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In her Seattle premiere, Beth Terwilleger’s company The Gray presents a somber response to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, produced with Velocity Dance Center. With stellar performances from Jim Kent (Lysander), Melissa Sanderson (Hermia), Sumaya Mulla-Carillo (Helena), Leah Russell (Puck) and Corbin Hall (Demetrius), The Midsummer explores the emotional growth and evolution inside each character as they come to terms with an uncertain reality.

Photo by Stefano Altamura.

Russell as Puck opens the show with a slithering, liquid-like solo, easily melting in and out of the floor. Her movements are thick, grounded and meticulously executed. She manipulates the air with her feet while balancing in a handstand, performs intensely curved backbends and impossible-to-maintain-but-somehow-still-does-it lunges. The lighting design (Amber Parker) helps to establish a window into this moody world with just a sliver of light guiding Russell from one side of the stage to the other. Dressed simply in a black sports bra and tight shorts, Russell becomes otherworldly. Her take on Puck is the most exquisitely understood part of the night: patient, manipulative, and observant, she wanders the stage with a conductor-like purpose.

Photo by Stefano Altamura.

The images that follow Russell’s stunning solo become a little more abstract. If the source material wasn’t referenced in the title and the character names given in the program, the plot would be elusive. We see a recurring duet between Sanderson and Kent (lovers Hermia and Lysander) that explores a micro-world between the two of them: expanding and contracting, never without the other. Kent kisses Sanderson’s ear and then runs his cheek along her outstretched forearm. Hall and Mulla-Curillo (Demetrius and Helena) interact less with each other than the lovers and are established first as individuals. Hall first appears with a small gesture; his hands migrate to his own neck and restlessly push and pull to the left and right. His gaze continues to be outward, always seeking another but not one in particular. Mulla-Curillo, conversely, tends to survey the space with an inward intention. Her gorgeously draped white, deep V-neck dress accentuates every leg lift and twirl. The work concludes with Mulla-Curillo “slaying” both Hall and Kent and coming into a more outward expression of ownership. It was cathartic to see her shed her previous air of innocence, yet the reasoning and importance behind the why, or what led to that moment, feels unexplored. These elements, though thoughtfully executed, allow for very little crossover between characters. Each individual player appears to be on the cusp of an emotional breakthrough, displaying fear, lust, rejection, and contentedness. However, as a community on stage they feel distant from one another. It’s as if they need more time and space to fully allow their stories to develop and interact.

Photo by Stefano Altamura.

In a panel discussion after the performance, Terwilleger answers a question from an audience member about how the movement was created, answering simply, “We started from pedestrian gestures.” She explains further that she wanted to create a movement language inside a more known storyline to empathetically guide the audience through the work. Using simple movements that allow the performers to delve deeper into emotional responses, they aim to create a rich conversation around the characters’ development. One repeated gesture throughout the work was a strained wide-open mouth, the dancers’ hands pulling their own lips and teeth open. This motif is easily recognizable as inner turmoil, emphasizing the emotional lives of the characters as the driving force behind the work. The challenge for Terwilleger next is to offer more time to her findings; how can the world of a known story allow for unique interpretations of these characters to unfold?


Beth Terwilleger’s THE GRAY performed their inaugural work in Seattle The Midsummer Oct 19-21 at Velocity Dance Center.