Now in its tenth year, Full Tilt, presented at Velocity Dance Center April 8–9, boasted a mélange of high-profile and emerging Seattle choreographers. In the opening remarks, founder Fumi Murakami recognized the nearly 200 dancers who have participated in Full Tilt’s process from audition to performance over the past decade, benefiting not only from the performance opportunity, but also forging valuable network connections that have continued beyond the festival. In a refreshing change to the common dance festival format, only five works were presented (culled from 30 applications) back-to-back without intermission, creating a palatable show that ran just under an hour and could be performed twice on the same night.
Maya Soto’s Tangled Not Tied began the evening, opening with a voiceover of a child talking about what makes her feel scared (spiders, elevators) and what makes her feel brave (when someone tells her “it’s not the worst thing in the world.”) Their eyes closed, the dancers stood in wide stances, swaying vulnerably. As the music by Nico Tower built in intensity, the dancers tested the limits of their balance and spinal extensions until finally they fell and ran into several illuminated corridors of light, dodging and rolling in canon as if avoiding the physical or metaphorical projectiles that threatened their safety. The lighting, also by Tower, incorporated numerous hallways of light and frequent changes in design, closely related to both the musical score and the dancers’ formations, pauses, and restarts. The tight-knit interplay of lighting, sound, and choreography speaks to the benefits of collaborating closely with a talented multi-media artist. Eventually, sounds redolent of high noon at the O.K. Corral permeated the driving soundscape, and the dancers mimed the typical posturing of cowboys in the Wild West, complete with a shootout, to comedic effect. By the conclusion of the piece, a clear, satisfying arc had developed: the dancers who began by running in fear had found a way to embrace their inner strength and courage.
In these streets are paved with glitter, Imana Gunawan’s dancers entered by writhing into the space wearing flesh-toned underwear, amorphous as if nude at the dawn of humanity. After the four dancers donned different clothing items from a hat stand in the corner, they took turns dancing in pairs and as an ensemble, sleekly gliding in and out of the floor and utilizing their lengthy leg extensions. Each new section required a costume change, signaled by a dancer abruptly touching a speaker in the corner as if changing the track on a CD. Gunawan edited classic jazz numbers by Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, among others, suggesting a deconstruction of classical modes. The dancers interacted with one another, nudging different body parts in order to kickstart unexpected initiations while smiling pleasantly. While the work’s setting was clearly defined by the music, costumes, and props, thematic elements failed to coalesce beyond an enjoyable romp between friends.
Ritual Architect, by Daniel Costa, displayed his abstractionist aesthetic and interest in varied, creative movement vocabulary. Featuring boneless spinal sequencing that moved in and out of the floor as if levitating, soloist Elizabeth Houlton embodied Costa’s sinuous, organic style. Like Gunawan’s work, however, communicative content beyond well executed, beautiful, evocative movement was lacking in Costa’s piece, a work where the medium was the message. In Karen O’Branovich’s Avec Amour, six dancers played out love triangles and cute flirtations to a recognizable jazz score. Eventually, they paired off into both opposite and same-sex pairings, lending a contemporary note to the work, which was also borne out in the dancers’ evolving footwear, from soft-soled jazz sneakers, to high heels, to bare feet. Coupled with their earnest expressions, the dancers’ attack of the tricky footwork gave this work a gratifying air.
The evening’s high point was Hot Air, a satire by Mark Haim that contained deliciously dark and subversive undertones. While a figure in a suit reclined regally on a fencepost, a diverse cast of five dancers entered and marched around the space in close formation. As they performed intricate geometrical patterns of steps with changing facings, the dancers applied white paint to their faces wearing deadpan expressions. Then, the soundscape abruptly changed from a cacophony of overlaid musical works to a recent speech by Donald Trump, to the surprise and dismay of the gasping audience. The five ensemble dancers in clownish whiteface fought, jumping on and off of each other until suddenly one dancer fell to his knees and vomited a milky white substance, which all of the dancers stared at without expression. The dancer’s excretion symbolized the audible groans of the audience members as Trump’s speech continued. The dancers, carrying pom poms, re-entered and executed a solemn routine as if forced not only to erase their identities with the white face paint but also to be Trump’s supportive cheerleaders. Hot Air suggested a dystopic future in which civil liberties are threatened by a frightening presidential candidate, but concluded on a somewhat hopeful note: a sensual and delicate solo by Elby Brosch. The work’s ending celebrated the value of unique, authentic individuality over the conformity of the white- and brain-washed masses.
While for some, it may be hard to believe that ten years have passed since the inception of Full Tilt, happily this year’s showcase promises that the next decade will continue to bring high-calibre dancing and dance-making to Seattle stages. For more information on Full Tilt, visit the Evoke Productions’ website.