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Live Music at the Heart of Converge

There were many takeaways from Sapience Dance Collective’s annual Converge Dance Festival—including the talent of the dancers and the creative, engaging choreography—but the most exciting part was that the first six of the seven pieces had live music, performed on stage with the dancers. It’s like adding half-and-half to your coffee instead of nonfat milk—so much more satisfying and flavorful. Neither was the music “just” an accompaniment to the dance. A common thread of musicians and dancers interacting and moving with and amongst each other ran through the evening. This changed the center of gravity in the theater, adding more complex and interesting lines of engagement than the usual stage→audience. One can only hope that this is a catching trend in Seattle’s contemporary dance community!

Converge Dance Festival
Photo by Jazzy Photo

The evening opened with Lauren Linder’s Underscored Proscenium Grind. The dancers started in an amoeba-like clump that eventually branched out further into space, its members still maintaining a relationship through their connected, sometimes unison movement. One dancer eventually broke away, into a different, loose, free dance. She looked at the others invitingly, they pondered her, and eventually joined in with her dancing, as she likewise adapted elements of their movement into her own. Linder’s work was notable for the range and contrast between loose and controlled, smooth and sharp, and slow and sudden. It was also welcome to see a piece that suggested that one person vs. the group is not always a situation of conflict, but sometimes one of opportunity and growth.

Sapience co-director Sarah Seder followed in a duet with her husband, saxophonist Nathan Seder. Their duet, Taking Flight, explored improvisation around set material and themes. Repetition was part of their improvisatory structure, and it was a pleasure to watch Sarah explore the surprising range of possibilities contained in a simple circular movement of her arm, or in the tension between the two ends of the stage’s long diagonal. The different sections of the duet were beautifully framed by ilvs strauss’ effectively simple lighting, and the end was just as effectively simple—Sarah and Nathan finally joined together and walked off, leaving the stage echoing with their companionable partnership.

Humor underscored the social commentary of Philippa Myler’s Her Better Half. A welcome expansion of a piece seen at last year’s Ktisk concert (Mr and Mrs Sprat), her dancers negotiated the space between their own identities and their perception of society’s expectations. How to keep looking demurely and smilingly polite when you repeatedly have to shove someone out of your way to pair up with the person you want? What happens when the effort to maintain an alluring facial expression causes rictus and panic at the slipping façade? As the closing scene’s awkward disco party went into a slo-mo fade, the audience was left to ponder whether the cost of trying to fit in is worth it.

Jazzy Photo
Xaviera Vandermay’s (Retro)Grading Love on a Curve
Photo by Jazzy Photo

The relationship between music and dance was given a fun twist in Xaviera Vandermay’s (Retro)Grading Love on a Curve. Dancer Sarah Oakley started out singing and playing guitar as one of the two musicians (joined by Josh Orion on percussion), playing a set for an “audience” of two dancers sitting on stage. She announced that they would be taking a short break, whereupon another dancer barged onto the stage with high kicks and fancy tricks. This prompted a dance battle between her and Oakley, punctuated with fragments of dialogue: “talk?!?” “can we?” Once the interloper was dispatched with, Oakley apologized to her “audience” for the interruption—“she can’t come in and interrupt my work night like that…totally inappropriate…I’m sorry you had to see that.” She returned to her set, and the audience couple moved into a lush duet of full-body movement seasoned by specific gestural detail, their sweetness a contrast to the previous battle. At the end, the interloper returned, sitting quietly and watching. It seemed like a tantalizing glimpse into a larger world—is there perhaps a full length work to come?

Sapience’s other co-director, Amy Weaver, provided a change of pace with Two or Three part II (A Little While). Her dancers emerged, wearing monk-like black robes, performing a ritualistic walking pattern that incorporated progressively larger gestures as they repeatedly filed through the stage. They reverentially removed their robes, folding them and laying them on a cloth upstage, and in the satin slip dresses underneath, moved into generous weightsharing. The dresses came off to reveal black tops and shorts, and their dancing became more athletic, diving into the floor. The piece’s structure had an openness and simplicity to it that left a sense of a sacred space resonating after the lights went down.

Amy Weaver’s Two or Three part II (A Little While)
Photo by Jazzy Photo

Nico Tower was musician and mysterious omnipotent being in Laura Beth Rodriguez’s 0:00. As a film projection of a 24-hour digital clock counted down on the back wall, Tower wove her singing way through the dancers, who seemed oblivious as they were moved by the currents left in her wake. The dancers, clad in costumes suggesting dreary office jobs, were alternatively ruled by the ringing, buzzing smartphones in their hands, or by the addict’s withdrawal of the loss of their devices. They ran, twitched, and at the end fell to the ground in exhaustion. Was Tower a benevolent siren, suggesting the possibility of a different world with her music, or was she a hypnotizing force, keeping the dancers in thrall to their ruling machines just as she captivated the audience?

The evening closed with a touching duet between Weaver and Seder, See You Again, choreographed by Cyrus Khambatta. It opened with a delightful video of the two of them talking about their relationship. Though technical difficulties prevented the full video from playing at the opening performance, their dancing was all the exposition that was needed. Seder’s strong sharp movement phrase demanded concrete answers. Weaver responded with a dreamy sway and smile of imagination and possibilities. As the duet progressed, they took on elements of each other, making a stronger, multi-dimensional, more interesting whole. It was a beautiful way to end the evening, and went a long way towards explaining Converge’s success.

More information about Sapience Dance Collective can be found here.