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Seattle Dance Project Brings Something Unique to the Stage

Seattle Dance Project dancers in Jason Ohlberg’s Departure from 5th
Photo by Tim Summers
Seattle Dance Project and ACT Theater’s Central Heating Lab brought a diverse group of performers to the stage with Project 6, which opened on Friday, March 22, 2013, at ACT. Directed by former Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer, Timothy Lynch, Seattle Dance Project fills a distincive niche in the community. In no other local company are audiences able to see some of the city’s most elite, beloved, and well-known artists, (including Project 6 choreographer Jason Ohlberg), come together in a single performance. From the lyrical athleticism of ballet, to the powerful punch of modern dance, SDP dancers bring a variety of influences and experience to the stage.

The local dance community knows SDP’s performers well. Who doesn’t remember Lynch and his wife, Alexandra Dickson, from their days at PNB? Anyone who takes class in the area, or has attended college here will know Ohlberg, Iyun Harrison, or Betsy Cooper from their teaching careers at Cornish and the University of Washington. In a somewhat sparse performance with only two, full-length works by Ohlberg, each of these familiar faces was able to shine.

Betsy Cooper in Departure from 5th
Photo by Zebravisual
This could not have been more true than in Ohlberg’s Departure From 5th, which has been expanded into a full-length work since premiering in Project 5. In this piece, the audience heard and watched each dancer, as he or she grappled with the reality that in time, one must eventually leave the stage. Dressed in simple costumes evoking studio attire, the dancers performed to a soundtrack of their own poignant observations and humorous confessions. In this way, the audience got to know each person intimately. From a ballerina’s hatred of her “sturdy legs,” to one dancer’s short-man complex, the audience was given a glimpse into the personal demons and struggles that each performer faces in the all-encompassing pursuit of dance.
In contrast to the main dancers’ spandex pants and tank tops, three women in gorgeous ball gowns, listed as “The Fates” provided occasional, thought-provoking appearances, at times leading or manipulating the main dancers. Ohlberg cleverly used The Fates to help illustrate how the main dancers were powerless against the inevitable.
While a diversity of dancers can be an asset, it can also present a challenge. To the untrained eye, all of the Seattle Dance Project dancers are simply impressive to watch. And while this is undoubtedly true, the disparities in their approach to dance sometimes created a less than harmonious look. At times, they appeared divided in the resistance of port de bras, the initiation and groundedness, and the overall aesthetic in motion. Use of breath helps unite these different approaches, and when the audience can hear a dancer’s breath, it must be modern dance. But, just as ballet is more than getting one’s leg up high, there’s far more to modern than that.
 Seattle Dance Project dancers in Jason Ohlberg’s Gloria
Photo by Tim Summers
Not that modern dance is all about uniformity, either. In fact, it could not have been more refreshing to see three beautiful men: the masculine, grounded Ohlberg; the slender, elegant Lynch; and the charismatic, much-shorter Montoya all on stage together in Ohlberg’s Gloria, a lush, sweeping celebration of life, dance, and spirit. Montoya, along with Cooper, were among the group’s standouts. Montoya’s gentle, yet powerful approach to movement was riveting. Despite his own self-admitted struggles with body shape, he transcended his physical limitations with flowing arm movements, and feet indicative of his former pointe shoe dancing with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Watching Cooper dance is more beguiling. Cooper is a pure master at adding breath, expression, and humanity within the structure of flawless ballet technique; it’s unclear whether she was a prima ballerina, or a star with José Limón or Martha Graham.
Since it formed six years ago, the makeup of Seattle Dance Project has continued to stray from its Pacific Northwest Ballet roots, embracing more of what’s happening in the Seattle modern dance scene. In fact, the group will be welcoming two new dancers (who did not perform on opening night), former Limón dancer Brenna Monroe-Cook and long-time local choreographer, dancer, and teacher, Ellie Sandstrom. It will be interesting to see what creative challenges and inspired opportunities this eclectic group will be presented with moving forward, and in which direction they will continue to grow.
Seattle Dance Project’s Project 6 runs now until March 30, 2013, at ACT Theater at

700 Union St.Seattle. 
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