Lying in a star-shaped heap of bodies with eyes closed, members of The Guild Dance Company revealed a striking opening visual statement when the lights came up: they were a unit, and yet they were unique, separate beings. They slithered awake from their relaxed repose, stood, and walked randomly about the stage, stopping for a synchronized neck roll that brought the whole picture into focus: not a random collection but rather a careful network of bodies. The sense of drifting in and out of the whole, of belonging to community, and of playfulness permeated the company’s debut show. The Lead In was Alex Ung’s first production as head of his own dance company, and the show’s spectrum of emotions and styles was an effective way to introduce us to his work. Ung has been teaching, and choreographing for others since college at Iowa State, including hip hop, ballet, and contemporary dance. In Seattle, he has worked with an impressive range of dance schools and theaters, as well as companies as a performing member.
Ung’s choreography in The Lead In was often purely beautiful, and seemed to focus on the joy of dance itself, but it always revealed his expertise in organizing groups of bodies in space. Elegance abounded in moments that caught a swell in the music for just the right boost of energy for the whole company, verging on musical theater dramatics. A deeply intuitive duet by two guest ballet dancers, Angelica Generosa and Christian Poppe of Pacific Northwest Ballet, shifted easily between synchronized movement and individuality of each dancer in their space.
Ung’s opening pieces of the hour-long show, including the balletic duet, appeared focused fundamentally on the simple beauty of dancing, including elegant lines and surprising leaps. Then, through subtle costume and music elements, a darker, more ephemeral mood emerged. The dancers entered for the next segment in black hoods over simple leotards, and the droning music had a driving bass beat. Ung’s hip hop sensibility showed careful isolation of movement in the body: hands, shoulders, and hip circles that rolled and leaned and stopped short. The hoods took away much of the dancers’ individuality and surely some of their visibility to each other. As they glided and spun, vocalizations in the form of exhalations and short syllables, almost shouts, accompanied the leg lifts, turns, and crouches. The moments in which the nearly faceless company members moved or spoke in coordination with each other seemed accidental, though it was a crafted accident: they were keenly aware of the space and each other. Sharp releases of breath and body displayed desperation, of seeking something. The dancers aggressively punched and stabbed the air, eventually dropping dramatically to the ground one by one, as though perished, exhausted, or executed.
The duets and love stories that followed seemed to awaken from the hooded death to a daylight of seeking joy and love. The journey was far from over, each duet filled with an array of emotions, sliding between separateness and oneness. Stella Kutz entered, tentatively but knowingly, walking, cartwheeling, and leaning around the just-abandoned Jaime Walizcek, bent dejectedly and alone. Finding an intimate exploration of each other’s space and bodies, the movements grew larger and more celebratory into acrobatics and lifts, as though having found what they came looking for. A similar energy emanated from a duet of Ung and another male dancer, resulting in much nuzzling and joyful tumbling. The finale of The Lead In landed back in a place of community in which the company moved both as a fully synchronized unit with arms outstretched, and as energetic pairs of dancers performing for each other. In each other’s presence, the dancers seemed to finally have found themselves and their joy.
Ung’s choreography moved through darkness and chaos, emerging into a party atmosphere fitting for a debut celebration. Through The Lead In, a sense of joy in movement and in claiming selfhood was paramount. The anger in the work appeared personal, and of a searching nature, rather than a political outcry or collective angst over external forces. The company seemed a universe unto itself, concerned with its own expansion. If Ung continues to infuse this level of emotion in his choreography, The Guild Dance Company will have a vibrant future.
The Lead In was performed by The Guild Dance Company on October 5, 6, and 7 at Yaw Theater in Seattle. Company members include: Claire Branley, Sapphire Goetz, Stella Kutz, Phenix Laughlin, Dante Martin Jr, Alex Ung, Jaime Waliczek. Featured dancers: Angelica Generosa, Christian Poppe.