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Summer Sizzles at the Center

A pleasant break from July’s sizzling heat, ARC Dance opened their season with Summer Dance at the Center, featuring three fresh world premieres and two repertoire works, created by some hot names of the ballet world. The small cast of four women and three men showcased their versatility and strength as an ensemble in works ranging from classical to those that blurred the line between ballet and contemporary. The intimate Leo K. Theatre presented the opportunity to witness every facial nuance and hear the dancers’ every breath.

ARC Dance in Ilana Goldman’s Gaining Ground
Photo by Paul Sanders

Opening the evening was Artistic Director Marie Chong’s Schumann, a crisp work set to seven movements of piano from Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen, Opus 15. The women wore pink pastel dresses and pointe shoes, the men open dress shirts and tights, and all seven dancers assumed pleasant, cheerful expressions that mirrored the tidy choreography. The first movement featured three of the company’s long-legged women connected by their hands, twining like ivy underneath each other’s arms to create unexpected, asymmetrical shapes and facings. The following movement highlighted Alice Cao and Ethan Schweitzer-Gaslin, two compact powerhouses dueling each other’s rapid-fire footwork and changes of direction, as well matched as salt and pepper shakers. In the fourth movement, choreographed originally as a “retirement dance” for Chong, soloist Erin Crall brought a certain levity to the frolicking piece that connoted a tea party in high society. The most complex of the movements, this section utilized unusual, open lines and tiny arabesque turns that threw even the stoic Crall off balance. In the final movement of the piece, Crall reprised her solo which ended in profile in a spotlight, turning her head on the last piano note to gaze at the audience, her expression opaque.

What the first piece lacked, the second, Ilana Goldman’s Gaining Ground, made up for in content. Costumed in a uniform of bike shorts and green, crushed velvet tanks, two female/male duets made their way glacially across the stage: the women reached and yearned for the lights coming from stage left while the men held them back. Set to an atonal orchestral piece by Bryce Dessner, Gaining Ground took inspiration from “the obstacles women still face in a [so-called] post-feminist society.” The dancers viscerally embodied this struggle through powerful lunges and straining to hold each other’s weight, a refreshing physicality not often seen in classical partnering. Soon, the men changed tactics and pushed the women back from the front. Eventually the women broke free of their oppressors, and the four dancers walked in rigid grid-like patterns. This imagery evoked the workplace and their everyday life as equals, and their identical costumes furthered this message of sameness. Madeline Bay stood out from the quartet for her Gumby-like quality and the abandon of her pitch-turns in attitude penchée. A short, climactic section in which the women ran forward only to be pushed back by invisible hands evoked a metaphorical glass ceiling, leaving the men hunched dejectedly stage left. Finally, the women returned to their partners, helped them up, and all walked confidently, side by side, into the unknown, a satisfying conclusion to a clearly-themed work.

Song of the Siren, choreographed by UW MFA Jason Ohlberg, closed the first half. On July 17, three men performed this piece, which draws upon Greek mythology of irresistible enchantresses, but the cast changes to a trio of women for a second run of the show, July 23-25. It would be interesting to see this piece a second time with the other cast, in order to explore the adaptability of both the choreography and ARC’s dancers. Set to a female operatic voice composed by Henrik Górecki, the three men wandered through low lighting: pausing, sitting, all as if underwater. Schweitzer-Gaslin stood out again during the group sections for his commitment to the work, but unfortunately lost focus during his solos. The intimate setting also revealed little hiccups such as wobbling standing legs, lapses in memory, and accidental crashes that may have been overlooked in a larger theatre. Overall, the piece lacked dynamic shift or structure—the bare torsos and nude pants were similarly bland. The movement vocabulary called for academic drop swings and sequential floor rolls, all performed at the same tempo, while the relationship between the three dancers remained undefined. Perhaps the female casting will bring some drama or evocation to this restrained work.

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ARC Dance in Hive by Travis Guerin
Photo by Paul Sanders

After intermission came the premiere of Travis Guerin’s Hive, a work for seven dancers clad in bike shorts and open shirts. Local-born Guerin also created the musical score, composed of piano, strings, and an electronic bass line, which lent the piece a stirring verve and drive. Guerin’s movement included interesting head rolling and hand gestures, along with expansive travelling phrases in unison, made even more rousing when performed by the entire cast. While the title conjured thoughts of insect collectivism, the dancers related to each other as distinct individuals rather than as a cohesive whole, ricocheting out of proximity as if repelled by opposing polar forces. As a result, the movement seemed to exist for its own sake, rather than to further a message.  The work’s most exciting moments involved explosive initiations followed by sustained movements, a physicality common in some hip hop choreography. Although lacking the attack and pelvic alignment of trained contemporary dancers while in parallel positions, the ensemble looked like they were enjoying the edgy movement vocabulary.

Summer Dance at the Center’s sublime finale, Infinitum, a world premiere choreographed by Edwaard Liang of BalletMet, closed the evening on high note. Victoria Jahn distinguished herself as a world-class soloist in this quartet featuring three men and one woman caught in a cycle of unfulfilling relationships. Wearing a sheer red floor-length gown, Jahn articulated her lithe limbs, reaching and searching for something in the distance. The three men, wearing all black, emerged from the audience as if to symbolize the abundance of male replicas she has encountered. Jahn stepped over and onto them as they lay prone in front of her, never acknowledging their existence until an intimate connection with soloist Graham Gobeille sparked a transcendent duet. The two dancers embraced, entwining their limbs. Jahn rolled and flipped underneath Gobeille until she miraculously appeared upright, hovering precariously on his knee. The piece concluded with a kiss, Gobeille fell as if Jahn had sucked out his life force, and the lights faded. Liang expertly teased the best out of these two talented dancers, making this duet the clear apex of the evening.

ARC Dance in Edwaard Liang’s Infinitum
Photo by Paul Sanders

ARC’s Summer at the Center not only showcased seven talented dancers, it presented a distinctive opportunity to see a range of classical and more contemporary works. With most of ARC’s dancers in their first and second seasons with the company, Chong’s vision seems primed to grow and mature with them. The show runs again next weekend, July 23-25 at the Leo K. Theatre.

Tickets for Summer at the Center can be purchased here. More information about ARC Dance can be found on their website.

Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to the title of Ilana Goldman’s work as Breaking Ground. Her work is titled Gaining Ground.