The Seattle dance community witnessed a newcomer’s premiere last week as Intrepidus Dance presented HUMAN, March 20-22, at Velocity Dance Center’s Founders Theater. Artistic director Holly Logan and her dancers aren’t newbies to the scene, but HUMAN is the first show they have performed together as Intrepidus. As the title suggests, HUMAN explored humanistic themes of relationships, behaviors, emotions, and memories. The company performed two pieces: ODD Behaviors and HUMAN, both choreographed by Logan.
ODD Behaviors opened the show. The work was set to an original composition by John Coons and explored “the way modern American society views mental illness,” according to the “choreographer’s intent” sheets distributed after each piece. The dancers, clad in colored tops and black shorts, executed phrases that represented different mental illnesses. Logan said she chose to focus on four: depression, anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Tourette’s syndrome. Through agitated gestures like nail-biting, scratching, and convulsing, the dancers shaped an environment of unease and angst, as though each person were controlled by something pathological and turbulent, yet the audience could do nothing but witness the personal battles.
At the work’s climax, the different phrases and duets that signified the different disorders were all mixed together, resulting in a boiling point of exhaustion and overload. Throughout, a pattern persisted: the dancers began with uncontrollable, convulsive gestures, followed by a sustained and anticipatory stillness, followed by fervent athletic movements, and back to the beginning of the cycle. Although the patterns of the choreography became repetitive at times, the dancers executed them with alacrity (especially Madeline Cameron, with her fiery quality and presence). In ODD Behavior’s last moments, Cameron’s duet with CarliAnn Forthun became a symbol for the struggle for acceptance, especially with the constant push and pull between the two. Any artistic work that deals with matters of social justice—including the treatment of those with mental illness—often runs into the risk of trivializing in its representation of the problem, but Logan toed the line carefully. Hopefully, a conversation can start from the work.
HUMAN was similar to ODD Behaviors in Logan’s use of repetition of movements and structures. However, it tackled a different and more abstract theme. Through a series of duets and solos, Logan explored the nature of relationships and ideas that came out of them: care, tenderness, or even vulnerability within efforts to connect with another person. According to the choreographer’s note, the piece was inspired by pioneers of modern dance and their desire to capture the human experience in a different way from the idealism that classical ballet was portraying at the time. Erratic piano music from artists such as Nico Muhly and Bruce Brubaker/Stars of the Lid accompanied the dance.
The work aptly explored traditional modern dance concepts like breathing, falling into gravity, releasing tension, and supporting through sharing weight. After certain passages, the dancers would pause in stillness facing each other—waiting. Yet despite the title and the detailed explanation of how the piece is about the human experience, the dance itself never felt truly human. It felt like a series of steps and movements. It longed for a raw primal energy, a sense of abandon, or even a loss of control. Times of stillness and anticipation didn’t lead up to any revelatory moments, and the dancers only moved accurately, as opposed to freely. While HUMAN successfully captured an aesthetic and thematic connection to the styles of early modern dance pioneers, it fell short of replicating and connecting to what was inspiring those artists in the first place.
For both pieces, the ushers distributed detailed, section-by-section explanation in the choreographer’s notes, which can be a double-edged sword. They can be a useful tool to start conversations and ensure that dance is accessible to audiences previously unfamiliar to it. However, it can also be limiting to audience members who seek to create their own interpretations of dance works. After all, conversations surrounding a dance work should be prefaced with the idea that any and all interpretations are valid. The choreographer could explore further, how would the understanding of the works be affected if choreographer’s notes were made available only on request?
Putting together a show is never easy, but Logan carried it off well, along with executive director Samantha Weissbach and the rest of Intrepidus Dance. Not only did HUMAN run smoothly, Logan also managed to present two conversation-starting works. The Seattle dance scene should look forward to what the troupe is up to next.
For more information on the company, visit intrepidusdance.com.