Fresh Talent on the Rise at Strictly Seattle

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More than 70 dancers, from adult beginners to pre-professionals from programs across the country, performed in Velocity’s annual Strictly Seattle this past weekend. This celebratory culmination of three weeks of intensive technique and choreographic processes was again staged at Broadway Performance Hall, July 24-25. Students attended one of five tracks: Adult Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced Dance Film, or Professional/Advanced Sessions, and were offered valuable opportunities to work with some of Seattle’s local emerging talents or even some heavy hitters of the scene.

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AlexAlyssaAshleyCarolynLeviLivLizShane by Zoe Scofield
Photo by Tim Summers

The Adult Beginner track produced two works—the first, Sleep Slip, was choreographed by Kaitlin McCarthy and the dancers. Seven dancers, wearing black business attire, explored the myriad movement possibilities of silver umbrellas that spun, shook, and floated through the space. Standout moments included one in which two dancers placed their cupped hands atop their umbrellas, creating a creature’s eyes that interacted shyly with one another. All of the beginning dancers carried peaceful expressions of awe and wonder as their umbrellas cavorted buoyantly, seemingly of their own volition. Bryon Carr created the second piece for the Adult Beginner Sessions, titled day-to-day and driven by the lyrics of Ray Lamontagne’s song, Till the Sun Turns Black. Ten well-rehearsed dancers spread out evenly in the space performed several movement phrases with clear lines and intention. Carr varied the group’s unison using soloists and counterpoint, but the work’s spacing and acting out of the lyrics called a teenage recital piece to mind.

KT Niehoff’s Dance Film Track, now in its second year, produced eleven short films, an intriguing change to Strictly’s lineup. The films sped by quickly, leaving the viewer with fleeting sensations and a few lasting images. Student directors were afforded the unique chance to work with a professional cinematographer, composer, and editor in order to create beautiful, high-definition works 1.5-2 minutes in length. Yujie Chen’s Light Years, filmed on train tracks, featured dancer Ashley Pietro as the center of a love triangle with two men. The three dancers tumbled, tearing at one another, and Pietro, after an evocative gaze into the camera’s lens, ultimately made her way into the distance alone. Emma Hreljanovic’s haunting Boomerang juxtaposed shots of a creepy, hooded figure with a woman walking in a dark cityscape, flinching, as if remembering or playing out scenes of an assault. [dis]placed, by Jaclyn Fross, contained interesting, gravity defying camera work, as two dancers fell into and pushed off of a wall, which, turned 90°, seemed to be the floor. Some films, such as Kata Cots’s Love in Fifteen Folds and Lauren Milburn’s Forget-Me-Not, blurred the lines between dance and film. Can folding origami or throwing powder paint bombs really be considered movement? Films like these, involving minimal shots of the human body in motion, can elevate movements such as the camera’s pan across an open field or the ripple of ferns in the wind into the realm of dance.

Kate Wallich’s Choreographic Devices: Exercise for Group 10, set on ten Professional/Advanced Track students, closed the evening’s first half. In a deconstructed space devoid of wings and backdrop, restrained dancers performed Wallich’s signature phrases, full of quick weight shifts and clawing sickled feet, with studied nonchalance. The dancers took turns performing solos or unison duets while the rest of the cast, attired in a motley assortment of rehearsal sweats, clubwear and socks, chatted in the background, drank water, stretched, or gave each other massages. Near the end of the piece, the group finally coalesced into a shared mission—to aid in uniting a male/female duet—the most compelling moments of this self-conscious work. While Wallich’s raw material was strong both in its complexity and bulk, structurally the piece lacked direction. Just as the proverbial hipster spends an hour making sure her hair looks like she just rolled out of bed, Wallich’s work contained a perplexing paradox: pulling off badass dance moves while maintaining an indifferent façade, so as not to be accused of trying too hard.

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Pat Graney’s A Study for Girl Gods
Photo by Tim Summers

The second of the evening’s Professional/Advanced track works, Pat Graney’s A Study for Girl Gods, featured a post-apocalyptic soundtrack of spoken word in which women detailed their personal experiences of dismissal and outright sexism. From the black pencil skirts, shiny high heels, little patterns of frenetic tap dance to the flailing arms and long hair whipped back and forth, this work bore a striking resemblance to Graney’s House of Mind research from 2007. Loudly flopping, clattering, and flinging themselves to the floor constituted a new development, however, which touches on the heart of Graney’s theme. Perhaps designed to make the viewer feel uncomfortable, worry about the dancers’ safety, the propriety of the crotch angle, and the taboo of rolling around in prim skirts and heels, these moments, when the flesh hits the floor, are the essence of Graney’s genius.

The final group of Advanced/Professional students closed the evening in Zoe Scofield’s AlexAlyssaAshleyCarolynLeviLivLizShane. Performed in a formal setting complete with dining chairs, a chandelier, party dresses and pseudo-tuxedos, the dancers posed in interesting shapes to a classical soundtrack played backwards. Sections of rhythmic pony step, with geometric arms reminiscent of high school precision drill teams, broke the piece’s monotony.

The clear standout of the evening was Anna Connor’s Pigeon., performed by a dedicated cast of Intermediate students, and receiving a standing ovation on July 24. Containing the energy and intensity lacking in the Professional/Advanced level performances, Connor’s dancers executed her signature low lunges and lengthy grand pliés with gusto, accompanied by a driving bass line from Black Dice. Connor seamlessly integrated longer movement phrases with gesture series including patterns of pecking heads and flying arms, climaxing in an ambitious finale of persistent head banging. Her dancers’ commitment and Connor’s well-defined vision created a successful work, signaling a growing insignificance to labelling each piece’s rank by the intensive’s hierarchy.

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Pigeon. by Anna Conner
Photo by Tim Summers

For many completing college dance programs, Strictly Seattle’s immersion in the local community often motivates dancers to move to the city. This celebration of talent can provide an advantageous entry point into the Seattle’s scene, which is primed to absorb fresh meat.

For more information about Velocity Dance Center and their programs see their website.