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It’s A.W.A.R.D. Show Time!

Written by Kristen Legg and Anne Lawrence
Note: Scroll to the bottom to see who won $10,000!

SeattleDances has decided to have a She Said/She Said this year, giving you two different views on the same performance! Dance writer and mega-fan, Anne Lawrence, and SeattleDances Editor, Kristen Legg, will be attending each night of the show and giving your their thoughts on all 12 works!

Back for a second year, On the Boards is again partnering with The Joyce Theater (NYC) to present the conversation-starting, controversial dance competition that gives 12 contemporary dance makers the chance to perform their work and win $10,000 by an audience and panel voting process.

Three preliminary evenings will feature the work of four choreographers per night. Each dance piece will be 12–15 minutes of a completed work, excerpt, or work-in-progress. After each performance, a moderated artist and audience discussion will take place, followed by an audience vote to select a finalist to perform on the fourth and final night of the series. On the final night in each city, a panel of experts in dance and other cultural arts fields, along with the audience, will choose the winner of the award.

OtB’s sold-out success in 2009 showcased 12 Northwest dance artists, sent $12,000 into the local dance community and inspired ongoing dialogue about the performances and the format of the event.

Night Three Line-Up

Whim W’Him

Lauren Edson


The Offshore Project

Anne Lawrence
The overall theme of my comments might be that great dancers are not always great choreographers. First up last night was Whim W’Him’s Fragments (Olivier Wevers, choreographer), a series of duets and solos set to Mozart (arias from Figaro, Don Giovanni, and The Magic Flute and the Ave Verum Corpus, a sacred choral work). Originally made on Spectrum dancers Kelly Ann Barton and Hannah Lagerway, it is now being danced by Barton and Vincent Lopez. Wevers is perhaps the most beloved male dancer at Pacific Northwest Ballet and, to my mind, the most consistently interesting one. Saying anything less than complimentary about Wevers in Seattle is like criticizing the Pope in the Vatican City, but I’ll take the risk and say that I consider Wevers overrated as a choreographer. His use of world-class dancers and other highly talented collaborators makes it possible to ignore his limitations, but these are all too evident to me, and to no fewer than four prominent local women choreographers with whom I’ve compared impressions privately, but who are understandably reluctant to say anything even mildly negative about Wevers on the record. I’ve seen FRAGMENTS at least a half a dozen times now and have tried hard to make myself like it, but even Barton, Lopez, and Mozart have not been enough to win me over. In the arias, Wevers takes a Mad Magazine approach to the choreography, with mocking lip-synch, silly business with the performers’ full skirts, and lots of broad parody. “But he’s just being whimsical!” you might protest. “Adolescent” is the adjective I would use. The section that people usually rave about in Fragments is the one serious solo, set to the Ave Verum Corpus. It is a shed-your-costume-and-bare-your-soul moment, and Lopez admittedly makes it look pretty terrific, as did Lagerway before him. Lagerway told me shortly after the premier that much of the choreography in this solo is, or was, improvised by the performer. I can well believe that the best part of FRAGMENTS is the part that Wevers influenced least.
Lauren Edson performed her work Part of Your Life, a live solo accompanied by a Jason Sievers stop-action video, which also featured Edson dancing. Edson, who was last seen here in March with the Trey McIntyre Project, moves with a precise and almost weightless fluidity. Her brief, live danced segments were pretty but unremarkable and bore an uncertain relationship to the video, which was well-crafted technically but which quickly became repetitious and eventually tedious. I could never figure out exactly what the video intended to convey, but it included what seemed to be symbolic depictions of confinement, anxiety, isolation, emotional paralysis, and the slow passage of time. Or maybe these were only the things I experienced as I sat waiting patiently for the work to end. I wish I could at least call Part of Your Life an interesting failure, but it was merely dull.
Next came the Decline, choreographed by Ellie Sandstrom and danced by Sandstrom and seven other young A-list modern dancers. Sandstrom has performed for years with two of Seattle’s top flight modern dance companies (Scott/Powell Performance and locust), and I recently called her my  “favorite dancer” in this very blog. I love her dearly. I wish I could say that the Decline was magnificent, but it was not. There was nothing wrong with Sandstrom’s highly athletic movement vocabulary or with its execution by the individual performers – both were very fine indeed. But Sandstrom was not always able to move her dancers through the space effectively, and she was often unable to keep their movements coordinated. Sometimes she simply seemed not to know what to do with so many dancers on stage. I thought the piece was in trouble when I saw it in December at Velocity, and it looked even more ragged on OTB’s larger stage last night. For example: Early in the work, the dancers formed up in a right angle, downstage and stage right, and gradually moved upstage and left, confining dancer Hendri Walujo in an ever-smaller space. This was a terrific idea, but the lines of dancers wavered and buckled, blunting the dramatic impact. At other times, Sandstrom split the group into two ensembles with contrasting choreography, but what should have looked contrapuntal simply looked chaotic, because the groups wouldn’t stay together. I wonder whether Sandstrom, at this point in her career, can hope to control forces this large from inside a piece. I’d like to see her make more works for three or four dancers and not perform in them herself. Sandstrom’s Al Poco Tiempo, set on Seattle Dance Project and premiering this weekend, fits that description; I expect it to be marvelous.
Last up was The Buffoon by the Offshore Project (Rainbow Fletcher and Ezra Dickinson, choreographers). Based on Edward Gorey’s The Doubtful Guest, the piece premiered in June at Northwest New Works. It was delightful then, and it is even better now: a little shorter, a lot tighter, and with the inimitable Jim Kent now in the cast. Everything worked brilliantly in this piece: Fletcher’s sharp choreography, Dickinson’s dead-pan humor and stunning virtuosity as the Guest, wickedly funny characterizations by his co-performers, amazing faux-Edwardian costumes, nifty props, and wonderful live music by an on-stage quintet. I had pretty much ignored Fletcher’s choreography until I saw a deciduous urge, a work she set on Coriolis for Co-Lab 2 in May. On the strength of that piece and The Buffoon, I now want to see anything Fletcher creates.
My vote: The Offshore Project, no contest.
Kristen Legg

