Dancers Shine at ARC’s Summer Dance

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ARC Dance, the chamber-sized contemporary ballet company located in Crown Hill, presented its annual offering, Summer Dance at the Center, at Seattle Center’s Leo K. Theatre July 21–23. Nine dancers attacked the evening’s six works with gusto—a feat considering the almost two-hour program featured many of the dancers in every or almost every work. Despite the company’s small size and limited season, the ambitious performance spanned a spectrum of contemporary ballet styles (minus pointe work) and highlighted some very talented dancers.

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ARC Dance Company
Photo by Paul Sanders Photography

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Artistic director Marie Chong’s decision to begin the program with Betsy Cooper’s abstract The Space Between (2009) was smart: an amuse-bouche offering to introduce the dancers to the audience and whet an appetite for more. Space featured a breadth of balletic vocabulary with the full company attired in a Mondrian-esque palette of rehearsal wear: t-shirts atop black bike shorts. The ballet began with a gently sweet double pas de deux, then transitioned into an all-female section where dancer Victoria Jahn stood out—only the first time of many throughout the night—with the surefootedness, elegance, and subtlety available only through strong technical underpinnings. In the pas de deux between Graham Gobeille and Madeline Bay, Bay shone like a Jane Austen ingenue—once opening-night early nerves calmed down—to perform a smooth Giselle-like promenade over a reclined Gobeille. Overall, the movement had a restrained quality–perhaps due to nerves or an effort to maintain the pedestrian characteristics of the work. Trying to accommodate the space restrictions of the of the small Leo K. stage may have also contributed. Even so, Cooper’s choreography hit many high notes, especially in the fluidly danced transitions between sections and music.

 

Alex Ketley’s light but mostly satisfying Wave Atlas (2011) was presented in this incarnation as a double duet, with no relational connection between the two sets of dancers. Ketley’s choreographic signatures were there—unusual contact points for partnering, and gestural phrases built upon to create overall structure—but the use of two couples instead of just one felt off. The echoing effects were not exaggerated enough to seem purposeful, and the deconstructed moments–where one couple danced the duet apart instead of together–were paced too fast and therefore became too visually busy to be successfully enjoyed as a choreographic device. Although Ethan Schweitzer-Gaslin stood out in all pieces, he moved with greatest authenticity in Ketley’s piece. An easily and securely grounded technician, he telescoped his limbs out from his core, making every step seem large; the effect was striking both on the smaller scale of the stage and juxtaposed against his taller counterparts.

 

The highlight of the evening was Edwaard Liang’s Infinitum (2015), a strong vehicle for Jahn and three male dancers (Mark David Bloodgood, Gobeille, and Schweitzer-Gaslin). Jahn’s somber entrance set the emotional tone, mysterious and mesmerizing, especially during a cambré sequence upstage that incorporated her long red skirt in a sweeping arc. Two of the men entered through the house, building the dreamlike atmosphere by just “appearing” out of the black onto the dimly lit stage. Jahn wove her lithe body through the space, a powerful somnambulist, both controlling and being controlled by the men. The four dancers floated through the changing patterns with the grace of a flock of birds. Jahn’s control of her own movement and of the work became most evident during her pas de deux with Gobeille, totally in charge of every arm and leg, and seemingly those of her partner as well. She portrayed an active participant in her own dream, guiding the work to its vampiric conclusion: a kiss that caused her “phantom” partner to collapse as if never there. While this ending came too soon, feeling trite without enough build-up prior, Infinitum was the strongest piece of the night, and one that ARC will hopefully revisit again soon (see SeattleDances’ review of last year’s premiere of this work here.)

Infinitum
Victoria Jahn and Graham Gobeille in Liang’s Infinitum
Photo by Paul Sanders Photography

All nine dancers performed in Chong’s No Regrets (2009), a visual realization of the company’s name with circular swooping and scooping, organic movement and patterns, arms and legs carving arcs at all levels. The work benefitted from Chong’s obviously intimate knowledge of the theater space, especially in her collaboration with lighting designer Mark McCartney to dress the atmosphere with shifting moods through color and intensity matching each section. The most balletic of the evening, No Regrets fell just short of achieving the kind of dancing ferocity that truly propels dancers through space. It lacked that moment where movements and talents match equally, and instead left a yearning for further development.

 

Earth and Sky (2008) by longtime ARC collaborator Kirk Midtskog was the most forgettable of the evening, coming across as superficial filler rather than a strong contribution. While the dancers performed serviceably in the tepid choreography, the loose-fitting maroon velour tops and gold pants hid much of the dancing and were tricky to light well. These costuming and color choices were a major factor in the blandness of this work, particularly as it was placed toward the end of the evening surrounded by more memorable works.

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ARC Dance in Ojeda’s A Little Less Than A Human Being
Photo by ARC Dance

The premiere of the evening by Daniel Ojeda, A Little Less Than A Human Being, portrayed a dark side (an almost Hollywood Black Swan side) to the director/dancer relationship. Erin Crall, an ARC veteran, finally got a featured moment—a fun choice as the gender-reversed, dark-suited, demanding, and disparaging director. Ojeda started the work with affected, over-the-top company bows, each dancer taking a turn, followed by Crall running onstage and taking a bow. The work then “flipped” to show backstage post-performance, complete with director’s notes given to the dancers via tirade, each dancer visibly shrinking and recoiling, no longer the confident performers of the bows. This loose narrative melted away to reveal a thematic structure, Crall weaving on and offstage through the dancers, carving circular pathways through their interactions. At the end the tables turned, and the previously derided dancers entrapped Crall, who crawled backward offstage away from creeping, menacing pursuit. Little Less Than was material the dancers seemed to truly enjoy, reveling in the drama of their character roles.

 

Overall, Summer Dance vacillated between peaks and dips. In many ways displayed onstage, Chong smartly addressed ARC’s mission statement, all within the budget boundaries of a small company: commissioned works, including one premiere; diverse range of choreographic styles within the genre; generous amount of dancing opportunities for company dancers; intimate theatre setting. Perhaps in the effort to do the most within these boundaries, Summer Dance presented both too much and too little. The evening would have benefited from fewer works and more in the way of simple, well-fitting costumes with clean lines (the outstanding exception being Jahn’s striking red dress against the contrast of the men dressed in simple black in Infinitum). Watching the dancers left a yearning for more—perhaps more challenging choreography to really showcase their abilities? Maybe more rehearsal and coaching time? Despite this, ARC Dance shined with great potential and provided a much needed and refreshing choice for summer dance viewing.

 

See ARC Dance’s website for information on future events.

Correction: An earlier version of this article listed Mark David Bloodgood as the dancer in Cooper’s The Space Between. It has since been corrected to state Graham Gobeille.