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Velocity’s Bridge Project Delivers Some Hits, Some Misses

Written by Anne Lawrence
(Photo: Rachel Grant’s Hail Mary for the Millennials 
Photo by Tim Summers)
The Bridge Project is one of VelocityDanceCenter‘s longest running and most valuable programs. Each October, emerging choreographers—and established choreographers new to Seattle—can apply for a Bridge Project residency in January. Each choreographer selected for a residency creates a new work in only three weeks, using a cast chosen through an open audition process. Velocity provides free rehearsal space, technical support, and artistic guidance. The completed works are then presented in a show produced by Velocity. In this way, the Bridge Project creates bridges between emerging choreographers, dancers, and audience members. Not every work presented in the final showings is a huge success, but usually at least one work each year is rewarding. This year two works were especially fine.

MaryAnn McGovern’s SPRAWL Part 2 made it clear that McGovern is a choreographer to watch. She’s a Chicago native who recently moved to Seattle. As its title suggests, SPRAWL Part 2 represents the further development of ideas McGovern began exploring in the Midwest. The nominal subject of the work is urban sprawl. That might sound like an unpromising idea for a dance, but for McGovern, it’s just a springboard into something more abstract and ultimately quite moving. The work began with a quartet of female principal dancers performing a coordinated sequence of turns, spirals, and handstands with an inwardly directed focus. They were then joined by a community cast of nine dancers—think Greek chorus—who loudly announced the names, founding dates, and early population figures for several Puget Sound cities (“Kent”; “Issaquah”; “Seattle”) and later the 2010 population figures for those same cities. The community cast also gave directions to the quartet (“Grow”; “Extend”; “Disregard”; “Isolate”; “Displace”); some of these directions seemingly were enacted, at least in part, as the quartet continued to perform its movements. Eventually the focus of the quartet dancers became more external, their movements became bigger, and various community cast members began moving in unison with them. All this was accompanied by well chosen musical selections, culminating in a piece by Zoe Keating. By the end of the work, everyone was moving in unison, and it became evident that McGovern had crafted nothing less than a metaphor for the creation of community through art in the face of mindless urban expansion. Feats of choreographic magic like this are rare and very special.

Alicia Garcia, a senior at CornishCollegeof the Arts, presented Spit Lift Shake Remember, an understated, dark-hued piece for five female dancers. Cellist Daniel Mullikin, who created the musical score, performed it each night, and reportedly played for each and every rehearsal, deserves some of the credit for the work’s success. The piece opened with Mullikin seated upstage, laying down tracks for his solo. The focus then shifted to the dancers, who began lying supine with knees raised. They turned and stretched as if awakening and gradually rose to their feet, standing side-by-side in a single line. They seemed to have awakened to some gruesome reality or memory, however, because they proceeded to grimace, contract, shake, and ripple in not-quite unison, with exacting slowness and bound energy. This movement was punctuated by interludes in which each dancer broke from unison and was lifted or otherwise partnered by one or more of her peers. The movement was juicy and emotionally engaging, and Garcia made good use of the expressive capabilities of her dancers, especially the remarkable Lorraine Lau. Garcia stated that she loves to choreograph partnering; perhaps she should push her desires in this area further still. Garcia will present another new work in the Cornish BFA show next month; it should be very much worth checking out.

Rachel Grant’s Hail Mary for the Millennials was less successful. Much of Grant’s movement vocabulary was, literally and figuratively, pedestrian: Her cast mostly walked in unison in 12-step, clockwise circles, facing forward, over and over and over again. One of Grant’s dancers described this movement as hypnotic to perform; unfortunately, it quickly became uninteresting to watch. Occasionally a dancer would break out of the pack to shake an upraised hand, make a wry face, or inspect the torso of a fellow dancer. Most of the sound score consisted of a contrived and irritating faux voice-message recording, ostensibly addressed to Grant herself and dealing with debt collection. Toward the end, this was mercifully replaced by excerpts from recordings of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Sixteen Tons (1955) and Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land (1944)—according to Grant, music from the Great Depression that alluded to current economic conditions. Overall, Grant’s work felt perplexing and not very satisfying.

(Alice Gosti’s Intermezzo 
Photo by Tim Summers) 
Alice Gosti’s Spaghetti CO. – Intermezzo seemed to be a continuation of the approach she utilized in Are You Still Hungry? at NW New Works in June 2011. That approach involved assembling a group of talented dancers and creating a messy, chaotic spectacle centered on them; actual dancing was deemphasized, if not absent altogether. The messiness in Are You Still Hungry? was created with spaghetti, tomato sauce, and red wine, which the dancers threw and spat at each other. The messiness in Intermezzo was created by sprinkling the dancers liberally with flour as they sat on or around an overstuffed chair in the lobby at Velocity, whereupon they decamped to the auditorium, trailing flour in their wake. In Intermezzo, unlike Are You Still Hungry?, some of the dancers briefly engaged in some actual dancing. They also performed an a cappella rendition of TLC’s Creep, to no discernable purpose. Sadly, Intermezzo seemed like a terrible waste of a fine cast—and of an opportunity to create a dance work of real substance. Gosti is capable of making much better work than this. She should stop cooking up tasteless spaghetti and devise a new recipe.