Saturday night’s performance was the dancey-ist of the whole weekend, and I was like a kid in a candy shop!  For the most part…

 First up was FRAGMENTS, by Whim W’Him choreographer and director, Olivier Wevers.  Danced by Spectrum Dance Theater’s Kelly Ann Barton and Vincent Lopez, this duet had a little bit of everything.  Opening and closing with lighthearted duets, the dancers adjusted their corsets, lip-synched to Mozart’s operatic arias, and taunted one another and the audience.  While fun on its own, these two sections did become lost in the shuffle after viewing the second and third sections of the work.  A solo by Barton was filled with intricate foot work and balletic bravado leaps and turns.  Next Lopez entered for a sinuous solo set to Ave Maria travelling on the upstage diagonal.  Wevers’ use of music in these two sections was the best I have seen from him.  Though extremely different in energy and motivation, they fit together surprisingly well.

Next up was a solo by Laruen Edson entitled Part of Your Life (a title a little too close to a well-known song by a shell-clad mermaid for me).  Although Edson’s technique seems to be flawless, this work lacked in vision.  A video flicked on and off with stop-time images of plastic bugs, pennies, and, my favorite, porcelain cats roaming through a dollhouse.  Interspersed between and during this video, Edson displayed her flexibility and grace, but with no noticeable reason for the movement.  Were this choreography performed in any other staging than with the mysterious video and techno beats, I most certainly would have enjoyed it.  As it was, I felt like I needed to be in an old beatnik café, possibly on some sort of mood-altering supplement.

Ellie Sandstrom’s work, the Decline, started out quite academic.  The dancers moved in unison—stretching their limbs in unaffected, release-technique-like ways.  Then an interview with Irmgard Bartinieff began to accompany the dancers, and I thought, okay, she’s exploring Initiation and Sequencing or Laban’s direct and indirect focus.  However, with the repetitive musical beat and un-polished unison, the concept Sandstrom had in mind did not become clear.  Just as I was losing interest in this work, the most amazing duet took place between Sandstrom and Amy Clem.  The two seemed to move together as one, whether connected or separate.  The work then transitioned into a beautiful solo by Sandstrom, in which she tried to get up off the floor to no avail.  However, the final image still perplexes me: The dancers walking backward removing their shirts, some presumably bare-chested, others in undergarments.

