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Dance Contemporary Presents Truly Modern Dance at the Erickson

Written by Steve Ha

In performance this past weekend at the Erickson Theater on Broadway, Dance Contemporary, under the direction of Tesee George and Karen Grady-Brown, presented a show that also featured pieces by Northwest Dance Syndrome and AEON Contemporary Dance.  The collaborative efforts of these Seattle-based artists resulted in a fine display of works with fresh perspectives that capitalized on current trends being seen in today’s movement styles.

The show opened with a duet choreographed by George, danced by Dance Contemporary company members Kara Burrows and Joseph Schanbeck.  Simply entitled With, the dance seemed to ebb back and forth, finding moments to perch on before releasing into splayed lifts and settling back onto the ground.  Sharp contrasts in soft, elegant gestures and frenetic ones seemed to manipulate time itself, the focus becoming the argumentative relationship between the two dancers.  However, there were also shades of tenderness that painted a picture of near animalistic ardor.
Northwest Dance Syndrome followed with Loretta’s Garden, a piece by NWDS co-director Anne Motl.  Finding themes in innocence and nostalgia, the true beauty of the piece was how it gently exposed layers of subtlety—it was sweet without being saccharine and powerful without force.  Beginning with the dancers in floral sundresses and ending with them in muted, neutral colors, Garden unfolded before the audience in athletic fashion, as if to invite them to join in.  Despite a dazzling array of technical feats in whirling turns and leaps, it prompted an urge to dance where the average human believes it possible to learn.  When the piece concluded with one dancer laying to rest on a bench, her sisterhood enveloping her and honoring her with a small bouquet of flowers, we were left to wonder if it was a celebration of life or of death, whether there is a difference and whether that difference even matters in the end.
Convergence, a piece by guest choreographer and artistic director of Seattle Dance Project, Timothy Lynch, found its fascination in the ways in which it came into existence, with a handful of dancers crowded on a bench, seeping into the space and then building the movement from the ground up.  Set to an electronic score and divided into three sections, a duet in the middle echoed viscosity in style from the first movement, slowing it down even further as company member Lilianna Koledin fitted into a pliant shirt with endless sleeves and was then manipulated by Schanbeck, the effect of which emphasizes Convergence’s alien-like qualities and perhaps drew inspiration from Martha Graham’s iconic solo, Lamentation.  The relationship in the duet seemed to oscillate between parasitic and symbiotic, punctuated by concise shapes.  The third section then exploded out of nowhere in vigorous phrases of sharp dance that connected with the floor in order to explore varying levels and texture the piece with depth and third-dimensionality.  After returning to the original motif with the performers sitting on the bench, Convergence struck a chord as something of an orbital journey through an earthly, tangible space.
In T/K awesomeness, the co-directors of Dance Contemporary showed the audience what they’re made of in an improvisational piece that combined a multitude of movement styles.  From popping to grounded, modern dance, George and Grady-Brown covered an all-encompassing view on the word “contemporary.”  With a stationary video of moving trains projected onto the screen behind them, the duo gave interesting juxtapositions of movement and non-movement, further emphasized by video manipulation that changed the speed of the pictures or even reversed them; this was echoed by tempo changes and retrograded dance by the performers.  Often shifting the audience’s focus and almost playing tricks on the eyes, the piece, like a busy train station, seemed to run back and forth on parallel tracks through time.
The most romantic work of the evening was born on stage in Grady-Brown’s An Exit From Within, a dance that coalesced together like runny watercolor paints in orange and magenta hues.  From achingly slow rolls in canon to pirouettes that spiraled to the ground, the choreography found each musical accent to a point in which even the movement of free flowing locks of hair seemed choreographed.  Oozing with sensuality (with great care not to indulge in it), Within combined virtuosic turning jumps from the modern jazz vocabulary with elements of purely modern and structurally balletic steps.  Seldom has jazz dance quietly entered the stage in so eloquent a manner, pulsing with mellow lyricism and exuding warmth, creating images easy on the eyes and kind to the soul.
Following that came Her Masquerade, choreographed by Schanbeck to music by Sigur Ros, and featuring members of AEON Contemporary Dance.  Utilizing a more urban aesthetic and jazz funk, the dancers moved in militaristic formations, creating picturesque tableaus and patterns.  Sensitivity was mixed with a crude sharpness, long leg lines with body waves and isolations.  What could have easily been a melee of limbs and high leg kicks was instead a picture of clarity and mathematically sculpted purpose.  A few of the dancers concluded the piece by emphatically smearing blue paint on their skin and white shirts, a stark and dirty contrast to the plain dark colors worn earlier in the piece.  The effect drew vast amounts of attention to the hands, the power they have to change by virtue of the creativity that bleeds through them.
The final piece, Cortical, with choreography by George (who also re-mastered the track originally by the Trinity College of Music), was like the untying of a colossal Gordian knot, maintaining tension throughout and seemingly having no beginning, middle, and end.  In broken phrases of six o’clock leg extensions that cut through the air with knife-like precision, Cortical showed mastery of technique in solidified lines, articulated feet, and weighted rolls on the floor.  The way in which the dance found no particular constants, starting and stopping in intervals while accompanied by unmelodic music that plucked at the fringe of insanity would be enough to unnerve some, but also successfully obligated the audience to look harder into the movement and ultimately find something of interest to them. 
Certainly, many points of interest were to be found throughout the entire show, and placated the need for these genres of dance in the Seattle area, fortuitously put on display by Dance Contemporary and its partners.