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Khambatta Brings Powerful Emotions Center Stage

Written by Gabrielle Nomura

Photo courtesy of Khambatta Dance
Audiences were treated to pure, glorious movement in Khambatta Dance Company’s Truth & Betrayal and Other Works on Friday, February 22, at Kirkland Performance Center. The evening’s program featured both new and repertory works.

A Moment Repeated, included three sisterly women all dressed in black, (Ellen Cooper, Alexandra Madera, and Meredith Sallee). From their intertwined port de bras, to their slight bouncing movements, the women flowed together, creating the semblance of family-portrait. The title work, Truth & Betrayal, began with a quote by Nietzsche: “One’s belief in truth begins with a doubt of all the truths one has believed hitherto.” This piece presented a maze of complex emotions, intimate gestures, and furtive glances. With riveting partnering, one could see themes of searching for truth, the fear of betrayal, and “the games we play to save our egos,” as Khambatta put it. While the piece included several fake-out endings, the clever choreography and the dancers’ poignant performance made up for its lack of a clear beginning, middle, and end.

Highlights of the night included two dances based on real people’s lives, Ashutosh and Kim. Both pieces began with short, documentary-like interviews of the people who inspired the dances. And while much of modern dance relies on letting the viewer decide the meaning of a piece for his or herself, here, the video and dance combination effectively made the audience care about what happened in the dance by establishing a concrete meaning. Ashutosh featured a serial entrepreneur who grew up all over the world, speaks five languages, and never seems to slow down. Set to street sounds rather than music, the dancers wove through the space at the beginning, then intersected in a lift, pose, or partnering sequence. One could practically see, taste, and hear a busy day in India.
Kim relayed the moving tale of one woman’s escape from a 15-year marriage in a bleak, yet hopeful solo. As she says, it was a relationship that made her more, not less, lonely. In the opening video interview, the audience meets the attractive woman and mother of two. Seemingly happy, she tells her story of pain, loneliness, and the night she and her daughters left her husband: “It was as horrible as you imagine it would be.” As the video ends, the lights come up on dancer Meredith Sallee (a fluid, fierce and powerful performer who arguably stole the show) seated in a chair. Sallee’s foot began to twitch; her body began to move almost involuntarily. She struggled with these urges, caught between her desire to express herself, and the need to appear collected on the surface. As Sallee leaned on the chair, pushed it away, came back to it, and then left it again, it became clear that the chair also had a character of its own.

Like Sallee, Khambatta’s other female dancers, Madera and Cooper, possess a similar sleek, athletic aesthetic. In contrast, the company’s male dancers, nimble Kyle Williams, and tall, sultry Jeremy Cline couldn’t be more different. At times, Khambatta’s dancers seemed stiff in their upper body movements; it would be nice to see them dance with greater abandon and intensity, in addition to more clarity of intention. That being said, it was commendable how they truly “ate up” space and moved fluidly from the air to the floor. Each dancer’s daring and friendly relationship with gravity made for partnering at its best. 
Originally from New York City, Khambatta Dance Company (formerly Phffft!) is a true inspiration, having moved to Seattle in the early ‘90s, and toured on three continents. The company, along with Eva Stone’s festival, Chop Shop: Bodies of Work, have helped bring contemporary dance to the Eastside. After two years of residency at Kirkland Performance Center, the company is currently in talks with the theater to renew their partnership for a third year.    

Truth & Betrayal and Other Works will be performed at the Conduit Dance Center in Portland, Oregon on March 9. The company will next perform in Seattle at the Seattle International Dance Festival – Beyond the Threshold at Cornish College of the Arts. For more information, see