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BOOST Dance Festival Puts Local Artists in the Spotlight

Written by Steve Ha
Kate Wallich and dancers in A Wood Frame.
Photo by Tim Summers.

Occupying the Erickson Theater this weekend and next are several performances by Seattle dance companies as a part of the second annual BOOST dance festival.  With the aim of promoting local talent, BOOST stands at the forefront of gauging how Seattle’s dance community seeks to create an identity for itself.  With an assortment of distinct and creative voices, BOOST serves not only as a showcase for up and coming artists, but perhaps a chance for audiences to engage in a dialogue that helps shape the direction in which those artists are headed.

While most pieces will be performed both weekends, a few are exclusive to one or the other, including Maya Soto’s Word: The Re-up, a hip-hop and modern fusion work that brings popping and street dance vocabulary to the stage.  Soto is of course a master of her own style, blending not only two different styles of dance but also finding ways to meld coquettish smiles with imposing attitude and aggression.  The dance goes through several transformations in costume and style, as if building personality rather than stripping it away.  One of the highlights is a great deal of fascinating partnered work, exploring themes of action and reaction, as well as having one dancer mirroring another only to throw in sharp contrasts when the symmetry is broken.  The ending of the piece has an all female cast in forcible phrases, uniformly dressed as if they were several sides of one person, fighting with each other and referencing how people are so prone to being at odds with themselves.  Performed some months ago as part of Northwest Dance Syndrome’s show Collide, Soto has taken the opportunity to revise the work, making it fresh to an audience that may recognize it and also allowing her ideas to grow.
Kate Wallich’s A Wood Frame is by far the most avant-garde work for the first week, using an achromatic scheme and a stark soundtrack that reveal the intensity of her choreography.  Three dancers open the work as if in different stages of development, sinuously moving in an almost gelatinous awakening.  The audience is made to wait for an inevitability, coming to fruition in a second movement that has additional dancers appear and join the group in sharp movements that twitch as if ignited by electricity.  Arriving in unusual positions with tilted postures, hunched shoulders and flexed feet, the group moves in a small conglomeration, with a near-perfect unison that suggests they even draw the same breaths.  Every exaggerated curve of the spine enhances the aesthetic of the work, creating an inorganic quality that feels neither inhuman nor alien.  At one point the group separates, running back and forth along one diagonal in waves, as if pulled and repelled by magnetic forces.  There is but one moment of intimate, human behavior, with two dancers touching only their foreheads together and that alone is enough to send them into fits of desperation when the piece concludes.  With striking visuals and cohesive ideas, A Wood Frame is most unforgettable.
In Daniel Wilkins’s Innovation of Affection, the choreography mixes pop styles, ballet, a barrage of other movement styles, and near-acrobatic feats.  The talent of several dancers is put on display in virtuosic fashion, though the purpose of doing so is at times unclear.  Beginning in a prayer circle, Innovation quickly moves through a number of ideas, the simpler ones like the juxtaposition of raw and refined, oftentimes being of more interest.  The more physically demanding movement seemed mostly to result in some awkward handling between the performers, obscuring some of the choreography’s intent.  It is a broad work with perhaps too many ideas, relying on all-out physicality and finding no pure, central theme.
Christin Lusk’s Static at the BOOST dance festival.
Photo by Tim Summers.

After an intermission came Christin Lusk’s Static, a jerky, stop-and-go work, its theme implied by the title and a projection of television static in the background.  The second colorless work of the evening (perhaps a theme for the year?), much of the dance is quite stationary in terms of binding the feet to the floor; however, despite that, it shows a full, dynamic body in accented movements, filling to the brim the individual kinesphere.  The tone of the piece changes when the dancers don simple black clothes, rebounding from side to side in wild rolls, finding the weight of their bodies in uncontrolled kicks and swinging arms.  There is great care to minimalize some of the visual effects and not to overwhelm the senses, though that same care may have hindered the effect of some amazing choreography.

Alana O’Farrell Rogers lightened the mood with her work Skinned Figs, which features an amazing score and live on-stage performance by indie music artists Benjamin Doerr, Alexander Malloy, and Michael Sievers of St. Paul de Vence.  Perfectly designed for the occasion, Skinned Figs even has choreography to the pauses when the musicians change instruments, breathing to life when the concertina expands and moving ever so slightly to quiet echoes coming from within the hollows of a guitar or ukulele.  It begins with a duet where the two performers never release hold of each other, transitioning into a lyrical solo by a third dancer, and showing a generosity and ease throughout.  The sentimentality of the piece is strengthened by the way the audience is clued into the process, watching as the piece unfolds and liberates itself, the dancers tearing away at shreds of fabric attached to their costumes.  The movement takes on a new character as well, subduing the technical demands of whirling pirouettes and buoyant jumps, intricately weaving them into phrases such that no rough edges appear at any time.  The difference live music makes is of course astounding, and a direction more contemporary dance companies should consider when appropriate.
In the final piece, BOOST festival director Marlo Martin presents her own work, ask different questions, with half of her dancers dressed in suits, the other half in white shirts.  The white-shirted dancers slide on the floor, weave in and out of the suits who have their backs turned toward the audience, the latter standing sentry, as the authoritative figures that hold the answers the white shirts seek.  Moving with astonishing speed, no effort is wasted in releases into the floor, as gasps of frustrations and vocalized breaths are laced into the choreography.  There is an overbearing sense of confinement, a suspension of pain through grief, expressed with a clarity in succinct movements and changing of facings.  Further into the work, time lapsed videos and mundane images are projected onto the background. Whether by design or by chance, the movement at that point seems to play a lesser role to the projected images. These images allude to how the mind is filled with memories and pictures that cross our minds, both important and obsolete, bringing to question which of those images are the ones we take for granted and which are the ones that go unnoticed or are eventually lost. 
The BOOST Dance Festival has another weekend of performances to come, so be sure to check out the website for more information at  Tickets for the remaining performances are also on sale at .