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A Moving Conversation Offers Glimpse at Choreographic Process

Written by Mariko Nagashima
On February 25, 2011, the Fremont Abbey presented  A Moving Conversation, a performance that not only presented the audience with eleven pieces of intriguing choreography, but also provided a chance to hear insights from the choreographers about their individual creative processes in a post-show forum. The performance itself offered glimpses at both emerging and established modern choreographers in the area.

Alex Martin and Freya Wormus opened the show with a playful duet titled closer to the truth. Their looping movements carried them through space, broken up by a few extreme lifts and daring falls into each others arms. Their relaxed sense of enjoyment in their craft was clearly visible through their dancing, making it more interesting to watch.
In a much more somber duet choreographed by Kenaniah Bystrom, Anathallo The Roses (Full Color), Bystrom and Victoria McConnell meshed together in tormented synergy. Beginning at the rear of the stage the two struggled against each other to the eerie strings of the Kronos Quartet until they suddenly broke apart and melted slowly to the floor. At times magnetically drawn back together and at others compulsively twitching apart,  Bystrom’s choreography exquisitely blended emotional tension and fluid movement. This young artist is definitely an emerging choreographer to watch.
Another intriguing new voice in the Seattle dance scene is that of Markeith Wiley, who presented his commentary on family dynamics in The Unlit Portrait of… (excerpt). The piece depicted two families, one clad in yellow the other in blue, posing for their portraits. In separate tableaus, the families rotated revealing their plastered on smiles to the audience before breaking into angular arm movements. Using specific groupings of the dancers and often frustrated looks and gestures, Wiley brought to light the underlying dysfunction easily masked in perfectly posed snapshots.
In another satirical commentary, Kristen Legg presented Outline of Femininity, a take on the stereotypical view of feminine conduct. Opening with five women dressed in floral aprons slowly preening themselves and picking up their skirts, the piece progressed as the dancers moved in sharp Barbie-esque fashion with stilted head movements and fake smiles. As the music shifted from tinkling piano to electronic beats, the dancers shook their hands as if wringing someone’s neck. Removing their aprons to reveal shirts with words like perfect, beauty, and skinny, the dancers then presented a different kind of feminism. Purposeful strides and aggressive partnering characterize this last section until the dancers halted, facing the audience and dementedly applying lipstick in a scene that mocks their previous feminine image.  
Sarah Seder’s Jumping Off Point was a solo performed by Seder herself set to music jointly sung and composed by her and her husband, Nathan Seder. In a billowy white dress with long, flowing hair Seder repeatedly arched to the floor and returned to a standing position, arms wobbling as if teetering on the edge of a cliff. Though she moved with a lovely sense of expansive abandon the piece seemed to repeat itself, never developing past the initial introduction of the concept.
Kiss It Good-byeby Katy Hagelin provided some comedic relief to the evening. Spoofing the attitude and mentality of participants in a fiercely competitive dance audition, Hagelin had Courtney Dressner as the oh-so-perfect ballerina dancing circles around Danny Boulet, as the rogue arrogant boy who gets the part over the deserving Dressner. Filled with lots of props, and the occasional high five, Hagelin hovered on the edge of cheesy, but managed to pull it off with talented dancers and a solid amount of inventive hip-hop-esque choreography.
Victoria McConnell’s Ebb of Isolation | Discoverydelved into the idea of exploring personal boundaries. The dancers began undulating slowly, scattered across the stage in their own separate worlds, as the lights rose to the sound of muffled drums. The clasping of fingers and other simple hand movements offered moments of clarity to ever expanding gestures. As the pace quickened, the performers danced mainly in pairs before fully ending their isolation with a few cohesive phrases as an ensemble.
The touching, Table, shoes, and a short trip from the Grave, by Andre Bouchard, was exactly what the title claimed. Bouchard began by setting down a pair of shoes, which he later revealed to be his late father’s, and a plastic folding table. To a jazz piano version of What the World Needs Now is Love, Bouchard held up flashcards of the song lyrics in a jumbled order instructing the audience to “love everyone today” and to “take a breath.” After picking up the shoes and wistfully setting them down again, Bouchard moved to the table, dancing around it the crooning of Carla Bruni. Though the dance was mainly breath-filled arm movements, Bouchard brought such a charming sense of authenticity to his movement that his solo was strikingly lovely in all its simplicity.
The more ambiguously titled La, by Marisa Haga, was a study in layering and movement patterns. The dancers repeated roughly the same phrases at various speeds, sometimes altogether and at other times individually. This variety was mirrored by Darren Solomon’s textured music, which Haga had re-mixed herself. Almost contemplative in scope, unfortunately the true intention behind the piece remained unclear; the dancers ended standing in a line across the stage looking questioningly upward, perhaps a bit confused themselves. 
In “a bird without wings” Sarah Kathryn Olds presented a captivating work. Another emerging choreographer to watch, Olds’ use of staging and her subtle incorporation of an avian theme throughout made for a piece that clearly evolved from beginning to end without being too overbearing. Sarah Glesk gave an especially notable performance in one section where she danced without incorporating her arms, forcing her torso to be the most expressive part of her body as she twisted through the space.
Marlo Martin’s ask different questions (excerpt) dramatically wrapped up the evening. With a decidedly darker tone, the piece seemed to depict the patients and caretakers of a mental institution by using five dancers in short white coats with large buckles, reminiscent of straightjackets, and four in black suits. The work opened with the women in white throwing themselves at the floor and jumping into the arms of the women in black who stood stoically facing the back wall while Bessie Jones chanted O Death. Utilizing Martin’s signature weighted, yet expansive, movement style the dancers dynamically portrayed the sinister subject with compulsive eating movements and frantic contortions. The sense of drama was heightened by Martin’s use of breath as a sound effect and as a movement impulse.
The post show conversation, a nice effort to bridge the gap between viewer and choreographer, was fairly informative. Though the discussion relied mainly on prompting by Karin Stevens, the event’s curator, it was still interesting to hear the choreographer’s views on everything from how they count the music to costume color choices. For the inquisitive viewer, this was a great way to end the evening.