Some choreographers need or want a village of people to execute their vision. And then there are others, like Mary Sheldon Scott, who only needs one body in space at a time in order to transfix an entire audience.
And boy, was the audience transfixed! For The SOLO(S) Project, Scott crafted solos for seven dancers that have been billed as “Seattle’s most charismatic.” I echo that sentiment. Who wouldn’t want to watch veteran dance-maker Mark Haim, Corrie Befort (Salt Horse), renowned artist Alice Gosti, or the lithe Jade Solomon Curtis (formerly of Spectrum Dance Theater)? What could be wrong about seeing Jim Kent (Whim W’Him) and local powerhouses Linsyanne Owen and Sean O’Bryan? Scott has described SOLO(S) as “like a book of short stories for seven extraordinary performers,” but “stories” or “images” seem like inadequate words to describe her work. These solos are like poignant monuments—living, breathing testaments to the performers and the essence of their artistry.
Scott, now in her 60s, has been making work for more than two decades in collaboration with her partner, musician Jarrad Powell. The depth of this relationship, as well as the connection Scott has with her performers, is unmistakable. Each solo highlighted the performers’ strengths, all while framed by Lynne Ellis’ constantly shifting lighting. On top of that, Powell’s sound scores took the performers’ stories to surprisingly different directions and made each of them distinct.
It’s hard to pick highlights from this work simply because every movement in each solo is thoughtfully crafted, like enigmatic tales within each gesture. With an evening-length show full of highly technical and unorthodox steps, thoughtful stage presence leaves a lasting impression. Haim, for example, started the series in a patterned tunic dress, shifting between regal grace and doll-like stiffness. Akin to dance works he has made, there’s a cheekiness and joy that pepper his graceful motions, like witty but royal poetry.
Curtis, unsurprisingly, hypnotized the audience with her agility and finesse. Slowly but surely, she stretched limb after limb, enveloping herself in arms and legs. Despite the sparseness of Powell’s intelligent sound score, Curtis never ceased to exude a lyrical streak throughout. Befort, on the other hand, was restless. Her limbs agitated and twisted with great speed and electricity. Though her fervent and unnerved motions indicated she was on the cusp of a breakdown, her gaze and composure remained laser-sharp.
O’Bryan was also a standout. Clad in a colorful jumpsuit, he snaked in and out of the floor with virtuosic gusto—falling into low backbends and propelling onto the air with both tension and ease. Kent, similarly, combined intensity and casualness in performing supple extensions and articulate gestures. While the rest of the solos were performed against a black backdrop, Kent performed in front of shimmering plastic sheets covering the wall (put together by Befort) that seemed to subtly change hues with each lighting switch.
I would be remiss to not acknowledge Allison Burke, who performed Gosti’s solo as she was out with an injury on opening night (Gosti performed the rest of the run). While Gosti, clad in nude heels, shorts and a t-shirt, was calm and introspective, Burke’s performance of the solo made for Gosti was erratic. In a patterned tunic, she whipped her arms and upper-body atop a gold cardboard square, which later in the solo became both a confinement and a shroud or shelter. Though Burke was said to learn the solo a day before the show, she performed it with alacrity and ownership, as though the solo was made for her.
Although SOLO(S) is akin to a comeback for Scott, who has recently mostly worked on visual art or university commissions, it’s also a beautiful representation of her breadth of work. She equipped her performers with intelligent concepts and choreography and in turn they became masterful storytellers. Props are welcome, theatricality is embraced, but raw movement, when crafted and performed intentionally, is sometimes all you need to tell compelling stories.
The SOLO(S) Project is part of Velocity Dance Center’s Made in Seattle program, performed November 3 to 6 at the Founders Theater. More information can be found at velocitydancecenter.org or scottpowell.org.