The Seattle International Dance Festival closed its first weekend with a flavorful bang on Sunday, June 16, 2013. In the dark, close atmosphere of Cornish’s Raisbeck Theatre, Seattleites were invited into the minds and hearts of Butoh, African, and contemporary dancers and musicians.
The evening opened with Kokoro Dance’s A Simple Way. The piece began with Canadian choreographer Barbara Bourget facing away from the audience, completely still. As pianist Joseph Hirabayashi travelled through several emotions in a lengthy introduction, the audience’s eyes traveled back and forth between the two artists like a rhythmic tennis game, anticipating when Bourget would move and what she would do.
The first glance of Bourget’s face did not reveal her gender. In true Butoh fashion, she remained androgynous until the very end of the piece, when she revealed her bare breasts and legs. Bourget embodied many aspects of Butoh. Like any great Butoh artist, she moved with a complete awareness of every single millimeter of her body, from the ends of her toes to the tip of her tongue. She was also aware of the reality of the theatre: at one point, as she slowly arched up, a little girl at the back of the house opened a curtain, and June sunshine streamed into the room. Bourget’s eyes slowly rolled toward the light, and she seemed to invite it in through her outstretched arms. The performance felt as if the audience had wandered into a moment of someone’s actual life and they bore witness as it was offered to them. In this offering, Bourget gave a performance without self-consciousness or self-indulgence.
Next, Khounlandé was an Afro-Contemporaire collaboration between dancers Manimou Camara and Yurek Hansen, and musicians Greg Evans and Max Arnold. Together, they created an atmosphere of curiosity, discovery, and wonder. At one point, Evans and Arnold wore traditional Guinean headpieces that looked a bit ridiculous on the two white musicians. The audience chuckled a little, though Evans and Arnold seemed humbly comfortable. Camara responded to their open hearts and open hands with a high-energy movement sequence that had the audience smiling and whooping. His toned arms and taut legs screamed masculinity, and this contrasted with his softly swiveling wrists and graceful body control. Like all skilled African dancers, Camara embodied contrasts: hard softness, controlled release, and lofty earthiness.
Hansen then took the stage decked out in the epitome of Western-style clothing: white collared shirt with black tie, suspenders, slacks, and fancy socks. He struggled to remove his tie, then, humorously, his shirt. Each button and sleeve was a fight, and he ended with a piece of the shirt in his mouth. Throughout, Hansen’s experience in contemporary dance was evident, especially in his effortless hand stands and smooth floor transitions. When he finally stripped to bare feet and chest, Camara and the musicians entered. The two dancers reached out to shake hands, but when they touched, electricity seemed to pass through them and they both pulled away. Suddenly, they broke out in a traditional African unison sequence that revealed each of their dance histories. Khounlandé was delightfully rough around the edges, a lovely contrast to the polished nature of the evening’s other two works.
In the final piece, Khounlandé’s smiling joy was traded in for Khambatta Dance Company’s intense Truth and Betrayal. Five dancers, clad in black, moved through unison, partnering, and solo sections with a high degree of technical prowess. The choreography featured a snakelike quality, as dancers surfed through wave-like body rolls. It was beautiful to witness all five dancers moving in such a curvy way, as it highlighted the fascinating differences between the bodies of the male and female dancers.
Khambatta’s choreography was most successful during the complex partnering sequences. The dancers were always unexpectedly in the right place at the right moment, demonstrating an unparalleled level of trust in one another and in themselves. Though some of the lifts were contemporary dance clichés, the choreography as a whole was unpredictable and solid.
It was fitting to see Khambatta Dance Company at the end of the evening, as they are the producers of this important, ongoing festival. See here for information about more of the events at Seattle International Dance Festival, which goes on through next weekend.