Bursting from the background of the stage, dancers erupt into fast, angular movement at impressive speed. They sequence through repeating phrases, each unique to one of the six dancers. These phrases expand from the core of the body, showcasing swift arms, sharp fingers, and high legs. The most remarkable aspect is the amount of technical clarity achieved at this speed, passing through each position with consistency of design and nuanced expression. Though the movements reference traditional modern technique, each has enough alteration to distinguish it from recognizable poses. For example, just when the audience thinks it is about to witness a classical arabesque, the foot immediately sickles to poke the air and the leg is retrieved back to the body so fast we wonder if the last two seconds actually happened. The dancers are always one step ahead of predictability.
The soundtrack of splashing water with an occasional foghorn serves to highlight the movement as the forefront of the piece. The dancers have a clear timing of their own with relatively no music cues to reference. The urgency of speed continues. The bodies appear to be caught in a rip tide, cycling through group formations with honed immediacy. Lightning-quick transitions rearrange the group in an instant. Performers are fixed in tune to each other. They are both lost in waves and in precise control of themselves.
Dr. Danny Tan, a Singaporean choreographer, created Soul Sketches on the dancers of Khambatta Dance Company. Following the completion of the piece, Tan steps onto the stage to share his gratitude for this opportunity. He mentions that this piece was created in a total of ten hours. The clarity achieved in this short period of time is an incredible accomplishment. Dancers Kristin Brewer, Ivana Lin, Robert Moore, Thomas Phelan, Meredith Sallee, and Tabitha Steger should also be applauded for their role in this process. Their energetic vigor, technical commitment, and bodily intelligence were undoubtedly instrumental in this urgent choreographic development.
Shura Baryshnikov (Rhode Island) and Gabriel Forestieri (NYC) choreographed and perform the duet that follows. Beginning in delicacy, the two sit next to each other on the floor, cycling through material that repeats while changing facings. From the beginning it feels as though they have been dancing together for many years. Their souls grow warm, evident by the seemingly magnetic closeness they access both in and out of contact. The two progress from a contemplative togetherness to a relationship full of risk, balance, and mutual understanding. Both highly skilled in partnering, their work conveys a somatic approach to movement. We learn to trust their abilities while we watch, so that by the end we are not scared when they charge through the air, only to be caught upside down by each other at just the perfect moment. The duet concludes with Baryshnikov suspended above the floor, supported only by Forestieri’s foot in her hip crease. She hangs there as though it is a regular position of comfort. It is clear that they have found rest in each other.
The night closes with an excerpt from Earthquake, choreographed on Khambatta Dance Company by Artistic Director Cyrus Khambatta. The full version of the work will be presented on January 25th and 26th as part of the second weekend of Seattle International Dance Festival Winter Mini Fest. Tabitha Steger opens the piece with arresting presence. As a sensory-driven avalanche-like soundscape engulfs the stage, she dances in a solo that juxtaposes long extensions with hunched, stark gestures. She appears to be both warning us of something and simultaneously experiencing it. The solo eventually bleeds into group movement that includes swaying hips, slinky relevés, and surprise references of jazz vocabulary that poke through the contemporary landscape. The excerpt provides an intriguing introduction without giving too much away.
More information and tickets for SIDF Winter Mini Fest at seattleidf.org