The final work of the evening was The Offshore Project’s The Buffoon, choreographed by Rainbow Fletcher (and Ezra Dickinson).  This Teatro ZinZanni-styled work told the story of The Doubtful Guest by Edward Gorey.  The Gorey influence was noticeable right away—Dickson dressed in all white including a painter’s cap, and the rest of the dancers done up in modernized fur shrugs and dinner jackets.  The concept and overall image created were both spot on; however, the choreography offered nothing new.  The performers, Fletcher and Jim Kent especially, are too good to be doing mostly gestural work and mono-rhythmic movement.  I loved where Fletcher and Dickinson were going with this work, but for me it did not meet the mark.

I voted for Whim W’Him.

Night Three Winner

The Offshore Project

Night Two Line-Up
Josephine’s Echopraxia
Quark Contemporary Dance Theatre
Waxie Moon

Anne Lawrence
Home Made by tEEth (Angelle Hebert, choreography; Phillip Kraft, music) was first on the program. It was, literally, a danced version of “scenes from a marriage”—the partnership of Hebert and Kraft themselves, as they revealed in the question and answer session. The work began with dancers Keely McIntryre and Noel Plemmons turning a video camera on each other while lying under a tightly stretched sheet of fabric. The camera’s projected image offered us close-up views of the body’s surface anatomy, including the interior of the mouth. Meanwhile, the image of the dancers lying beneath the sheet, illuminated by the video light, offered visual interest of its own. This increased as the dancers began to stand and move beneath the sheet, still illuminated by the video light. Eventually they emerged and engaged in a stylish, technically demanding love-and-hate pas de deux. This included exaggerated facial expressions that conveyed strong emotion but were entirely disconnected from the movement context. One theme running throughout the piece—unrelated, I suspect, to the name “tEEth”—was a fascination with the mouth: We observed the insides of the dancers’ mouths on video and also watched them grab and lead each other by their jaws and maxillae, use their mouths as contact points in weight-sharing, silently and dramatically mouth words to each other, and—most astonishing of all—kiss each other! We rarely see dancers, as opposed to actors, kiss on stage, and I found it interesting to observe my reaction to something so innocent yet so unexpected. The work’s outstanding live vocal accompaniment was an added delight. Home Made was exciting and fun to watch and also made me think about the assumptions and preconceptions I hold as an audience member. For me, dance doesn’t get much better than this.

Saying goodbye again and again . . . by Josephine’s Echopraxia (Marissa Rae Niederhauser, choreography) represented another stage in the evolution of a set of movement ideas that Niederhauser has been investigating at least since the summer of 2009, when she and Allie Hankins performed Every Breath is a Victory at Flight Deck—a wonderful piece and a breakthrough work for Niederhauser. The project arguably reached its apogee with Stifle (Northwest New Works, June 2010), with Niederhauser, Hankins, and the three other dancers who appeared in the current performance. In Stifle, everything came together magnificently: music, costumes, lights, choreography, and fearless, go-for-broke dancing. If Niederhauser had performed that piece again last night, I would have been delighted, in part because I probably would have been able to see it yet again on Sunday! Unfortunately, some new elements—a new costume for Niederhauser that set her apart from her troupe, an enigmatic red stain on her chest, and some major alterations in the choreography—made Saying goodbye a much less satisfying work than Stifle.

Cutting Room by Quark Contemporary Dance Theater (David Lorence Schleiffers, choreography) was entirely derived from or inspired by the aria “Oh sleep, why dost thou leave me?” from Handel’s opera/oratorio Semele (1744). Schleiffers is an extraordinarily gifted young choreographer who likes to set big challenges for himself and take big risks—as he should. Sometimes the results are remarkable, as in Once and Never Again (Seattle International Dance Festival, June 2010). Unfortunately, Cutting Room was a bit of a muddle: The mix of abstract and sexually suggestive movement, the mock-Tyrolean costumes (beautifully executed), the on-stage soprano and her shifting relationship to the dancers—none of it ever became clear to me or generated much excitement. I would love to see what Schleiffers could do with $10K, but in my opinion, Cutting Room was not an example of his best work.

Waxie Moon (Marc Kenison) performed Trinity to close the program. I have the greatest respect for Kenison, who is clearly exceptionally talented and dedicated to his art. For personal reasons, however, I must recuse myself from commenting further.

