Cornish Dance Theater, better known as CDT, is Cornish College’s biannual concert performed by dance majors of the arts school. A beautiful mélange of physical images, this season’s CDT at Cornish Playhouse stood out for performance quality amidst a vast, albeit complementary, array of works. With choreography by such diverse artists as Laura Ann Smyth, Stephanie Liapis, Gérard Théorêt, Michele Miller/Catapult Dance, and Bruce McCormick, CDT’s Fall 2017 concert was a true showcase of the college as a contributing force in Seattle’s arts community. Cornish dancers stunned with their precision and mastery of a diverse array of dance genres, from theatrical jazz, to modern, to contemporary ballet, managing to boast consistent physical proficiency as a large cast of 48 performers.
The curtain opened to Show Up, Show Out, a new work choreographed by Cornish dance department’s newest faculty member and theatrical and vernacular jazz specialist Laura Ann Smyth. Shedding light on Smyth’s thoughtfulness as a choreographer, Show Up, Show Out was well-suited to the dancers’ individual and collective strengths while simultaneously playing within the framework of a stylistically complex vocabulary. The work had fosse-esque nuance and a distinct groove, rhythmic and playful, with traditionally articulate movement derived from the jazz canon; dancers hit hard stops into smooth rebounds and demonstrated a full range of dynamic capacity, offering stylistically versatile seniors such as Drew Gorospe opportunities to shine. Where shows like So You Think You Can Dance? have turned theatrical, in-your-face, trick-riddled “showstoppers” into consumable jazz for the public eye, Show Up, Show Out was refreshingly nuanced and complex with a cast well-suited to uphold it.
Gérard Théorêt’s impressive list of accomplishments no doubt informed his latest work, Everyday Woman…in a red tuxedo, particularly his experience as a soloist with Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, training as an actor, and many years as touring Artistic Director of Corteo for Cirque du Soleil. In a series of acts defined by comedy, dark, intimate partnering, and sexually empowered movement, the 10-woman cast strut across the stage in red heels and pant suits, partnered in and out of the floor, on and off of one another, and wove a tale of selfhood, all the while showing off powerful lines, a little bit of cleavage, and a wealth of personality. Provocative and empowered, strong and intimate, the work was an image of female agency – cooperatively, independently, personally, and sexually.
Bruce McCormick’s Jupiterian Dreams was the only contemporary ballet work in the mix and a testament to McCormick’s expertise as a dance-maker. Within the vocabulary of a classically linear dance, the performers’ contemporary undulations, multi-hued unitards, and fast, articulate execution under Meg Fox’s subtle lighting, made for an other-worldy image in which McCormick’s oscillating choreography came full circle. The ensemble of 15 dancers owned the work with visible strength and deftness, showcasing their training not just as artistic performers, but as classically adept technicians as well.
Originally created by Catapult Dance and recrafted for a cast of sophomore dance majors, Michele Miller’s Skin, embodied traditional conceptions of “masculinity” and “femininity” and dichotomized them as a self-aware illumination of our constructed binary. How can one be purely masculine or purely feminine after all, the piece asked, when the characteristics which supposedly define each have been sociologically fabricated? Dancers pushed and pulled, carved through the space, they manspread and posed cross-legged, grimaced and smiled, proclaimed “I am not a small woman,” and took up space with unapologetic force. In classic Michele Miller/Catapult Dance style, the work was athletic, full bodied, vivacious, and anything but mild-mannered.
Stephanie Liapis’ The Small Acts of Living, in contrast, appeared to play with androgyny between performers, also from the sophomore class. Wearing grey/green jumpsuits they danced to Martin Jarmick’s repetitive sound score, which incorporated phrases from Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life” and stretches of silence. Long lines amidst organic floor work and subtle hand gestures emphasized the strengths of this second year group which clearly benefits from a diversity of skillsets and artistry alongside physical strength and performance quality.
Cornish continues to be an integral foundation of Seattle’s dance scene, training and emboldening movers who have historically been (and who continue to be) instrumental to the development of the city as a hub for dance. With many of those very upcoming artists on stage each fall and spring, demonstrating their prowess as technicians and working collaboratively with some of the city and nation’s most renowned choreographers, CDT is an opportunity to see those performers in action. May we continue to embrace Seattle’s rising artists as they remind us of the power of technical proficiency and the process of finding one’s creative voice.
Cornish Dance Theater’s Fall 2017 concert took place November 12 &18th at Cornish Playhouse at the Seattle Center. For more information on the Cornish College of the Arts dance department and upcoming performances, click here. The Cornish Dance Theater Spring 2018 production will run April 20-21st at Cornish Playhouse.