Seattle independent dance staple Sapience Dance Collective has continued to evolve since its beginning in 2008. Originally serving to produce the works of its six founding members, the mission seems to have shifted over the years as leadership gradually pared down to two founders: Sarah Seder and Amy Weaver. Sapience’s main event for the last few years has been Converge Dance Festival, a showcase of Sapience works and works submitted by the community at large. After last year’s show, Seder and Weaver (who have moved on to graduate school and family endeavors) passed the reins over to Angelica DeLashmette and Kelsey Diane Hamon, who continued to run the festival in 2017.
This year’s festival didn’t advertise a theme, but almost all works interacted with props or objects of some kind. Bryon Carr’s I Go incorporated three standing lamps that the dancers could operate, integrating the stage props into the lighting design. Sarah M.F. Oxford and Kelsey Diane Hamon’s Monsters centered around a queen-sized bed, and each of Hayley Shannon’s five dancers in Sparks of Emptiness had their own object with which to interact—a jar, a necklace, eyeglasses, a book, a tee shirt.
The evening’s standout was Sabina Moe’s becoming the best, which also incorporated a tee shirt. A bright down-spotlight popped on the two dancers (Alyssa Casey and Shane Donohue) mid jump, as if these characters were sudden dropped in from another dimension. A white shirt reading “COOL” in bold black letters arrived similarly, sliding in from off stage. The duet developed its own curious world. The opening and closing of Casey’s arms started and stopped the jazzy musical number “Cool” from West Side Story, while each dancer navigated the space intent on some personal mission. At times they both tried to wear the shirt. The work had a slightly slapstick sense humor without ever being too obvious, the dynamic between them remained unclassifiable but intriguing, and the use of focus was smartly directed. With becoming the best, Moe succeeds in making work that is theatrical and specific while still abstract and dance-forward—an earnest but tongue-in-cheek reflection of our image-conscious culture.
Two of the works interacted with environmental substances as objects. A classical modern piece with a fun twist, Living Water by Brittany Clements gave each of the eight dancers their own shallow pan full of water in which to dance, jump, and splash. Full of shapely movement and wave-like cannons to jubilant string quartet music, the work was a pleasant study in pattern with the added visceral joy of getting wet.
DeLashmette’s Salt and Sugar involved pouring salt into a line of glass vessels that stretched across the stage. The accompanying dance movement was quick and clear, with swinging arms often landing across the face or with fingers in the mouth. Numerous motifs of angst, like the dancers gripping their own throats, felt a little too on-the-nose. Combined with a domineering sound score of breaking glass, Salt and Sugar left the distinct flavor of adolescent drama.
Also on the moody end of the spectrum, the duet Monsters profiled a perhaps less-than-healthy relationship where Oxford and Hamon shifted between uncomfortable-seeming positions on an elevated mattress. Intense stares and menacing atmospheric music cued the fearsome mood, but the choreography still dominated. Creatively using of the set piece as a divisive entity kept the object intrinsic to the choreography, and it was interesting to see floor work performed on and between different levels as the bed created a tiered stage.
Perhaps the work most focused on objects was Sparks of Emptiness, which seemed to be built around the dancers’ relationship to their item. Although the role of the objects is never completely clear, Shannon’s performers dance around them with compelling gestures that gradually build into full bodied phrases interspersed with highly detailed movement. The specificity of action, along with rhythmic sense and expressive performance felt like a thoughtful investigation of memory or personal story.
The only work untied to objects was THAW by Liv Fauver. A conceptually ambitious piece, the work seemed to be an intentionally mediocre lyrical work for seven dancers that was perpetually interrupted by choreographed mistakes or distractions—one dancer “accidentally” kicks another, a planted cell phone goes off in the audience, the tech person messes up the music, and other moments of awkwardness. The interrupted version of the work repeats twice to reveal exactly how planned it was, and then a third (and hands down the best) version eliminated the dancing altogether and the performers recited a perfectly-timed verbal recount of everything that happened in the meta-piece. Then more versions of the piece continued to break down in predictable ways (broken-record-like repetitions) followed by three readings by the dancers that were of excellent quality but seemed out of nowhere. Part of the issue is that the dance piece being interrupted felt like a throwaway, so it was hard to care about it being disrupted. The only interesting moment in the meta-dance was a contact-improv-like duet between Neve Mazique Bianco and Emma Hreljanovic, but even that seemed to exist without a purpose other than for there to be content to interrupt. This idea needs much more time and development, but a kernel of something very special exists inside this work.
The 4th annual Converge Dance Festival brought a whopping eight works to the stage by mostly emerging choreographers. It’s one of several annual or semi-annual showcases of its kind in the Seattle scene (Full Tilt, BOOST, Bridge Project, Next Fest, and others). Previous Converge Festivals featured live music or commissioned works by established choreographers, but this year seemed less conceptually distinct from Seattle’s many other festival showcases. While there is always choreographic voices looking for an outlet, the new leadership of Sapience might ask, What can set Converge apart?
Converge Dance Festival 2017 ran April 21-22 at Erickson Theater. More information at SapienceDance.org.