language developed by Israel’s Ohad Naharin, the vocabulary is equal parts precision and prowess. A bobbing head or a flexed toe received the same amount of attention as a prolonged leg kick or a jump that made the floor seem like trampoline. Though technical dances that amount to more than a series of impressive tricks are not as common as one might think, Ate9 delivered just that. It felt like watching spiked and carbonated dance: zestful and whimsical but with more than enough punch to make audiences restless in their seats, itching to catch every movement detail or join in the groove. Never has the ephemerality of dance seemed more lamentable as watching the eight dancer-firecrackers move through the complex sequences with their laser-sharp focus.
Several fugue sections with scattered knockout duets and solos caused some prolonged sensory overload. The pattern was repeated one too many times, and, after a while, watching the ever-changing dynamic of several simultaneous duets and solos proved draining. Yet, simply zoning in and picking one thing to focus on yielded many rewards—compelling relationships and stunningly detailed movement architectures were plentiful.