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Velocity’s Next Fest is a yearly festival that showcases choreographers towards the beginning of their careers, opening up space for them to experiment and show their work. This year’s festival theme was Ritual + Rebellion, where five choreographers, (Lucie Baker, Shane Donohue, Marco Farroni, Vladimir Kremenović and Hannah Rae) explored these themes from their unique perspectives. 

papi by Marco Farroni. Photo by Jim Coleman.

Curated by Cameo Lethem, Nia-Amina Minor, and Fausto Rivera, along with Velocity Artistic Director Erin Johnson, the evening featured two durational works, each one hour long, and three shorter pieces. The format of the show allowed the audience to chat and travel between Velocity’s studios to view the durational pieces, Utopia: freedom (Kremenović) and Filter Bubble (Rae), as they happened simultaneously. Nestled at the beginning of the program was Faronni’s (papi), performed as audience members were still making their way inside the building. The second half of the show brought the audience back to their seats for Singing Over the Bones (Baker) and THIS SPACE FOR RENT (Donohue).

Utopia: freedom by Vladimir Kremenović. Photo by Jim Coleman.

The stark contrasts between the tone of each work highlighted how differently each choreographer related to the themes of Ritual + Rebellion. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the pairing of the durational works by Kremenović and Rae. In Velocity’s Kawasaki Studio, the four dancers of Utopia: freedom, dressed all in black, surrounded a cube of stacked concrete bricks. Projections of Brutalist architecture cycled on the wall as the dancers repeated a series of short phrases in staggered succession, controlled by the tick of a metronome housed in the center of the brick structure. Although facing, the dancers’ stared past one another’s’ gaze into empty space. The effect was cold and bleak. I found myself wondering about the violence that is possible when ritual becomes divorced from human spirit or when rebellion is extinguished by the constant drone of bureaucracy. 

Rae’s Filter Bubble was a completely opposite world. Seven women filled the space of Founders Studio, framed by a rope laid out in a square at the edges of the stage. The room was sparsely, but warmly, lit. When I entered, the dancers were spread equidistant, each slightly askew but finding eye contact with one another across the space. They remained, mostly still, shifting their gaze and the tilt of their heads for many minutes, before beginning a slow gesture that moved their hands up the lengths of their forearms. As the dance progressed, each dancer’s movement related to the whole. They huddled in groups, allowing their heads to rest on one another’s shoulders. They created human chains through the linking of hands to whip one another around the space like children on a playground. Throughout, their awareness of one another was the guiding force of each shift. No clear leader emerged, rather the group was moved by a collective consciousness like that of a murmuration of starlings. 

Singing Over the Bones by Lucie Baker. Photo by Jim Coleman.

The pairing of the last two pieces also highlighted the extremes of interpretation of theme and the range of ideas and execution present in Seattle’s dance community. Baker’s Singing Over the Bones featured a trio of women grasping for, supporting, lifting, and embracing one another, accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful track of vocals and river sounds. Baker’s choreography took the dancers through a range of physical expressions, from airy and whimsical to sharp and shivering. Grounded in Slavic folklore, the work was soulful and sincere. Each dancer’s movement seemed to erupt with meaning from somewhere deep inside. 

The last piece, Donohue’s THIS SPACE FOR RENT, centered on the idea of selling portions of the costumes, set pieces, and sound design as advertising space in order to pay his dancers for their work on the project. The names of businesses, corporations, and arts & media organizations were emblazoned across the bodies of the dancers, as well as on the giant, furry banana hanging from the ceiling. Business cards fell from the sky as a disembodied voice directed us to check out the accompanying podcast. At every turn, we were directly and blatantly being sold something in the most bizarre style of marketing imaginable. The need to showcase brands as a part of the work highlighted the ways that artists are continually compromising in order to produce art in a sustainable way.

Shane Donohue’s THIS SPACE FOR RENT. Photo by Jim Coleman.

For the most part the choice to pair durational works with shorter ones worked. However, the casualness of the set up for (papi) did not do it justice. Farroni’s stage presence and his use of audience participation helped to center the audience’s attention, yet I still ended up feeling as if I had missed important elements because of the placement of the work in the program. Shortly after I entered, Farroni stripped down to just a jock strap and began a long, slow skip in a circle around the space. His eyes darted out towards audience members as if pulling them in through his energy alone. Once he had our attention, he commanded us to pull out our phones. We were going to help him wish his friend a happy birthday. (papi) pulled me in and left me wishing that I had the chance to see the first ten minutes of the work. Regardless, it’s exciting to see choreographic showcases like Next Fest taking on durational works and allowing artists to push the boundaries of what is possible.

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