UMAMI Performance in TRACE Photo by Bruce Clayton Tom
Dance dealing with memory can take many forms, from dancing about a memory, to dancing a narrative, to dancing in remembrance. UMAMI Performance, the collaborative duo of Aiko Kinoshita and Aaron Schwartzman, has done something a bit more subtle through their performance series, Constellation Half-Remembered, which ended this past weekend with TRACE. UMAMI, in concert with their many collaborators, orchestrated a journey through the act of memory itself, one that did not shy away from memory’s inherent fluidity and instability. Watching their dances unfold was like watching a memory emerge from that grey area between the brain and the soul, and TRACE, especially, had the same detached vividness of a dream.
Each installment of the series offered something different, with a range of performers, visuals, and music, but there were common threads of movement, music, and structure that became familiar for those who witnessed multiple performances. UMAMI noted in the program for TRACE, “Like reading multiple drafts of a novel, years apart, the bones are the same, but the flesh moves”—and this perfectly encapsulates the journey through the series as much as it describes a relationship with a single memory. Events happened all over the Seattle area (plus a trip to Conduit in Portland) at venues ranging from a private home, to Open Flight, to Jack Block Park. TRACE, presented this past weekend on July 26-27, happened at Parallel Public LAB in Burien, a small cement gem of a warehouse space only a short drive away from central Seattle.
The first section of TRACE gave the audience a chance to view three solo installations in a gallery setting outside the stage and seating area. Right away, memory was central to the performance. Scott Davis jotted down words at a desk before making gestures of trying to re-insert the words from the page back into his head—a futile but poignant attempt to recapture a memory, or perhaps an experience. The luminous Belle Wolf swished through a metal basin of water, washing her long hair and creating an image that looked out of a different time, yet still familiar, like a photo of a grandmother in her youth. Finally, Johanna Hulick spent her time constructing small origami boats, as well as outlining a boat shape around her body using scraps of paper covered in written memories. These vignettes were particularly dreamlike: there was something familiar about each, but they had their own specific logic that did not quite align with waking reality.
After the audience took their seats in front of the stage space, the focus turned to Kinoshita and Swartzman, their opening duet silhouetted against a video installation by Kathryn Padberg. Their duets centered around playful partnering interactions; they cycled in and out of choreographic phrasework interspersed with moments of contact and close interaction, sometimes soft, sometimes vigorous. In a key sequence, Kinoshita watched and then inserted herself into Swartzman’s solo dance, as if remembering and then reliving a past moment. Gradually, he grew aware of her ghostlike manipulations, and their movements intertwined and changed more rapidly. They ended in a kiss, then a freeze, and finally Kinoshita’s physical extrication of herself from their embrace as she crept back to her own space, her own present.
Kinoshita and Swartzman were joined by Katie Arrants Okun, Davis, Hulick, and Wolf for much of the performance. The group as a whole appeared as one interconnected organism made from distinct parts. They traded pieces of choreography (sometimes familiar from previous shows), circled each other, supported each other, and leapt at one another with abandon. In one section, they hardly stopped moving in a playful competition for dominance over a child-sized chair and a suitcase—another episode made dreamlike by its simultaneous absurdity and directness. As the piece wound to a close, the performers linked together in ephemeral tableaux, one leaving the other behind in a shape—a physical trace of the moment that just passed. Each undressed down to their underwear, showing the body’s frank vulnerability, before exiting the stage. They left their clothing and other objects strewn across the stage, another set of material traces created by human interaction.
It would be a shame to finish without a word about the music for TRACE, supplied by Amy Denio, Beth Fleenor, Craig Flory, and Paris Hurley, along with a bit of J.S. Bach. TRACE, unlike other events from Constellation Half-Remembered, used exclusively recorded music, but it worked well in the cement space where the atmosphere was so close. The woodwind sections (performed live by Denio and Fleenor at Open Flight’s PATINA), were very evocative of memory, especially with their dissonant harmonies and airy sense of ungroundedness. The percussive and vocal sections added to the sense that the entire performance was taking place inside of someone’s own head. Finally, the inclusion of a slowed-down version of Bach’s Prelude No. 1 from the Well-Tempered Clavier brought the dance’s ending a comforting sense of balance, even while the extremely slow tempo defamiliarized the familiar piece of music into something half-known, or, indeed, half-remembered.
TRACE made a satisfying finish for UMAMI’s Constellation Half-Remembered. Though it gives way to something of a creative break for Kinoshita and Swartzman, their work together has been, and surely will continue to be, a deep and delicate voice in Seattle dance, no matter what shape it takes next.
For more information, visit UMAMI Performance’s website.