Skip to content

Broad Range of Works Define Chop Shop

Written by Victoria Jacobs
Dancer and choreographer Ellie Sandstrom in “for one/for two”
Photo by Rex Tranter
Chop Shop: Bodies of Work, under the direction of Eva Stone, is the Eastside’s only contemporary dance festival. Stone’s passion has paid off; the successful effort is in its 5th year, and the showcase is bursting its buttons, overflowing with a range of experimental dance both accessible and difficult to comprehend, humorous and dark, technical and theatrical—a sampler box of Pacific Northwest dance work as well as a few striking notes from outside the area. This evening of dance was seen February 11 and 12, 2012 at the Theatre at Meydenbauer.

Both halves of the show began with appealing short films from Portland’s BodyVOX. The first showed a man and woman walking away from the camera through various scenes and in diverse states of dress, executing a rhythmic pedestrian choreography. The second was a short, sweet, wondrous pas de deux between a man and a John Deere backhoe. Both pieces used the medium of film well to explore interesting dance concepts that would be impossible to share on stage.

Adam Barruch Dance
Photo by Nan Melville
Brooklyn‘s Adam Barruch made his west coast premiere with the spellbinding duet folie à deux. The simple dark pedestrian costumes starkly emphasized the dancers’ tightly entwined inventive partnering and curving solo movement invention. The grounded and capable female dancer seemed forgotten in the beginning as she lay on the ground and walked slowly forward; later, she and Barruch both executed his unique movement with clean, spiraling precision. The work was kinetic, constantly tangling, rarely finding a resting place.

Donald Byrd performed a short solo that collaged gestural movements to a soundtrack of echoing, overlapping voices with the reading of diary entries, which mused on the difficulty of traveling in Jerusalem. The ambiguous language spoke to the diversity and dissonance of the Holy Land, but greater specificity of images in the writing or gestures in the dancing would have painted a clearer picture.

Khambatta Dance Company lushly circled in Centrifugal Force, a quintet in white punctuated by warm lighting and blackouts. Meredith Sallee’s muscular, carving movement was especially sculptural. The piece was sensual and tensionless, mounting to a widening circle where the dancers eddied and spun off with the precise chaos of debris in a whirlpool.

 Alien Dances, by Penny Hutchinson, was full of personality, with three very different young dancers sweeping across the stage in interesting groupings, contrasting dynamics, and enigmatic relationships. The piece quoted vocabulary from various disciplines including West African dance and belly dance, and it was assembled with an uncanny, conversational sensibility that walked a surreal line between comedy and seriousness.

Bellingham Repertory Dance performed Politics which used the structure of a square dance to caricaturize the wheelings and dealings of a bunch of black-suited corporate-politico types. The eight dancers pouted, kissed, wrassled, and fought to a lively tune; they pulled off the piece with good humor and vaudeville-esque showmanship.

Elie Sandstrom presented for one/for two, her coiled movement switching surprisingly between extended reaches and the tight contraction of fast twitch muscles. Her duet partner complemented her as a shadow, a better half, a curious companion in a solemn exploration of dynamism and calm.

Stone Dance Collective in “Pinata”
Photo by Rex Tranter
Stone’s own piece Piñata began with a mesmerizing image of a blindfolded woman slowly spitting candy (or perhaps teeth) into a glass bowl, and then moved into a sumptuous group dance in brief black costumes. The movement was inventive and the dancers were technically incisive and beautiful to behold, yet the evocative opening image was a promise that was never delivered on; the dance never developed into a narrative, and the blindfolded woman retreated upstage, forgotten in the melee.

 The Sweetness of Leaving, by Jason Ohlberg, began with a finely wrought image of four women in purple dresses filing slowly onstage in a line, then stopping one at a time before turning all together to face the audience. The soundtrack—a sentimental song about angels by The Wailing Jennys—washed out any subtlety and nuance in the choreography, leaving a piece that was thin and pretty. The four dancers are all exquisite and multi-faceted, but they were underused in this work.

Portland’s Northwest Dance Project presented a duet of two flexing, shirtless men in black pants moving through slow gestures to a monotonous pounding bass beat. The vocabulary incorporated the striking feel and precise shapes of martial arts with sinuous undulations. Patrick Kilbane executed the difficult movement with a strong core and swift limbs. Despite the tension in the beat and in the dancers’ bodies, the duet never evolved to a peak; the men remained stuck in a techno-beat limbo.

Dancer and choreographer Josh Beamish in”Allemande”
Photo by Rex Tranter
Josh Beamish, of Vancouver, BC, brought an excerpted trio from his sextet Allemande, which blended precise classical ballet technique with sequencing through the spine, popping and locking of joints, and unusual gestures. The dancers performed complex movement with passion and clarity, dressed in summery pedestrian outfits. The choreographer was the most captivating and proficient performer of his own inventive movement; Beamish’s cutting presence and distinct, muscular mastery of classical and contemporary was deeply satisfying.

Overall, the show was too lengthy; perhaps the overflow signifies it’s time for another dance festival on the Eastside, or that Chop Shop: Bodies of Work could be extended to two weekends with different programs. When the Eastside only gets their modern dance hit once a year, it’s important not to knock them out with an overdose. However, too much dance is a good problem to have, and it was a joy to see such a range of work being enjoyed by an Eastside audience.

For more info on the companies presented see: