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Artists Emerge with Clarity at The Bridge Project 2013

Written by Kaitlin McCarthy
Chris McCallister’s SlickPhoto by Tim Summers
The Bridge Project 2013 kicked off Friday, February 1, to sold out crowds. Commissioned by Velocity Dance Center, the show contained five new works made in a condensed rehearsal period of three weeks. Required to have been making work for less than three years in the Seattle area, the choreographers offered fresh voices and all showed promise and variety that the dance community should welcome.
The show opened with maybe it’s quieter choreographed by Britt Karhoff. Five women begin sitting in a line singing overlapping verses, “When I was young I wanted this.” The upbeat singing transitions to the performers grabbing each other’s faces and legs, becoming a tangle of limbs mirroring the set piece on stage: a huge tumbleweed below a glowing dress suspended from the ceiling. Karhoff uses the brick wall of the studio beautifully; dancers seamlessly walk up it into supported poses, seeming to change the direction of gravity. The dancers also wear dresses—all identical and white—which become a theme of their dialogue. As the dancers move in alternating pauses and flurries of motion, they each talk about their dresses. One dress is imported. One dress has beads on it because her boyfriend likes beads. One dress is tearing at the seams. Spoken in a way that is over the top and almost cartoonish, this disingenuous delivery is quite comical. When suddenly the lines are delivered without happy affectation it reveals a sad true nature. Karhoff has created a piece that is beautiful, entertaining, and raises questions about the identities of women while also acknowledging their complexity.
Slick by Chris McCallister, in collaboration with his dancers, was a high-intensity ensemble work with dancers running and sliding across the floor aided by black socks to match their utilitarian black costumes. A pulsing syncopated beat accompanies well-timed meetings between the dancers in an entertaining play of action and reaction. With the linear and position-heavy movement, it becomes easy to notice even small discrepancies in the dancers’ interpretations. Duets and trios flow in and out of the space as the rest of the cast seems to ooze into the wall. At one point, the dancers open the back curtain to reveal the studio mirror and the audience’s reflection before quickly closing it again. An unexpected choice in a piece that seems to otherwise be a kaleidoscope of pure movement design, this seems to require more attention and development. The slippery quality of the socks, which presumably the title refers to, also seems underdeveloped. Sliding on the socks is introduced, but only used one way throughout the piece. It would be interesting to see the possibility of that physical shift explored more fully. 
During intermission, the dance film Thrange was projected in the adjacent studio. As the audience gathered to buy drinks at the bar they watched a captivating excerpt on loop in which performer/choreographer Joyce Liao gestures, lounges, flutters, and reaches in a hot pink floral maxi dress. Captured on film and directed by Vanessa DeWolf, it provided a pleasant and smile-inducing interlude.
Margaret Knight, Maggie Hotchkiss and Erica Badgeley in Elia Mrak’s and
Photo by Tim Summers

Elia Mrak’s contribution to the evening and. started as a trio between three women. Listed as “improvisers” in the program, the three, all clad in black cowl neck dresses, give potent yet subtle looks to the audience as they slowly shift the space between them. Two split off into jilted and intricate vocabulary. Out of nowhere, live piano music begins from the once seemingly benign piano sitting next to the audience risers. Kevin Schroer, also listed as an improviser, plays music reminiscent of Phillip Glass as the dancers perform walking and running patterns that seem to be constantly changing fronts. They are at once drawn to and wary of each other, developing an abstract relationship that is beautiful and genuine. Though unclear how much is improvised, it seems to be the rare meeting of improvisation and choreography that feels designed and articulate, while still free and authentic. The piece shifts dramatically towards the end: the lights come up on the audience, the pianist joins the dancers on stage, and they begin an accumulation of gesture and spoken word. Yes. Yes and. Yes and no. Yes and no. Maybe? The piece never alludes to its meaning, but nonetheless arrives at some abstract truth.
The final piece of the evening, Madman by Amy Johnson, opened with four women backing cautiously away from the downstage corner. Dancer Roxanne Foster breaks away in a punctuated and technical solo displaying impressive skill and clarity. The others soon join her, and as they move with a quiet fierceness, the music, by Matt Holmes, grows into a horror-movie-like score that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.  It is distracting, but perhaps intentionally so. Johnson’s aesthetic point of view is clear: with perfectly coiffed hair simulating an enlarged head, metallic leggings, and intense eye makeup, the dancers are transformed into otherworldly beings. The movement, at once technical and descriptive, finds a unique vocabulary within the precision. A partnering section reveals touch to be an obstacle, further removing the piece from the human realm. Johnson’s thoughtful design is a fine example of how pure-movement dance can be more than just a bag of tricks.