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Return to Me Brings Loss Back to Life

Focused on themes of love, loss, death, mourning, and memory, Serendipity Dance Brigade’s Return to Me: in 3D ran December 5-6, at Velocity Dance Center. Return to Me: in 3D was presented in memory of Aaron Olds, late husband of Sarah Kathryn Olds, the founder and original director of Serendipity. An hour-long work, it also featured Salt Forest, an art installation that served as the backdrop for the program’s four separate sections. Designed and created by Antonia Price, the installation huddled in the two downstage corners of the performance space: long, grey strips of jersey fabric hung from ceiling to floor, cocooning performance artists within the folds of fabric for the entirety of the performance.

Bone Density by Rachael Forstrom
Photo by Michelle Smith Lewis

The evening began with a full ensemble work choreographed by Rachael Forstrom entitled Bone Density and featuring Forstrom’s company Ktisk Contemporary Dance. In a gripping start, the dancers entered the fully transformed Founder’s Studio passing through the installation’s jersey panels, shrouded in long, black skirts and lace bodices. Carrying lanterns to guide their way, they seemed to be entering an underworld searching for a lost soul. The performers avoided eye contact with the audience; they peered about the installation with lackluster gazes while they carefully searched through the gently swaying, fabric-swathed, human columns. The segment came to its climax near the end as three dancers circled together performing a sort of choreographed wake in which they clasped their bodies, ripping at their skin, letting out an overwhelming crescendo of sobs, setting the tone for emotional growth beyond Bone Density.

Bone Density led into a short duet, Within, Without, choreographed by Ingrid Porter. Two dancers drowned suffocatingly behind the confines of a jersey sheet as they pushed and pulled at the fabric, manipulating it around their bodies. The duet segued into Eric Eugene Aguilar’s Dystopian Optimism and Coda with a video segment (compiled and edited by Aguilar and set to music by USF), which featured a male dancer performing a tribal dance to a heavy drumming accompaniment. The work continued as Aguilar entered in an elaborate white costume with a flowered headdress. Reminiscent of Dia de Los Muertos decorations, the outfit included a flowing white tunic, a flowered mask, and bedazzled claws. Beautiful, ornate, and ghastly at the same time, the costume’s effect was staggering. While the dancing was simplistic, the costuming spoke volumes to the fantastical nightmare of loss and death while bringing a full expression of otherworldly character.

Within, Without by Ingrid Porter
Photo by Michelle Smith Lewis

The final section felt most true to the ethos of the performance’s mission: highlighting the experience of loss and coping with loss. Choreographed by Kelsey Diane Hamon (the current Regional Artistic Director of Serendipity), Compulsion: On Repeat fit Return to Me like two hands clasped tightly together. The piece featured five women (Sarah M. F. Oxford, Philippa Myler, Rachael Forstrom, Ingrid Porter, and Drew Santoro) all dressed in oversized sweaters and tall socks. Hamon perfectly personified the compulsive tendencies derived of the loss of the familiar, and the dancers exquisitely embodied incapacitating grief. This regression into routine, habit, and schedule feels universal, and is easily recognizable to those who have been trapped in the web of grief after the loss of a kindred soul. The dancers struggled to break free and move on throughout the piece. There was a devastating moment where Oxford danced the same phrase over and over, moving towards the fabric installation as Myler tried to entrap her in her arms to stop her incessant and compulsive grief. As Oxford struggled to complete her urgent, stuttering phrase, she was stopped by Myler’s firm but quiet hand on her chest. The beauty of the moment between the two dancers and the intensity of the emotion they conveyed was breathtaking. The dancers embodied the idea that our memories are just ghosts we have not yet let go of, and how grief is derived from the inability to grasp the intangible in our human hands.

Sarah M. F. Oxford and Philippa Myler in Compulsion: On Repeat by Kelsey Hamon
Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis

Return to Me: in 3D successfully captured the emotional reflexes of love, loss, death, mourning, and memory. The program showcased an emotional intelligence and vulnerable truth that makes Serendipity Dance Brigade a company to watch. To find out more about the company or to follow their calendar of events, visit here. Their next performance will be showcased at Spotlight on Seattle, as part of the Seattle International Dance Festival.

Editor’s note: In the original post of this article, the mention of the Dia de Los Muertos figure and costume were incorrectly attributed to Ingrid Porter’s Within, Without. In fact, that figure was part of Eric Eugene Aguilar’s work, Dystopian Optimism and Coda. The article has been amended to reflect this correction, and we apologize for the error.