Chop Shop Dance Festival has been a strong contemporary dance presence on the Eastside for 11 years. The festival focuses on audience engagement, with talkbacks after every show and a series of classes led by the artists of the festival. Curator Eva Stone strives to present dance that all can relate to, even if audience members are new to the genre. This year included eight artists from the Seattle area, Bellingham, Berkeley, Brooklyn, and North Carolina. The aesthetic of the night leans toward contemporary ballet, with other modern and contemporary pieces strongly driven by line and form.
The festival begins with a hip, upbeat dance film choreographed by Alicia Mullikin and directed by Ryan Hills. The performers surge with energy, their bodies popping, thrusting, and snapping into isolations and soaring partnering, filling the vast space of the unfinished building where it was filmed. The hip hop music and fiery performance seemed to say “Look at us, we’re here to stay.” Mullikin choreographs from the perspective of a young person of color, and this film celebrates the power and resilience of her voice and the diverse community of her performers. Mullikin has another piece in the program, En brazos entre lineas enemigas, performed by the AU Collective. The dancers, notably the only group with strong representation from performers of color, form a community that literally lift each other up, carrying each person across the stage. The strongest image from this piece is endless lines of performers coming towards the front of the stage, only to be thrown backwards by invisible forces. The lines keep coming, outbursts of sound and breath spilling from the dancers as they fight their way to the front of the stage, demonstrating strength and fortitude.
Highlights from Chop Shop’s out of town artists included eventually by Berkeley based Courtney Mazeika with Marlie Couto, and After Party by Vanessa Owen. eventually is a collaboration between Mazeika and Couto, exploring their own close relationship as artists and friends. At times the two become so closely tied that they move as one person, with astounding softness and sensitivity. Their multidimensional, silent movement is an exploration of the space around them and there is true beauty in seeing two dancers always aware of the other, staying in tune together with every sense they possess.
Vanessa Owen, from Asheville, North Carolina, presents a humorous, theatrical solo piece. Wearing a long blue evening gown, she begins full of elegance and finesse. She conveys Victorian Era grace with balletic lines and sweeping arms, but gradually her dancing becomes overly sweet and feminine. As the jazzy music shifts into something grounded and percussive, Owen takes off a lacy overshirt and several socks stuffed in her bra. The pretense of pleasantness abandoned, she proceeds with an ape-inspired, swinging and stomping dance. Flurries of humor intermix with her strong and slightly wild physicality, as she struggles to take the socks off her feet and makes funny, dopey faces. An exploration of how we are in public versus private, Owens creates an entertaining mix of prim and proper on the outside meeting sloppy and sleepy on the inside. She carries the solo wonderfully, filling the space with her long limbs and theatrical presence.
Strong ballet technique permeated the evening, with pieces from Spectrum Dance Theatre, Mari Meade Dance Collective, and PNB’s Kyle Davis showcasing contemporary ballet choreography. Donald Byrd’s Geekspeak is a choppy and linear trio beautifully executed by the three company dancers. Mari Meade Dance Collective, from North Carolina, presented a balletic duet entitled dialogue. The movement referenced Balanchine style hip thrusts, and neoclassical ballet step combinations. The intended story of movement as communication does not quite come through, however, as the two dancers are often unrelated in space and do not focus on each other, creating a largely disconnected duet. At least the highly skilled dancers were satisfyingly rhythmic as they responded to the percussion music. The final contemporary ballet piece was Kyle Davis’ Voices Revisited, a playful exploration of bird calls and the rhythms of nature sounds. Davis is a PNB company member, looking to begin his choreographic career and his flighty, sometimes humorous piece was choreographically complex and told a charming story of a clumsy birdwatcher dreaming of joining the graceful and sprightly sparrows around him.
The works in Chop Shop 2018 are clean, simple, and fresh. Exceptionally strong dancers and programs for audience engagement keep both new and old audiences connected to the dancing. Stone’s ability to continually bring in out-of-town artists is another strong draw of the Festival, helping Chop Shop maintain its tradition of bringing high quality contemporary and ballet to Bellevue.
Chop Shop Dance Festival was presented at the Meydenbauer Center, February 17th and 18th. More information can be found at http://www.chopshopdance.org/.