Velocity Dance Center opened their season with the Fall Kick-Off and Big Bang! events this past weekend, September 24-27. The Fall Kick-Off functions partially as a fundraiser, wherein over 52 performing artists donate their time and creative work to help raise funds for the many Velocity programs that support local artists. But beyond that, it serves to showcase the overwhelming breadth of talent Seattle dance has to offer, both established and up-and-coming. The sold-out house on Friday night offered a glimpse of the highlights of 2015 and what to look forward to in 2016.
The evening began, as perhaps all evenings should, with Cherdonna Shinatra dancing alongside a musical Mylar balloon. In Bitch Sandwich, Cherdonna was the perfect image of every and any 6-10 year old girl or boy who has ever danced in a YouTube video. Contrasted by the “bitch”-laden soundtrack of Zebra Katz’ “Ima Read”, Cherdonna was all things innocence and naiveté. Her child-like contractions and unsure extensions were suddenly cut short by a cold and detached lip-synching of a series of threats. This child, it would seem, was raised on a steady diet of profane rap and (no doubt) Toddlers & Tiaras. Cherdonna is always as fabulous as the name implies, and Jody Kuehner certainly deserves her recent 2015 Stranger Genius Award in Performance. Bitch Sandwich is part of an upcoming evening length work, one great, bright, brittle alltogetherness.
Friday also offered a preview of KT Niehoff’s A Glimmer of Hope or Skin or Light, which is to be resurrected in its feathery, glam-rock glory at ACT Theatre’s Bullitt Cabaret beginning appropriately on Halloween. Niehoff presented a brief duet from the work, chock full of jolting, jarring partner work not unlike a mosh pit. Most engaging was the dancers’ surreptitious leering at one another throughout the piece. Perhaps more so than any other piece of the night, Glimmer elicited a visceral reaction, felt in the gut. In contrast to the fantasy of Glimmer, Dani Tirrell’s Mama, can I be a Princess too? (for little black boys) yielded a bare exploration of the self. Armed only with a simple chair and overlapping narrations discussing identity, Tirrell worked through his emotions using a series of repetitive motions drawn from contemporary, African, and club dancing.
Seattle stalwart Kate Wallich presented her Study for ‘Industrial Ballet’ #2, part of a full-length ballet which will premiere April 2016 as part of Velocity’s Made in Seattle Series. Even the casual viewer of Wallich’s work can recognize her signature style immediately; upper back ever so slightly contracted, legs moving through precise balletic positions and movements, while her hands move delicately through space. The piece offered a true deconstruction of traditional ballet, and Wallich’s occasional pseudo-self-conscious glances downward belied the studied forethought of her movement. Like molecular gastronomy, Wallich seems to distill each individual element of a dance form in order to explore the possibilities that exist within each.
The most comedic entry of the night was AJnC Dance’s excerpt from Believe Me Or Not. Though the humorous intent was apparent when the troupe of Thomas Jefferson look-alikes took the stage carrying teaware, it surpassed expectation. The highlight was the absurdist Q&A between two performers which varied from moment to moment between strict interrogation and an awkward date, but always remained ridiculous in the best possible sense. The prim soundscape provided by live musicians Nico Tower and Daniel Mullikin quickly broke into a much more modern beat as the dancers on stage erupted in sweeping limbs and extensions. The standout musical moment of the night came from Tower’s breathy, ethereal vocals. Drama followed comedy, with an excerpt from Anna Conner + Co’s Exercises for the unrested: the kingmaker, set to premiere in full October 9-11 as part of Made in Seattle. The piece feels true to its name, as indicated by a literal face-off between male dancers Alexander Pham and Patrick Kilbane. From this particular excerpt Kilbane appears as the proverbial boy who would be king, often breaking from the pack to dance on his own as the other performers continued in unison. Kilbane was a study in poise bound to groundedness, moving with consideration and intent. Conner’s choreography is both restless and relentless, constantly pushing for something more from the dancers, the audience, even the very stage itself.
The final performance of the evening came from Whim W’Him, with an excerpt from Ihsan Rustem’s The Road to Here. The beauty of the dancers’ lines alone could have sustained the piece, yet they were far overshadowed by the gasping, breathy quality and seamless movement of bodies into one another without apprehension or resistance. As the dancers transitioned from duets to solos to ensemble and back again, they were pulled in every direction by each other and often an outside force acting upon them. Those outside forces became clear, as the text heard over the piece spoke of decisions and the doubt that surrounds those decisions. As the music swelled and the text began to call for confidence in intuition, there was a clear shift in the dancers’ intention to razor-sharp clarity. Rustem is currently the Resident Choreographer for Portland’s NW Dance Project; hopefully this means we’ll see more of his work in Seattle in the future.
Velocity continues to be a powerful force in the Seattle arts community and Fall Kick-Off offered an oracle for who to watch in the coming season. Each artist who donated their time has certainly been a beneficiary of Velocity, either from producing work or simply as utilizing this community space for dancers. If Friday night alone can predict the coming 2015/2016 dance season, it’s going to be stellar.