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Chamber Dance Company Revisits Relationships

Written by Mariko Nagashima

While the majority of the dance world continues obsessively pushing itself to create ever-newer, ever-more-innovative work, Chamber Dance Company finds its voice by restaging works from the past. Under the direction of Hannah C. Wiley, CDC stages significant works from the modern dance canon that give audiences much needed perspective on work being created today and showcase the continued relevance of historical pieces.

All choreographed in the 1980s and early-90s, the program’s three pieces explore human relationships through different perspectives. Wade Madsen’s Embrace (1983) opened the program with a suite of four duets, each depicting a different romantic relationship. From the blush of early flirtation, to the tiffs of a seasoned couple and the tentative but meaningful glances of an all-male duet, Madsen’s lush, sweeping movements captured it all. Ilana Goldman danced with particular effervescence; her uninhibited ease and grace stood out in Caress, a flirtatious duet with General McArthur Hambrick. Fritz Kreisler’s sprightly score perfectly complemented the tenderness and exhilaration in each lilting duet.

In To Have and To Hold (1989), choreographers Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith examined loss and the memories that accompany it. The dancing revolved around the simple but striking set of three wooden benches placed diagonally across the stage that alternately conjured images of church pews, tombs, and beds of memory. The first section pulsed with tumultuous energy as the six dancers relentlessly arced over, dove across, and somersaulted off each bench. This dazzling frenzy stopped abruptly when they all arrived standing on the last bench, gazing questioningly into a white light from above. A sense of grief and loss permeated the second section; the dancers embraced consolingly in partnered lifts, spiraling through space. Finally, three dancers lay supine atop the benches, jolting upright when touched by their partners who lay directly beneath the benches; this representation of a sudden flash of recognition captured the often palpable and unsettling nature of memory. With the synthesizer sounding music by Scott Killian the only vestige of the era in which it was created, this breathtaking and evocative work still resonates today. Though originally made on the heels of the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, it could just as easily have been a response to something as daunting as 9/11 or one person’s loss of a loved one. Regardless of the specific inspiration, the images remain just as potent and relevant today.

Bebe Miller’s piece, Cantos Gordos (1994), took the audience to the last moments in a club at the end of an evening. Chance encounters led to spontaneous bursts of dancing, hips swaying and knees bouncing. Sometimes pairing off in duos and trios, the dancers carved through space with bold curving shapes, punctuated with occasional flexed feet and sharp direction changes. While the choreography seemed to repeat itself once too often to stay engaging, Don Byron’s wonderful “Music for Six Musicians” played live by Seattle area jazz artists, was a true delight.

Chamber Dance Company’s mission to preserve and archive brings to life past works that would otherwise languish in rarely viewed video archives. The pieces don’t feel dated even though viewed with a current aesthetic, but instead offer a respite from the push toward newness in present day works. And while such innovation is necessary to push the art form forward, an awareness of what has been done in the past remains essential for a complete perspective.

This performance can be viewed again today, Sunday, October 16, 2011, at Meany Hall.