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Innovation Thrives at Velocity’s Bridge Project

Written by Mariko Naga
Three was the magic number at Velocity Dance Center this weekend, where three dances, created in three weeks, by three different choreographers were performed for three consecutive evenings in their annual production of The Bridge Project. As explained in the program notes, the Bridge Project is a unique “challenge” program, where this year’s selected choreographers Pablo Cornejo, Alex Martin, and Jürg Koch, were commissioned to each create a new work, with dancers auditioned from the Seattle dance community, in just three weeks. All three choreographers rose to the challenge, presenting inspired and clever works, even with the time constraint.

First on the bill was Cornejo’s Rising, the most formally presented piece of the evening, which explored the concept of resilience. The work began in darkness to the sound of ominous and rumbling drums, as a dim light revealed one corner of the stage where four dancers cluster and undulate slowly. Their outstretched and quivering hands added texture to the viscous, often contorted movements. As the lights continued to rise and the music intensified, one gets the feeling the dancers are searching for something they don’t really want to find; with their movements expanding across the stage they often peer at the audience with a look of paranoia. Resilience abounds in one partnering section where a kick or swipe of the arms from one dancer initiates a reverberation through the other dancers’ body before they return to a neutral standing position. At one point all four dancers withdrew to the shadows at the back of the stage, and slowly walked forward into the light. In various intervals two dancers would break off in unison, only to return to the line and continue its forward progress. Here, staring confidently at the audience, it felts as if they’ve finally gained control of their previous anxiety, or had found what they searched so nervously for. Climaxing with a dynamic corps section filled with leaps and sudden drops to the floor, the piece winded down with the dancers gathering in the center of the stage and all embracing each other as the lights went down.
Martin’s piece Heroes, a tribute to Velocity’s new building, offers a completely different kind of viewing experience. While the show was presented in a traditional black box theater setting, Martin’s dancers removed the wings and turned on the lights for this interactive piece in which she shattered the fourth wall between the viewer and performers. The ensemble of all female dancers clad in colorful hooded jackets and grey pants ran into the now stark looking studio as if they were late for a dance class. After running in place for a bit, one dancer announced smilingly, “Before we go on, I just want you to know how happy we are to see you.” This was the first of many such pronouncements, and set the tone for a lighthearted, extremely genuine piece. The first section was done in silence, involving mainly large group work where at one point all the dancers donned boots for a rhythmic, step-team-esque interlude. With the declaration, “There’s something I want to show you,” the dancers furthered the fourth wall deconstruction, and removed the curtain at the back of the studio revealing the mirror and ultimately, the audience, staring at its own reflection.
The next section of Heroesinvolved a tour of the studio behind the performance space. Dancers ushered the audience out of their chairs and into the darkened back studio where the lights of downtown Seattle twinkled out the window. Then flashlights were used to spotlight a charming trio of dancers. Upon returning to the main studio, the audience was greeted by two of the dancers playing a cello and a guitar. Instructed to sit on the floor, the audience watched as three other dancers leaned on, jumped off, and rolled up a wall at the side of the studio. Completing the tour, the audience returned to their seats, to watch the final frolicking ensemble movement in which the cello and guitar were replaced by a dancer playing the piano. This fun, site-specific work presented a view of the dancers as real people, doing something they love in a truthful setting, instead of as performers on a stage abstracted from reality.
meanwhile: in Seattle, the final piece of the evening choreographed by Koch, also examined the reality of situations, in this case through the use of radio. With six dancers and four transistor radios tuned to live FM stations, Koch’s piece made the audience reflect on what was happening elsewhere in Seattle at that moment in time, while still engaging in the performance right in front of them. The dancers alternately tuned the radios between five pre-designated stations, and oftentimes the static in between them, and continued to dance regardless of what came on. Accordingly, the performers moved to everything from a Clorox commercial (“kill germs with Clorox disinfectant wipes”) to a dialogue about health care (“ObamaCare doesn’t affect me at all,”) to Rihanna and Drake singing “What’s My Name.” These various background noises lent a note of surrealism to Koch’s otherwise grounded and flowing movements. The dancers kept their composure throughout the work’s intricate partner and ensemble work demonstrating that even though what’s played on the radio is happening in reality, it has no bearing on the events taking place where it is heard.
This diverse evening of works showed the amount of innovation that can be produced in a short amount of time by some of Seattle’s talented local choreographers. The Bridge Project continues through Sunday, January 23, at 8 PM in the Velocity Founders Theater. Tickets are available at Brown Paper Tickets for $15 or for $18 at the door.