HARD AND SOFT

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A nude dancer gently building a rock garden. Another softly ramming his head into a brick wall. These images and others, from the two pieces showcased at Velocity Dance Center’s Split Bill, lingered long after the program concluded. Split Bill featured Dream Dances from Kate Wallich + the YC and MASC from MADBOOTS DANCE, premiers of two new works slated to be expanded to full-length pieces informed by this collaboration.

Photo by Stefano Francesco Altamura

The stunning excerpt of MADBOOTS DANCE’s MASC began with the dancers walking onto the stage into stillness, the angularity of their hips and knees prominent, an attitude of softness and sensuality juxtaposed with their muscular bodies. MADBOOTS DANCE, based in New York City, with concept, direction, and choreography by Jonathan Campbell and Austin Diaz, is known for exploring and breaking down concepts of masculinity, and they certainly did that here. One dancer, clad in boxing gloves and a black stretch mask covering his head and face, sank into slow push-ups, lowing himself to the floor. This action gradually sped up, the athletic movement becoming more frantic until he was repeatedly throwing himself at the ground. The cycle seemed inescapable, even as it became exhausting and harmful. Meanwhile, another dancer, fully nude, slowly carried football-sized chunks of granite onto a brightly lit portion of the stage bordered on one side by clear Plexiglas. This process of transport and arrangement continued for some time with great concentration. The hardness of the rocks contrasted the soft vulnerability of the naked human form, and the tenderness displayed toward the rocks seemed to extend into a resulting acceptance of the body as well.

Photo by Stefano Francesco Altamura

The ingenious music, mixed by James Michael, incorporated classical pieces like an aria by Puccini and a Brahams piano waltz, interspersed with contemporary drone-like music by Kevin Drumm and recorded text written by Gus Reed and directors Jonathan Campbell and Austin Diaz. The high operatic drama was an effective backdrop to the stunning leaps and extensions of the five-person cast, their powerful, adept bodies claiming the space. The spoken words included lines like “All we are looking for is to be seen,” “Patriarchy is dead,” and “I am lovely.” Slowly looped and gradually unspooling, the text seemed in conversation with the strong, technical bodies of the dancers and the spare costumes—black elbow-length gloves (eventually removed) and high-waisted black bikini briefs. Sometimes, productions that have starkly divergent choreography in multiple areas of the stage at once can be overwhelming. In MASC, however, the effect was complex and engaging; it promises to be an entrancing full-length production.

Photo by Stefano Francesco Altamura

Dream Dances began as the audience was shuffling in from intermission, and had an entirely different mood. With concept, direction, and choreography from Seattle mainstay Kate Wallich and co-direction from Lavinia Vago, who co-founded The YC with Wallich, Dream Dances was billed on Velocity’s website as “a string of layered movement scenes based off a series of deconstructed dreams.” The layered movement was definitely there. To open the piece, the dancers seemed to casually experiment, grooving around the stage with something like apathy. This moved into a coordinated, repeated sequence that changed focus regularly from one quadrant of the stage to another, and gradually incorporated various cast members. Gaze was used effectively, and the audience was brought along as the dancers swept their eyes and bodies around the room, precisely changing focus. But it was a lot of the same, and there was a sense of anticipation for something to come out of the mundane.

Photo by Jim Coleman.

Dreamlike surreality crept in at points, but wasn’t pervasive. One strong sequence involved one dancer, who leaned against the wall, flung himself away, crawled quickly on hands and knees back toward the wall, and pressed his head into the brick, before standing up and doing it all over again. Another dancer drank repeatedly from a gallon water jug, which he then took around the room and, lid firmly secured, mimed watering the stage. These sequences were interesting, even compelling, but it took too much time for interest to develop; a condensed version might prove more impactful. The music, by Johnny Goss and Andrew J.S., was frantic, grinding, and aggressive; the movement was sometimes painfully slow. I was curious at points, but gradually became querulous, rankled by sequences that didn’t seem to hold much meaning. Dreams themselves can be irritating, baffling, or nonsensical, of course, but there was room for this production to have done more with the fruitful material.

Photo by Jim Coleman.

Overall, MADBOOTS DANCE’s MASC was compelling, relevant, riveting. Kate Wallich + The YC’s Dream Dances had promising elements, but needs to build us a bridge into their dream space. Both works have full-length versions coming later this year. It will be interesting to see how they transform and expand after this intriguing showcase.

 

SPLIT BILL, featuring two new works by Kate Wallich + The YC and MADBOOTS DANCE, ran June 29-July 2, 2017 at Velocity Dance Center.