STRICTLY SEATTLE 2019

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Strictly Seattle is a dance workshop that offers something for just about everyone, from pure beginners to professional-level dancers, so it makes sense that their end-of-session performances would run that same gamut. But no matter what level these dancers are working on, they’re all taking risks and making new connections – that’s what a summer workshop is all about.

Photo by Jim Coleman.

Choreographers Maya Soto and Jaret Hughes both created work for their beginning students, and while the material often seemed to come straight from the classroom, their dancers brought a zest to the moment that connected them to their more experienced colleagues. In Soto’s Dancer All Along and Put That On My Set List by Hughes, the simple structures for their large groups gave plenty of chances for individuals to shine, and it was a pleasure to see them step up in what, for some of them, was their very first performance.

Things are trickier when you’re working with intermediate level students – there are so many different ways to challenge them as well as the audience. Alethea Alexander gave her group in and then, together long phrases of flocking behaviors – groups emerging and dissipating in loose unison material that seemed more focused on action than shape. The work resolves with a beautiful traffic pattern as the group makes its way slowly across the stage, one dancer leading the way only to reverse her direction and thread back through the others. Mark Haim’s Three Country Dances was full of the eccentric charm that we see in so much of his work, as he uses the post-modern toolkit to draw from multiple sources. He’s made what seems like folk dances from a culture we’ve never seen before, where communal activities, coming together in circles and lines, alternate with postcard-worthy snapshots of eccentric groups. The score reinforces this random sense, mixing tracks from little known state orchestras with popular music, so that Karen Carpenter fades in and out of the background while the cast comes together to circle under a downspot just as it fades out. 

Photo by Jim Coleman.

Alongside technique and repertory classes, Strictly Seattle offers a track for dance filmmakers from neophytes to experienced directors. Most of the films use movement as one component of many elements. These are not documentaries or archival records of extant choreography, but instead an extension of the groundbreaking work of directors like Maya Deren. Several of the works distort time or circumvent physics, appearing to defy gravity as hair falls up and leaps work backwards – shifting the powerful moment to the landing rather than the ascent. All of these techniques put the viewer on unfamiliar ground. We hover above the dancers or crouch below, we sneak up behind them or jump from place to place like an ensign on Star Trek. We have powers that we lack in the real world, and so do the dancers, who can shift in and out of the frame without reference to Newtonian mechanics. Lisa Kwak (Eye Trash) and Rebecca Balcom (Crackle) show us details in close-quarters work, keeping their camera trained on individual body parts while giving us a sense of very limited space. Cye Semrau (Labyrinth Dance), Carly Pansula (Sequence for Unity), and Micaela Pirzio-Beroli (Imaginary Friends) chose to take their casts outdoors – part of the pleasure of the work was identifying their locations, and considering those larger contexts.  Pansula takes us on a long and stealthy walk across a field, while Semrau and Pirzio-Beroli make smaller enclosures with their framing so that the dancers seem to bounce off invisible walls.

Kiana Vaziri (Logic and Emotion) takes full advantage of special effects in her work, cutting between illustrations and live action, and creating split screen moments that reinforce the sense that her two performers are estranged from each other, even when they appear side by side.  Rachel Lambright (Introspection) keeps both of her dancers in the same shot, but shows us a similar kind of detachment – their eyes are often closed, as if they are imagining the other one. Emily Eagle (Animal, Vegetable, Mineral) also made full use of animation techniques, creating a film where potatoes dance as much as people do. Three women at the dinner table seem to play a game of pass the potato, until the spuds take over and move themselves, appearing and disappearing on a plate, shifting in a big pile, threatening a potato avalanche. By the time a plate is shattered and then repaired through special effects, we are firmly back in familiar film-magic territory.

Photo by Jim Coleman.

The advanced/professional track works take us to some familiar places as well, with a combination of restaged work, stylistic challenges, and choreographic investigation. Kate Wallich set excerpts from her recent Industrial Ballet. After seeing it performed by the original cast, watching a staging makes the difference between her style as a dancemaker, and the personal qualities of her company clear. Shorn of its goth girl corps de ballet swooning from the upstairs boxes at the Moore, and performed in a smaller space, her movement choices become much more distinct, especially her use of homologous movement (rather than cross-lateral action). Her dancers often approach each other with a kind of swinging gait, pivoting back and forth as they step – it gives the interaction a more hesitant feeling. While the cast here doesn’t have the same ultra-aggressive quality that the original dancers brought to their performance, this new group made a great commitment to the clarity of the work.

Rather than setting an existing work, Dani Tirrell gave dancers an opportunity to find their own persona in the context of House, Vogue, and Whacking. This Dance is About Nothing and it is about Everything sets up a club-like atmosphere for its six performers. With movement contributions from Michael O’Neal Jr. and the performers, as well as Tirrell’s structure and framing, the participants are dancing for themselves as much as they are for the audience. The group maintains its connection through rhythm rather than shape – even though the material is highly presentational, it’s only at the very end, when they come together in a group photo op that we see that impulse resolve into a picture.

Photo by Jim Coleman.

Pat Graney took this opportunity to workshop material for her upcoming Attic, on the schedule for On the Boards next June. The work opens with the sound of shoes in the dark, and throughout the dance, we keep track of the tick-tock of feet on the floor as the six women explore the myriad possibilities of percussion. Like Tirrell’s work, the pulse is what keeps them attached and us engaged, but instead of the liquid flow in This Dance…, the rhythmic motor for Attic acts like a hammer on a board. It’s not tap dancing or clogging, though it owes something to both of those disciplines, but more like a construction technique. The work unspools over time, and by the time they finish you’re discombobulated with the sound still ringing in your ears.

It’s not clear if this is material that will appear again next spring, or if it’s just a stepping stone to another investigation – indeed, that’s true on one level for all the dancers and filmmakers in Strictly Seattle. They come, they work their butts off, and they take something away with them to the next part of their dancing life.

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