2012 BOOST dance festival: Week 1 Highlights

Written by Steve Ha

Guest Artists Elizabeth Chitty and Suzanne Myre’s Nowhere Space.
Photo by Joseph Lambert.
If the 2012 BOOST Dance Festival serves as any indication, it’s been a long winter in Seattle. The first weekend of performances saw themes wrought with tension and angst, popular with contemporary artists to the point of mind-numbing overload. While each work had its strengths in glorious dance and fascinating ideas, the program as a whole is so heavy that it raises questions as to whether modern dance has been boxed into certain standards, settling for themes and movements that don’t register as new anymore.
It’s not as though the program is without variety—Iyun Ashani Harrison’s jewel toned Union (2010) incorporated influences from Martha Graham, trading earthier aesthetics for swirling oily satins. The movement of the costumes harmonized with the choreography on the dancers, producing vibrant pictures while depicting shades of human experiences. Strong in both concept and execution, Union served as a brilliant opening for the show. 

Following that came NorthWest Dance Syndrome’s twisted family portrait The Snapping Point, complete with a matriarch that resembled a psychotic marionette, tied with stretchy red bands as if bound by her own entrails. While The Snapping Point included startling images and a number of horror film references, the effect leaned toward caricature rather than the grotesque.
In may I… (my life as it is now), choreographer Kristen Legg of Redd Legg Dance reflected on relationships between mother and child, creating by far her most inspired work to date. Balletic and precise, the phrasing of the work is seamless, the coloring appropriate. Though not present at last year’s festival, the improvement in finesse over the past couple of years is undeniable in Legg’s latest venture, a true winner in receiving the eponymous “boost.” 

Closing out the first half were guest artists Elizabeth Chitty and Suzanne Myre, in an excerpt of a work entitled Nowhere Space. Aptly named, Chitty and Myre engaged in a thoughtful dialogue in lighted fields of play, but the conversation literally seemed to go nowhere, and though this was an excerpt that perhaps needed a greater context in which to frame it, the majority of what was shown was largely forgettable.
Karena Birk in Cabeen’s Gravitas.
Photo by Joseph Lambert
The second half of the evening line up featured two marvelous dances, starting with an engaging work by Kate Wallich, one of the breakout choreographers from last year’s festival. Verbosely titled Sound over taking your ears, volume taking over your body, Wallich provided relief from obscurity; like a celestial ascension into light and shadow, Sound captured countless moments of beauty with strong pictures of the body. Wallich continues to prove her understanding of shaping the human body and ensuring that no movement is wasted or without purpose. The success of Sound lay in the trance it induces, whereupon all sense of time is lost and the audience is left wanting more. 

Next was Catherine Cabeen’s Gravitas, a solo work putting on full display the magnificence of the human ability to jump. Rich with smokiness, the soundtrack, composed by trumpeter Chad McCullough, inspired perilous choreography that burst from the floor like breaths from the underworld, each leap hovering like plumes of volcanic ash. Though Cimmerian in color, the work also has an incredible lightness, performed effortlessly by Karena Birk, a testament to Cabeen’s uncanny eye for striking visuals.
badmarmar dance company in tenSides.
Photo by Joseph Lambert
BOOST producer Marlo Martin closed out the show with an excerpt of her piece, tenSides, a sleek and finely polished ebon filigree. With weighted rolls thrown into the floor, Martin’s dancers easily commanded attention with power and sharpness. Though laden with yet even more angst, tenSides is brilliantly conceived and even the excerpt could stand alone as a significant work, holding to a high standard Martin has clearly set for herself.
With Martin at the helm, BOOST has once again solidified its value as a vehicle for Seattle-based dance artists, in perhaps one of the greatest opportunities for young choreographers to shine. The ticket sales speak for themselves; a sold-out opening night indicates the strength of interest in budding artists. As performances continue through the weekend, audiences can also look forward to the second week of the festival, which will showcase a different set of works and reprise UnionSound, and tenSides. However, the challenge has been issued—with so many choreographers following trends in modern dance, there must inevitably be one that breaks away from the pack.

Tickets may still bea available at the door for Saturday, March 17, 2012.  Tickets for next weekend’s performances can be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets.


  1. I have three comments concerning Steve Ha’s review of Week One of the Boost Dance Festival.
    1. Ha’s contention that the themes of the works presented were “wrought with tension and angst,” resulting in “mind-numbing overload” because choreographers are “settling for themes and movements that don’t register as new anymore,” was completely inconsistent with my experience as an audience member. It is true that six of the seven works featured dark lighting designs, but dark lighting does not necessarily imply tension and angst. I observed themes of ritualized sexuality (Harrison), familial entanglement (Soto and Motl), life passages and connections (Legg), simultaneity with missed connections (Chitty and Myre), exuberant physicality (Wallich), joyful virtuosity (Cabeen), and emotional expression within community (Martin), but I saw little angst, except in a few sections of Martin’s work. Moreover, my attention was consistently engaged and my mind never felt “numbed.” What I saw registered as “new” enough—and I see over 100 dance performances a year.
    2. Ha’s description of “the majority” of Chitty and Myre’s choreography as “largely forgettable” was also inconsistent with my experience. Admittedly, the work they presented was subtle, and I had the advantage of seeing both Friday’s performance and Saturday’s slightly crisper one. Suffice it to say that I would be delighted to see more work by these talented choreographers and dancers.
    3. Ha’s opinions will be of more value to readers if they are clearly expressed. Unfortunately, Ha’s tendency to start his sentences with introductory phrases that do not refer to the sentences’ subjects too often interferes with clarity. For example: It was Legg’s choreography—not her choreography’s “improvement in finesse”—that was “not present at last year’s festival.” It was Chitty and Myre’s work—not Chitty and Myre themselves—that could be called “aptly named.” It was Wallich’s work—not Wallich herself—that was allegedly “verbosely titled.” SeattleDances has a capable copyeditor in Ms. Legg, but she can only do so much: Ha should proofread his copy more carefully.

  2. What is so great about viewing dance is that everyone sees it differently and every viewer is coming to a performance with unique eyes. How interesting it would be to see what areas of the brain engage for different people when watching the same piece.

    It’s hard to comment on a performance I was involved in, but I will say this: The first weekend of the 2012 BOOST dance festival had a tangible energy that could be felt in the audience, as well as backstage. To me, it felt like a mix of deep passion for the art, a sense of newness and rebirth, and anticipation for what would come next. Martin and the panel (Aiko Kinoshita, David Schleiffers, and Kristin Hapke) did a spectacular job of bringing together a wide range of artists with a wide range of aesthetic tendencies.

    Next week promises to be just as diverse and dance-filled.

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