Catapult Dance’s I am Not A Small Woman, which played at Erickson Theater June 29-July 7, showcased Michele Miller’s powerful dance company with four pieces high in conflict and tension. Each of the works explore how our roles are shaped through society, and how these roles can be resisted and changed.
The Lottery is choreographed by guest artist Amii Legendre, who returns to Seattle to set this piece on Miller’s company after 15 years on the East Coast and in Israel. Throughout the piece, grotesque faces and movement are contrasted with more pedestrian gestures and speech. Each dancer wears a brightly colored wig; while the wigs are on, the dancers create absurd facial expressions and fall into repetitive, seemingly exhausting partnering sequences. The slicing, grounded movement is peppered with explosive jumps and fearless partnering; the Catapult dancers are clearly a force to be reckoned with. When the wigs are off, the dancers speak in their own voices. They present themselves as humans, by describing their movement, or telling the audience something that they feel. The wigs seemingly indicate a shift between a simple and authentic way of being when they are off, and an over the top presentation of character when they are on, like one might see on reality TV or social media.
I am the Bully, choreographed by Michele Miller and Catapult dancers, is an ominous, sometimes brutal exploration into a bully’s psyche. Group dynamics constantly shift as one dancer is drawn out and is thrown about by the others, only to rejoin the group and become one of the aggressors. At times the dancers seemed like hunters, ruthlessly chasing after those who will not conform to the herd-like spatial patterns and verbal taunting. Company members Becca Blackwell and Kaitlyn Dye stood out for their ability to play both victims and bullies, embodying a soft vulnerability, and then transforming that into rage and aggression.
Captivating from the initial moments onstage, Resistance begins with Emma Hreljanovic running in continuous circles, arms outspread like she is flying or running victory laps. Her soft and hopeful journey is a welcome shift from the harsh feeling of the previous pieces, but soon enough, resistance is introduced to her pathway. Another dancer blocks her path, at first gently, then more and more forcefully until Hreljanovic is physically restrained. Using ropes, boxes, and other dancers, this theme of restricted freedom plays out in various forms throughout. At one point Blackwell and Maya Soto become physically trapped in a box, their movement becoming smaller and confined to the negative space between each other and the walls of the box. The two explore every option until they finally find their way out into open space. The creative use of the box, as well as ropes that the dancers use to hang on and counterbalance each other highlight Miller’s ingenuity with prop and set pieces.
The evening concludes with Skin, an exploration of gender roles and stereotypes. The idea that these traditional roles are learned as opposed to innate is played out literally. A dancer is shaped into a hyper-feminine figure, her legs crossed, her face made to smile, and her hand shaped to be elegant by another dancer. Eventually her entire body conforms. She wears the smile out of habit, and she always keeps her knees together when sitting. Other dancers join her onstage, displaying feminine poses or sitting with legs splayed open, hands behind their heads in a portrayal of heightened stereotypical masculinity. As the dance progresses, these lines become blurred and body language melds into one. The most freedom is found when the dancers come together as a little of each. Skin is not the most nuanced look at gender roles, as it questions the idea of a gender binary while overlooking any conflict that may arise within individuals or societies as these roles are dismantled. However, it is thought provoking and contributes to the conversation.
Miller’s company is a powerhouse of experienced dancers, and throughout the night the athleticism stood out. Each piece plays with the shaping and unshaping of roles in society. While not addressed in any pieces of the show, another role that Catapult dance examines is that of a delicate female dancer. These performers are far from delicate. They are fearless, strong, and grounded, in command of their own voices and bodies. That in itself is a statement of resistance.
I am Not a Small Woman played at the Erickson Theater June 29- July 7. To learn more about Catapult Dance, go to http://www.catapultdance.com/.