My vote went to tEEth.

Kristen Legg
The second evening of the A.W.A.R.D. Show! 2011, opened with Home Made created by Angelle Hebert and Phillip Kraft of tEEth. Based on the idea of “The Seven Year Itch,” the piece began with live feed of two lovers projected on the back cyc. The dancers filmed themselves from under a large piece of white fabric, lit only by the camera. While the idea here was wonderful, things like spike marks on the dance floor and awkward transitions between camera grips had me worrying. However, after the dancers, Keely McIntyre and Noel Plemmons, emerged from the fabric, the work gained in momentum and beauty. Accompanied by the powerful voices of Luke Matter and Cali Ricks, McIntyer’s gorgeous lines and articulated feet and Plemmons’ theatricalities and dynamics added such a clean finish to the contorted, gestural, rhythmic duet.

Next on the docket was Josephine’s Echopraxia’s Saying goodbye again and again and again and again…[stifle] choreographed by Marissa Rae Niederhauser. The work started with a darkly-lit Niederhauser performing pained and stilted movements, grieving for an unknown loss. Four other dancers entered, beating their bodies, breasts bound with tape. From here, the work shifted. The four dancers performed the most physical, passionate dance of the evening, but, sadly, it overshadowed the solo work Niederhauser was performing upstage. The two elements did not fit together well and I was left not knowing what to watch.

David Lorence Schleiffers’ oddly named Cutting Room offered a release from all the drama of the evening. Clad in traditional Bavarian costume—well, lederhosen for three dancers and sexy Heidi-like dresses for the other two—the dancers twitched, turned, and frolicked across the stage in humors ways. Schlieffers’ work is quite simple in terms of steps, yet incredibly intricate in patterning and rhythm. The work opened with great bits of comedy (a tutu-sporting singer performs while one dancer sits at a piano…playing nothing; Alethea Alexander and Elia Mrak’s gyrating hip duet), but sadly fizzled a bit toward the middle. However, Christin Lusk’s powerful and captivating solo and the final unison section brought the combination of dance and humor back to the work.

The final work of the evening, Trinity, a tribute to Isadora Duncan by Waxie Moon, was certainly entertaining. Moon first performed a prolonged striptease to a string quartet version of AC/DC’s Back in Black. The Isadora tribute came in the form of an overdone pantomime to Beyonce’s Halo. Moon, wearing quintessential Isadorable-like garb, later performed another striptease interspersed with attitudes on relevé, scalloped arms, and the like. The highlight of this work was a video by Wes Hurly. Here Moon mourns at a riverside gravesite in an evening gown. The film captured the humor of Moon’s work, as he stumbled on the river rocks, was bothered by a stray dog, and finally walked nude into the icy cold water.

Tonight’s performance was difficult for me. Each work had elements that I loved and moments where I questioned the choreographer’s intent. In the end, I went with Quark Contemporary Dance Theatre because of the strange, yet somehow “right” melding of ideas. However, I left the performance still unsure of my decision.

Night Two Winner

Night One Line-Up
zoe | juniper
The Cherdonna and Lou Show
Crispin Spaeth
Shannon Mockli

Anne Lawrence
Zoe Scofield and Juniper Shuey’s A Crack in Everything (excerpt) opened the evening. Scofield had broken a toe two days earlier and was unable to dance (although she appeared on stage), so the excerpt was reconfigured at the last minute to emphasize visual elements. Much of the power of Scofield’s choreography derives from her own unique movement style and her dancers’ ability to successfully emulate it. No one dances Zoe quite like Zoe, but Raja Kelly demonstrated what makes Scofield’s technique so compelling. The visual motifs in the piece were striking: bright red cords extending from the dancers’ mouths into the wings read as both bloody expectorations and corporeal tethers. Shuey’s spooky, manipulated video projections of Kelly dancing offered another layer of visual interest. The most memorable segment of the entire evening was a seated “barking” duet for Scofield and Kelly, which could easily have turned ridiculous but which instead became a savage, genuinely scary mating ritual.

