Tucked away in Seattle Center, past the roasted corn-carrying crowds thronging to the Bite of Seattle, ARC Dance is quietly providing an intimate look at the innovation and emotion of its artists. The small, classically-trained company of nine (six company members and three apprentices) displayed a lovely blend of grace and power in its Summer Dance at the Center series. Though constricted by the small stage space of the Leo Kreielsheimer Theatre, the warmth of the company’s performance quality spilled out into the audience so that the six pieces felt like attending the best of cocktail parties. There was always just enough of a moment to savor, before moving on to the next delicious choreographic idea.
Jason Ohlberg’s The Blue Room provided a sunny, densely structured opening to the evening. A fluid angularity pervaded the piece and was particularly apparent in the second movement, where a sinuous ensemble canon turned into a unified fall. Ohlberg stated in the program that the concept of “community and relationship” inspired his decisions, and the women especially embodied the fierce strength of this relationship. Dancer Erin Crall’s rapport with both her trio and her male partner was particularly striking. With clearly defined musicality and port de bras that seemed like a visualization of the Spanish song lyrics, Crall became a captivating leader for the ensemble. The jewel tones of Marc McCartney’s inspired lighting added to the work’s cohesion, illuminating every tilted chin or fleeting lift.
Following the nuance and sinuous movement of Room, a pair of solos for Hamilton Nieh took the audience back to the basic language of ballet steps. Without music, Nieh glided forward and back with simple arm movements, as though he were a student beginning class work. When joined by J.S. Bach’s guitar Bourée, Nieh leapt into a series of classical ballet phrases that showed off his impeccable musical timing and airy jump. Kirk Midtskog’s choreography was surprisingly personal in its lack of ornamentation. Nieh generously demonstrated the talents that he has worked so hard to perfect in the studio—a gift for a grateful audience. That openness continued in Marie Chong’s Something Fun, showing a more playful and daring use of balletic training, again with Nieh’s soaring jump and uncanny timing throughout. A spellbinding developpé unfurled into a full layout with the same ease that chaîné turns grew from the ground up. It was as though a fickle breeze whisked him back and forth across the stage.
Mark J. Kane’s 2001 look at gender roles, Of Passion You Have Plenty, was the meatiest piece on the program, and also the starkest. From the harsh opening glow on a pacing Jenna Nelson, to all five dancers thrusting their hands out to the audience, it vibrated with caged frustration as dancers engaged in a lethal staredown with the audience. It was also this work that seemed to utilize the theater’s narrow space the best, for when confined to the bounds of a spotlight each dancer was able to probe the fullness of his or her own limbs.
At one point, Rachel Robbins broke away into a frenetic, off-kilter solo that provided a subtle reminder of Kane’s ability as a choreographer to mix the simple and the unexpected. While the structure of the piece veered towards predictable, the execution was refreshingly spontaneous. Jazzy lyrics mourning “a young man ain’t got nothing in the world these days” stood out, and the company was compelling in its savage lullaby of movement. The work’s juxtaposition of bounty and emptiness sparked curiosity, but Kane closed the piece with a repetitive sequence that left all questions hauntingly unanswered.
A similar sense of suspension pervaded Alex Ketley’s Duo, danced with expansive gravity by Crall and Graham Gobeille, but the work’s circling footwork and relaxed collapses lent a more sacred tone. The performers were symbiotic parts of one whole; when separated, the contractions in their bodies showed the space where the other should be. Gobeille offered more than capable partnering for the beveling spins and wrapped lifts, but he also held his own in moments of sustained stillness. Duo was less of a relationship story than an all-encompassing experience of tenderness that grew from yearning into contentment.
The evening’s final work (and the one world premiere) reminded the audience of ARC’s balletic foundation and how quickly their dancers can alter movement quality to fit a choreographer’s vision— in this case, even when accompanied by a puzzlingly disjointed Max Richter score. Gérard Théorêt’s Recurring finally gave the male dancers a chance to show off nuanced group work. All three men consistently imbued their jumping phrases with texture and a concerned emotional projection that only intensified when their female partners were present. Cameron Auble-Branigan, in particular, gave the piece grounding as he linked the tricky lifts and promenades together with ease. Also of note were Nelson’s flittering bourees that trailed backwards with alacrity only to melt into legato developpés.
Recurring was an odd choice to close the bill due to its lack of choreographic resolution, but it demonstrated that ARC Dance is a company unafraid to challenge the range and stamina of its nine dancers. One hopes that it will continue to curate pieces and add to its varied repertory. Judging by the audience’s prolonged standing ovation, it seems likely that growth is in the future. Summer Dance at the Center was the ballet-goer’s version of the Bite of Seattle: full of tasty moments, with a little bit of something for everyone.
ARC Dance’s Summer Dance at the Center continues tonight at 8pm at the Leo Kreielsheimer Theatre. Tickets and more information at arcdance.org.