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Collision Collage: Lingo Production’s Final Work

Written by Christin Call

Sean Tomerlin and Molly Sides in Viewfinder, an event in Collision Theory
Photo by Hayley Young
Collision Theory: The Finale, which premiered Thursday, April 18, 2013, and continued through Sunday at On the Boards, is a festive send-off in several ways.  It concludes a year-long series of dance and music performances, letter-writing, fashion shows, parties, dinners, films, and photos by Artistic Director KT Niehoff exploring a more intimate relationship between audiences and performers.  It also, through Niehoff’s decision to move beyond traditional dancemaking structures, makes solvent the existence of Lingo Productions.  This final work, offered in the form of a dance show in-the-round, centers around the act of storytelling as a social model for interaction.  As the storyteller gives away his or her own compact juggernaut of personal experiences, there is a “small agreement” being made. The storyteller will form experience into a series of apparent causes and effects; and, the listener will receive and accept it.

It’s a very simple kind of interaction but strongly engaging.  Stories make us feel bonded together, give us a sense of meaning and progress from one event to the next.  They connect us deeply to our need for purpose and belonging.  The theater, so rooted in the tradition of narrative, gave Collision a means to divert this grandiosity and apply it in a way that was personable.  The dancers greeted the audience as they came into the space, said hello to friends, lounged around, and gave folks high-fives.  This vibe of relaxation and good feelings permeated the evening.

It must be noted that half of the experience of the performance was the singing and monologuing of Niehoff and Ivory Smith, who both possess soft, angelically sweet voices that, in combination, soar up onto a delicate plane of wistfulness.  Even in their more cheeky moments—Niehoff intoning “If you just do this one little thing for me, I will like you so much more in the future than I do now”—there is an underlying tone of earnestness, like little girls whispering their biggest secrets into each others’ ears.  The other half, that of the six dancers, was marked by incredible charisma and generosity.  Combined with languid agility and technical prowess—these performers were the epitome of what Seattle dancers do best.  Sean Tomerlin and Molly Sides, especially, exuded a natural quality in their carriage and expression, showing true enjoyment with colleagues and transitioning almost seamlessly between moments of contemplation, uncertainty, and restlessness.

Emily Sferra in Viewfinder, an event in Collision Theory
Photo by Hayley Young
The evening opened with Emily Sferra on one of four tall tables embedded in the corners of the room undulating her arms, upper back, and head in a beam of light.  Situated above a seated Tomerlin furtively writing in a notebook, Sferra’s sinuous movement recalled that of a muse, a memory, or a heavenly being.   Later, Sferra brilliantly interpreted a monologue of wanting to wake up on a train in Colorado covered in sweat, entreating suggestively to an unknown person to make her sore and tired, and asserting there’s “a job out there for someone like me.”  Sensuously asking to “make it weird,” this final caveat became a phenomenal duet between Tomerlin and Sferra on one of the tables with daredevil counterbalances that eased them down to the main floor entwined and immersed in each other.  As the singing began to emphasize the “weird” of the monologue, their powerful chemistry was suddenly lost to awkwardness.  What was natural cohesion became uncertain handholds and a stuttering waltz.

Throughout the performance, stories were told by both the dancers and singers.  Sometimes these were meant for  just one audience member or anyone within earshot, and other times they were offered to the whole room.  The performers constantly moved from the main floor—a white square of marley, like a table the audience had gathered around to enjoy a hearty meal—to the embedded tables, to sitting and walking through the aisles of the audience.  This constant rotation and shifting, along with the snippets of stories about being in a car crash at fifteen, jumping off a bridge and almost drowning, and not having felt challenged by a math problem in awhile, created a collage effect.  A bit of the water-y texture of Markeith Wiley’s signature breakdancing was stacked next to a story of growing up at the bottom of a mountain.  Simple but heartfelt sentiments of, “I love you and miss you so much.  You were my truest friend,” were built next to Jul Kostelancik peering at the audience while bent over like a beast dangling from a tree branch.

Lingo Productions dancers in Viewfinder, an event in Collision Theory
Photo by Hayley Young
Sides brought the extended finale of this Finale to the brim with her smooth weight-shifts, pushing a cheek from left to right, unexpectedly diving to the floor in a full backward hinge, and telling a story with just her eyes—pointed glances to the audience and fellow performers as they shifted in and out of unison.  This performance, aimed at cultivating a shared bond, did so in spades.  The audience felt good.  The performers felt known and spent (aka good).  And along the way some very creative things happened with monologue, song, movement, and architectural space.