On January 23, University of Washington’s dance department performed 2016’s Faculty Concert to a sold out house at the Meany Studio Theatre. The department is home to students at many different points in their training process, and this concert, packed with works by professors and improv scores by guest dancers, showcased students’ abilities while also providing valuable performance experience.
Mark Haim’s English Suite no. 2 for four female dancers opened the evening, set to several movements of the titular Bach. The piece featured unpredictable and unrelated costume changes each time a dancer exited, sometimes occurring multiple times per section. Carefully constructed phrases were first executed as individual solos and then woven into developing relationships. In one memorable image, reminiscent of Haim’s well-known work Goldberg Variations, the four women boldly stared at the audience for the entire duration of a movement. Ultimately, the academic English Suite no. 2 lived up to its program notes as a “study in counterpoint and occasional humor,” becoming no more and no less.
Guest dancers Scott Davis, Aiko Kinoshita, Rachael Lincoln, Aaron Swartzman, and Tamzin Totzke, aka “Never formally known as anything,” invited the audience to witness their improvisational scores. The dancers’ loose, light-colored clothing created a blank canvas, allowing their musical choices to suggest a context, although the sound did not visibly influence the dancers’ movements. The ensemble revealed their utilization of chance procedures (rock, paper, scissors) prior to dancing their second score, although exactly which aspect had been decided remained unknown. Lacking a discernable structure or arc, the happenings seemed plucked directly from the studio. Placing improvised works such as the two by NFKA in a program of choreographed pieces made the motivation behind exposing some structural aspects while veiling others unclear; the pieces’ inclusion and their overall message lacked a definitive statement. Perhaps that was the point. At the least, the audience could marvel at the veteran performers’ risky partnering and tenuous tether to gravitational forces.
Rachael Lincoln’s Thieves and Beggars was the evening’s distinct high point. Meticulously detailed costuming by Deb Skorstad brought to life a fascinating storybook world inhabited by three couples of sentient crows, foxes, and deer, recalling nostalgic memories of Beatrix Potter and The Wind in the Willows. Each creature wore a beautiful mask or headpiece, formal cravats, and blousy trousers, their corresponding movement vocabulary drawing each species together while existing at odds with the other animal pairs. A projection of forest trees on a midstage panel, a soundtrack of dripping water, and a nature magazine of human faces, all helped draw viewers further into this unique universe. But all was not safe in this fantastical world—one of the stately deer lost her antlers and perhaps died when the other animals attacked her. The six dancers performed phrases in crystalline unison and executed well-rehearsed lifts, their technique and stage presence remaining strong throughout the lengthy work.
After intermission, Juliet McMains’s Cabeceo featured eight dancers, including two men, performing ballroom dance swivels and pivots in pressed pants and wide suit vests. The work explored “invitation or rejection through eye contact,” and came to a climax when each dancer cruelly rejected one lonely performer. The work’s strength lay in developing endless combinations of partnering pairs, including a centipede-like structure with the rejected dancer partnering the rest of the group. Duets featuring one partner standing on a bench evoked power dynamics while the constantly-changing pairings subverted traditional gender norms.
Guard, by Bruce McCormick, closed the program on a high note. The all-female cast’s repetitive swinging motions suggested crop harvesting and laundry washing. Illuminated by warm lighting as Emily Wells crooned “Mama’s Gonna Give You Love,” the movements called to mind domestic chores of the rural countryside. Suddenly the music changed to an electronic sound score, the lighting turned stark, and the mood shifted dramatically. The repeated swings held steady throughout the transition, but, under new lighting and musical conditions, took on a completely different connotation. In Guard’s second movement, the identically-dressed dancers took linear formations as they pierced the space in unison and in tight cannons evoking the collectivist hive mind of Crystal Pite’s Emergence. The piece concluded with a third movement, in which the dancers metamorphosed back to individuals, gently lowering each other to the earth as if in baptism.
The UW Faculty Concert constitutes an ideal time for the program’s dancers to gain valuable stage experience and to learn from a wide variety of choreographers. The department’s students of all ability levels shone in the diverse range of styles presented.