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Chicago Sends, Seattle Receives

Laboratory Dancers in Alexandra Subak’s Iota Photo by Brian Eaves
On the Laboratory Dancers’ website, the Chicago-based artist collective bills themselves as “A Different Kind of Production…,” a statement they readily proved with their self-produced program, Send/Receive, which they presented at Seattle’s own Washington Hall this Wednesday, June 12. A passionate group of individuals, they wanted to go on a tour, so they made a tour happen. The expedition harks back to the rag-tag tours of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo or the early Joffrey Ballet: they rented a van, hit the open road in Chicago, and have planned stops in Minneapolis, Missoula, Seattle, and Portland. The whole endeavor takes a serious amount of gumption, further displayed in their committed dancing to a rather sparse audience on Wednesday. Though there are many performances happening around town this weekend, welcoming and supporting these independent contemporary artists, as one hopes other cities would welcome our own intrepid choreographers, should be a priority for Seattle dance-goers. The Laboratory Dancers comprise about half of the program, while local artist MaryAnn McGovern, Madison-based choreographer Kate Corby, and Columbia College professor Peter Carpenter, round out the bill. To read an interview with the choreographers see here. Send/Receive plays again tonight, Thursday, June 13, at Washington Hall at 8:00 PM.
Choreographer and dancer Peter Carpenter
Photo by John Sisson
While it’s always refreshing to see different dancers perform, the range of choreographic ideas on the program was also intriguing. Standout pieces delivered commentary on deep societal issues. In Carpenter’s solo work, Rituals of Abundance for Lean Times #7: Divisions of Labor, he pulled a classic bait and switch, drawing the audience in with charismatic banter and silly anecdotes (one involving a raspy-voiced dying medieval king, which later returned as a perfect metaphor). Through a deconstruction of his choreographic process, he created a framework for examining the issue of society’s unsustainable and damaging consumption practices and then seamlessly delved into them. At one point, like Atlas struggling under the weight of the world, he slowly lowered himself to the ground to a recorded monologue about global slavery, an iPhone balancing on his forehead. With clever wit, a wonderfully grounded yet finely articulated movement style, and his own self-assuredness as a performer, Carpenter provided ample (and enjoyable) food for thought.


Corby’s solo, Growing Season, examined standards of feminine beauty and their roots (literally) through the metaphor of plant growth. In acid green heels, short white shorts, and a green bra, Corby began with her head in a giant plastic flower pot that somehow accentuated her femininity. Filled with gawky steps and body assessments as if looking in a mirror, the piece was brief, but conveyed a complete idea. Similarly, McGovern’s A Recipe for Polarity Part 2Echo Chamber, clearly articulated ideas about the continued polarization of our political system. McGovern utilized the space of Washington Hall particularly well; she began on the raised stage, while two dancers (Amy Weaver and Naphtali Beyleveld) stood in the door frames flanking the base of the stage. Unison and repetition provided the work’s strongest moments. In one instance, Weaver and Beyleveld continuously shared weight and traveled across the floor periodically saying “Balance” and “Check.” This relationship devolved from calm symbiosis to aggressive grappling when both refused to yield. Though some moments felt a bit overwrought, the piece remained engaging and brought an interesting reflection to a pertinent issue.
A Recipe for Polarity Part 1|Cacophony by MaryAnn McGovern
Photo by Joseph Lambert
Alexandra Subak, co-founder and co-Artistic Director of Laboratory Dancers (along with Emily Lukasewski), also made a strong showing. Her work Iota featured five vignettes evoking various and seemingly random moods or experiences: “nobody else got a long memory” felt introspective and pensive, “house fire” evoked an extended panic attack, and “seaweed” had a mellowing pulse to it. The whole work showcased the dancers’ impressive physicality, particularly with their dynamic floorwork, but the work experimented just as much with sound as with movement. Musicians Sam Hertz and Matt Engers played live, creating dreamy, yawning acoustics, shrill alarms, and racecar sounds—the last made by playing an electric guitar with a violin bow. Iota had only one night on the program; Thursday’s show will feature a piece by Lukasewski.
Laboratory Dancers in Overnight by Jessie Young
Photo by Jessie Young
Both Overnight, by Chicago-based choreographer Jessie Young, and Corby’s Go, lacked express narratives or social messages, but each created their own very specific worlds. Overnight evoked a quirky slumber party filled with absurdist games, including crawling directly over each others’ prone bodies while singing a French pop-song. Despite interesting moments, it felt largely disjointed and lacked a connecting arch. In Go, the three performers, Beth Berta, Gretchen Wright, and particularly Lukasewski, remained intensely absorbed throughout. A slyly competitive edge pervaded, and though a victor never emerged, the piece further demonstrated the dancers’ strong technical abilities. Laboratory Dancers are a unique group whose tenacity has propelled them on this self-engineered tour. Here’s hoping it will bring them back this way again in the future.
Send/Receive plays, Thursday, June 13, at Washington Hall at 8:00 PM. Tickets are available here.
For more information about these artists see the links below: