CHOP SHOP Offers Diverse Body of Work

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An annual Eastside treat, CHOP SHOP: Bodies of Work is a contemporary dance festival presented by StoneDance Productions in partnership with the Theatre at Meydenbauer. The festival, which ran February 13–14, brings together local, national, and international artists and showcases a diverse set of works. This year, artists hailed from the Eastside, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Boise, and Montréal—which yielded the festival’s most striking piece.

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SubRosa Dance Collective in Foibles (an excerpt)
Photo by Rex Tranter

The evening opened with Michele Miller/Catapult Dance’s What We Have, a work focused solely on movement without any apparent story or message. The piece’s three dancers moved fluidly, shifting weight into and out of the floor as well as each other. This captivating flow, reminiscent of Hofesh Schecter, worked best when the dancers interacted with one another; their knowledge of each other’s movements seemed almost prescient. Close Quarters in a Large World by Liz Houlton and Dancers began with a simple balletic phrase, alternating between unison and canon, performed to a Bach concerto. As the piece went on, the music began to distort and, one by one, the dancers followed suit, their movements becoming less pristine and more grounded and organic. This is where Close Quarters thrived—watching the work evolve into a variation of itself was fascinating.

A few of the pieces in CHOP SHOP featured large casts of dancers, most of whom performed very little movement. In Coleman Pester/TECTONIC MARROW SOCIETY’s The Architecture of Being, Pester was really the only dancer; the other ten people on stage were featured as what can only be described as set design. Unfortunately, instead of providing interest through that contrast, it only proved distracting to see people used as props. In Foibles, Portland’s SubRosa Dance Collective indulged in a lengthy solo for one dancer while the remaining performers stood on stage. The solo was interesting, with some winks of humor, although in the portions that did include all dancers, there was a cutesiness that detracted from any further wit. The work that used still dancers to the greatest effect was Spectrum Dance Theater’s excerpt of The Octoroon Ball. The piece had two distinct parts. The first evoked a community dance set to an energetic violin, with the onlooking dancers moving just enough to remain a part of the piece. The second part featured traditional ballet couplings and made effective use of ballet’s long tradition of dancers standing onstage; they appeared neither distracting nor unnecessary.

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The Stone Dance Collective in Carbon Black and Fiber
Photo by Rex Tranter

Lauren Edson/LED’s Barbarian Princess delved into the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, replete with 1920s nightdresses. Set to the sound of typewriters and breaking glass, it reflected the tumultuous life of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The movement was characterized by weightless lifts and steps that reverberated visibly through the dancers’ bodies; their gestures suggested the actions of the subjects’ lives and often alluded to domestic violence. Throughout, the dancer representing Zelda remained a strong figure, creating an interesting power dynamic to see in a narrative dealing with domestic violence. The movement itself was bold and dynamic, much like the now-defunct La La La Human Steps: flying, wild, and carefree, with moments of tender embrace.

Several pieces in the program had a clear idea at their heart and seemed to offer the beginning of larger works in progress. The Stone Dance Collective’s Carbon Black and Fiber began with a recitation of letters. Choreographically, it carried a strong influence of contemporary ballet, utilizing unison and numerous leg extensions throughout the work. The Machine by Anna Conner + CO also held close to a concept, likely the spark for a lengthier work. The idea of a machine was shown through gear-like chaînés and repetitive motions. In one striking moment filled with action, the dancers rolled downstage, occasionally pushing up to plank position. Alexander Pham’s solo piece, Re: Repetition, began in a silence so complete the audience could hear a pin drop, and continued with a monologue about how repetition can rob things of their meaning. Pham’s calm and reserved movements occasionally reflected the spoken words.

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Kyra Jean Green in Eytan
Photo by Rex Tranter

 The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly Eytan by Montréal’s Kyra Jean Green. A solo work, it shone in its unique movement vocabulary. With a fascinating mixture of gestural movements as well as deep lunges and leg extensions, it had a jarring quality that could perhaps best be described as contemporary locking. Green’s complete body control allowed her to move aggressively and then be inhumanly still. She seemed to effortlessly encompass contradicting ideas: aggression and reservation as well as pedestrian gestures and great technical skill.

This year’s CHOP SHOP had much to offer, and it is to the credit of StoneDance Productions that the festival has become a beacon of innovative dance presented on the Eastside. Seattleites who feel most at home tucked to the west of Lake Washington should take note; the caliber of dance at CHOP SHOP is well worth the trip.