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Seattleites Retain Strong Voice in International Dance Festival

Written by Mariko Nagashima
Seattle International Dance Festival’s “Spotlight on Seattle” performance on Wednesday, June 15, offered an eclectic sampling of local choreographers amidst a festival of performers from around the world. Karin Stevens Dance opened the show with Point of Departure an excerpt from Genesis/Evolution. The five dancers brought a great sense of gravity to the movement as they flowed through geometric shapes, both in canon and in unison. The steady, slightly monotonous pace was maintained without climax until the lights faded with the dancers still moving. Unfortunately, from where they were departing and to where they were headed, remained a mystery.

In Furies of Love, Karin Stevens Dance featured a trio of women all perfectly attuned to the music by Seattle composer Philip A. Peterson. Beginning crouched in a circle, they first evoked insects with flitting hand movements, and later swirling leaves with sweeping arcs in their flowing autumnal tunics. Though highly responsive to the music, the three never seemed to connect with each other.
Molissa Fenley, who also curated the evening’s performance, presented Planes in Air, a duet by Seattle Dance Project’s Betsy Cooper and Oleg Gorboulev. Utilizing two large white paper fans, Cooper and Gorboulev sculpted the air around them, creating striking images of elongated lines and twisting curves. Both danced with a sense of easy joy through the sprightly jumps and swaying shapes that lent the choreography a pleasant lilting feeling.
Penny Hutchinson choreographed three works for the evening, two solos and one intriguing trio. In Rhubarb Crisp, dancer Dana Bermann alternated between tart and sweet with quick darting hops set to Bach. With Invoke, Karin Stevens’ signature organic movement stood out as an internal conflict seemed to tether her to the ground until she frantically zigzagged across the stage, scampering searchingly. The third piece, Alien Dance, highlighted Hutchinson’s scope as a choreographer. While the other two pieces utilized conventional modern dance movement, Alien Dances mixed salsa and African touches with idiosyncratic gestures and inquisitive glances to show how even traditional styles can appear alien when taken out of context. The balance of somewhat absurd movement presented with dead-pan solemnity made for a delightfully quirky piece.  
Next, Khambatta Dance Company presented an excerpt from Love Story, set to a haunting Arvo Pärt score. Rachel Randall and Chris McCallister danced with a mixture of eloquence and strength in this emotive duet. With a hint of angst to temper the passionate mood of the duet, the two showed notable strength and control in complex lifts and intricate yet seamless floor sequences. In the end, McCallister rolled offstage lugubriously while the stoic Randall walked in the opposite direction as if the amorous encounter never happened.
Marlo Martin’s ask different questions closed the show with a slightly reworked version of the piece seen earlier this year at BOOST Dance Festival. Beginning with half the dancers in forbidding black suit coats and the others in white tunics evoking straightjackets, the distribution of power was quite clear as the white clad dancers leapt into the arms of their looming partners. Propelled by sharp intakes of air, Martin’s bold sweeping movements depicted obsessive behavior and frenetic paranoia; the dancers seemed to search for relief from their own mental confinement. The paradigm shifted when all the dancers appeared in white after removing their black jackets; even the most authoritative was susceptible to their own compulsivity. In a striking finish, one dancer stared plaintively at the audience while the others walked with assembly-line monotony across the stage, indicating the bleak and ceaseless nature of life.
While this was only one of three “Spotlight on Seattle” performances during the Seattle International Dance Festival, the diverse sampling proved that Seattle’s dance community offers a strong presence on the global dance scene.