Jody Kuehner (“Cherdonna”) and Ricki Mason (“Lou”) performed several comedic excerpts from their It’s a Salon! cabaret show. Two of the three finalists in last year’s A.W.A.R.D Show were humorous works, and Kuehner and Mason are so talented that they could have walked away with last night’s prize. Oddly enough, though, few of their excerpts struck me as genuinely funny and the work as a whole never achieved a satisfying internal rhythm. But Kuehner and Mason episodically showed us what terrific dancers they are, and then the piece momentarily soared.

Crispin Spaeth’s Only You was a series of duets for 2 male and 3 female dancers. The title was ironic, in that everyone partnered with everyone else. In the question and answer session, Spaeth explained that she had “wanted to make a piece about sex,” but the dancing usually only hinted at this; the overall tone was emotionally cool. Spaeth’s dancers were uniformly fine, sharing weight with an easy elegance. Duets for Annie Hewlett and Elia Mrak and Kathryn Padberg and Scott Davis were especially notable. Only You was the most fully realized work of the evening and one that I would love to see again.

Shannon Mockli’s and another war broke out was an extended duet for her and a visibly pregnant Sarah Ebert. Mockli’s movement emphasized sweeping, circular motifs that moved gracefully into and out of the floor and confidently filled the entire stage. The sound score, in which spoken text morphed gradually into music, was an effective complement to the dancing. I was disappointed, however, that the relationship between the performers never developed much clarity or dramatic tension.

In the end, my vote went to zoe | juniper, with Spaeth a close second.

Kristen Legg
As the curtain opened on zoe | juniper’s work-in-progress, A Crack In Everything, the electricity in the room became tangible. Choreographer and performer, Zoe Scofield gesticulated on a dark stage while holding a long red string in her mouth, which was tethered off stage. This vignette ended, and Scofield was seen up against the back wall, tracing her outline in chalk. As the light grew, dancer Raja Kelly could be seen standing with a string radiating from his mouth. Kelly performed an entrancing solo filled with isolations, rippling body movements, and powerful lines. In the next vignettes, the dancers sat in chairs at stage right facing each other in silence while an eerie video of Kelly dancing was projected on the wall. The piece concluded with the dancers undressing—bare bodies painted in silver. What first seems tender and trusting, suddenly turned animalistic as the dancers met face-to-face in a barking match. As the lights went out, the audience sat, unsure if the piece was over. The silence was breathtaking.

The sudden change in atmosphere as It’s a Salon! by The Cherdonna and Lou Show began was quite shocking. However, within seconds I was taken to a whole new world. Cherdonna and Lou, performed by Jody Kuehner and Ricki Mason, are two gender-bending individuals with issues. Highlights from this excerpt included Kuehner’s lip sync while Mason played a toy piano; and Mason’s awkward solo of manhood. While humor was heavily sprinkled throughout the work, there was still a serious amount of angst-filled dance. I appreciated the contrast between uncomfortable movement and dry humor, fluid dancing and slap-stick.

Crispin Spaeth presented Only You, a collaborative work that seemed to have a loosely-woven storyline. The work opened with a duet between Elia Mrak and Kathryn Padberg, which was the most engaging of the work. From here, the story became muddled as each dancer performed sexually charged duets with one another. What I appreciated was how human the dancers looked. Each moved with natural, open movement—released, yet shaped—and truly felt one another’s presence.

The final work of the evening was Shannon Mockli’s and another war broke out. A duet between Eugene, Oregon’s Mockli and Sarah Ebert, this work used spoken word to create a story of a woman finding herself. The dancers held no visible connection to one another through most of the work, and the choreography went from fluid gestural work to sudden salsa side-steps, leaving me confused as to the meaning.

For me, the best part of the A.W.A.R.D Show! is the Q and A. What is so spectacular about this format is that the viewers are able to see who really lives and breathes their work, and who can speak of dance as well as they can present it. Scofield spoke to her and Juniper Shuey’s use of photographs as inspiration. Kuehner and Mason discussed the challenges and joys of collaboration, Spaeth discussed her choreographic process, and Mockli explained her choreographic choices and use of space.

While I went back and forth between zoe | juniper and The Cherdonna and Lou Show, my final vote went to zoe | juniper, because of the work’s strong images and Scofield’s overall understanding of the scope of her work.

Night One Winner
zoe | juniper

And the winner is..tEEth!