A chorus of chatter emerges from the audience as many patrons vocalize their frustration. Their concerns all stem from a singular issue: they cannot see the dance in front of them. Besides a small amount of people in the front line, no one can. At best, most audience members can stand on their tip toes and maybe see an extended arm or leg occasionally.
The piece they are struggling to see is After Ricky, a premiere from Gabriel Forestieri (NYC). This site-specific work is set in four different locations around Seattle Central College, a short walk from the Erickson Theater, where the rest of the second weekend of Seattle International Dance Festival Winter Mini Fest takes place. It is quickly clear that this performance cannot accommodate this size of the audience. We are directed to stand behind certain markers throughout the site, and there is not enough space behind these markers to allow any shifting of vantage points. The crowd is stuck in its formation. At one point, a disgruntled person lifts their phone into the air to try to see the dance through the phone’s camera angle. People around the phone commend this person for finally giving them some sort of view. Pedestrian onlookers stop to watch from time to time throughout the performance. Unbound by markers to stand behind, they actually have a better view than most of the people who paid for tickets.
Site-specific work is an exciting avenue of dance that, under proper planning, can create transformative experiences for viewers. Unfortunately, this piece does the opposite. The audience comes from a theater with a finite number of seats and it was completely possible to plan for a site-specific performance that could accommodate the expected number of viewers.
The show runs much more smoothly after it transitions to the theater. In a new work Shura Baryshnikov (Rhode Island), the dancers of local group Khambatta Dance Company are arranged into two trios that take turns performing and observing from a line of chairs downstage. Often in unison, the dancers make efficient, geometric pathways in space. The movement of Map frequently starts and stops, performing pedestrian walking patterns and angular modern vocabulary. The choreography is clean, timely, and simple.
Cyrus Khambatta’s Earthquake premiers in full after an excerpt of the piece was featured in the first weekend of the festival. This work showcases athletic slides and quick jumps. There is frequent use of diagonals in the trajectory of the movement. Twitching choreography percolates in the group and later in individual dancers, as other dancers create a backdrop with a phrase that repeats many, many times. Above all else, this piece can be characterized by its frequency of dynamic shifts. Nothing is permitted to settle. This environment is constantly subject to change.
In Forestieri’s second premiere of the night, Lacuna, it is revealed that he has spent the last five years learning how to dance underwater. Forestieri lies face down in a kitty pool of water for about five minutes at a time, holding his breath while footage of himself dancing in the ocean is projected onto the wall behind him. The movement in this video is stunning. Forestieri is in partnership with the water. He maneuvers the ocean with attention to his own choreographic play but also to the impulses of the environment. It is an exciting exploration of both movement curation and natural spontaneity. From time to time, in-person Forestieri breaches from the kitty pool, oxygenating his body with loud, even paced breaths. These instances remind the viewer that he is still there, demonstrating an aspect of his aquatic physicality.
In contrast to his site-specific work, Forestieri is quite mindful of the audience in this piece. He incorporates a video call with a friend following his time in the pool. He answers questions from his friend about his artistic practice, clueing the audience into more specifics of his work. Forestieri explains that he began to practice holding his breath out of the desire to move in the water longer. When asked what this practice is like he states, “It’s like learning how to surrender to a hold.” Forestieri then details the physical changes that need to occur in the body in older to hold the breath longer—the combination of holding the throat while releasing tension from the rest of the body. He also speaks of how he can access greater mobility in the body after he has exhaled much of his breath. As Forestieri demonstrates this, his torso becomes surprisingly malleable. He squishes its contents from one area to another with ease.
The festival’s second weekend fulfills its mission to foster collaboration between local, national, and international artists in the creation of new work. Local dancers demonstrate their versatility in performing drastically different pieces, and the curated roster of the festival provides patrons with access to a surprising variety of dance. Foresteri’s Lacuna was the highlight of the program, both fascinating and educational. The night also brought forth a lesson in audience consideration. Planning the experience of viewing the dance is as important as planning the dance. Let’s take better care of audiences and continue the pursuit of innovative new work.