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A Music and Dance Conversation at Confluence/Influence

Written by Victoria Jacobs

Amy Weaver in Heartsong, From Her Rock© 2012 Bruce Tom


Confluence/Influence brought together composers and choreographers to premiere new dance works with a live nine-piece ensemble this weekend, April 27-28, 2012, at the GoodShepherdCenter‘s Chapel Performance Space. Produced by Karin Stevens Dance and the Seattle Jazz Composers Ensemble, Confluence gave music and dance makers the chance to create in simultaneous, rather than consecutive, collaboration, and each pairing approached the openness of that effort in their own way.

The piece opened with SILT, a churning, melancholy duet by UMAMI Performance (Aiko Kinoshita and Aaron Schwartzman) with music composition by Beth Fleenor. As noted in the program, the piece was largely improvisational, with the conductor introducing and arranging eight musical variables, “collaborating, in real time, with the dancers.” Kinoshita and Schwartzman, dressed in periwinkle gray, began the piece with searching solos; though they shared the same space, they seemed to be moving through different worlds, pulled by unseen forces, longings and concerns. They played the space admirably, at one point beckoning an alto clarinetist onto stage with them, obstructing the space and forcing them into tighter relationship. Tensions rose as the clarinet trilled against the droning counterpoint of the ensemble and the duo fell, caught, tumbled and moved on without each other; a driving drum solo pushed their yearning and unstable partnering to its peak, and the return of the music to its initial questing drone found them separate once again.

Amy Weaver in Heartsong, From Her Rock© 2012 Bruce Tom

Amy Weaver’s Heartsong, From Her Rock, with music by Catherine Grealish, was a colorful counterpoint to UMAMI’s restrained and growling work. Weaver’s head was festooned in flowers and she presented hats to all the musicians in the ensemble. Her playfulness was bubbling; she invited the subdued audience to stand and shake and hug themselves and to poke their neighbor and say, “I see you.” Heartsong blended dance and audience participation to explore themes of trust, disappointment, and heartbreak with unsuspecting audience members playing key roles. Weaver’s movement was inventive and narrative; Grealish’s soaring, cinematic music supported the hopefulness of the story, hushing – though not always enough – when Weaver spoke. It was difficult to read all the nuances of the story, especially where it depended on small interactions with audience members who weren’t necessarily willing to play their part. Nonetheless, it was a refreshing and imaginative experiment in story-telling and audience engagement within a “formal” concert setting.

Karin Stevens’s 3 Takes consisted of a trio, a duet, and a solo that explored the inherent relationships in those forms. Michael Owchuruk created music that was bluesy, jazzy, or funky according to the tone of each section. The trio played with unison at different angles and the contrasting of two dancers against the third with Stevens’s flexing and stretching movement. The duet held a prowling, circling dynamic between Evan Foster and Naphtali Beyleveld as they arched their long limbs, stretching and curling around one another. The solo was gorgeously danced by Belle Wolf, who seemed most at home in Stevens’s style, organically weaving the precise shapes with careful, curling flow.

Khambatta Dance Company at Confluence/Influence
© 2012 Bruce Tom

Closing the show was the Khambatta Dance Company in a largely improvised piece well complemented by Stephen Fandrich’s layered humming and hopping musical composition. The four dancers, including Khambatta himself, often returned to a centripetal circling pattern in the center of the stage out of which emerged spins, floor leaps, partnering, and more extended sections of playful movement invention and mimickry that always swirled back into circling. The dancers were in full ownership of their movement and filled the space with exuberance, quirky vocabulary, and a tender rarefied air. The shifting music was a perfect cushion to hold the swirling piece’s center and edges.

Confluence used the power of live music and original composition to strengthen each dance piece’s intentions; it made for an interesting evening to see how each group used the challenge and how their various stategies played out.

For more, see:

Seattle Jazz Composers’ Ensemble:

Karin Stevens Dance:

Michael Owcharuk:

UMAMI Performance:

Amy Weaver:

Catherine Grealish:

Khambatta Dance Company: