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Working bi-coastal has been the Kinesis Project Dance Theatre’s reality for a while now. Artistic director Melissa Riker is known for presenting large-scale, outdoor performances in both Seattle and New York, with a focus on making dance accessible and visible to the general public. Now, with most dance performances moved to the online realm, Riker saw an opportunity to join these two distant cities into a single, experimental, livestream performance.

Photo by Ezra J. Robinson.

Inspired by a moment of Riker witnessing a full pier of squid jigging, a type of fishing, Search(Light) plays with the idea of exchanging light. While darkness dominates the overall aesthetic of the piece, the dancers dressed in black or navy with minimal lighting, this only highlights the small presences of illumination. Performed by two stunning casts, the live broadcast from Vashon Center for the Arts features local dancers, while a projected livestream of New York dancers covers the wall behind them, streaming from Brooklyn Navy Yard. At Vashon Center, lighting reflects off the hands and top halves of the dancers faces, serving as focal points throughout their movement. In New York, pools of light splash onto the floor and columns, and the dancers move in and out of these areas with finesse.

Much of the piece’s movement can be described as willowy, punctuated with more direct limb trajectories through the space. While the dancers never make physical contact, duets and trios throughout the work build tender connections between them, even across the cities. When all the dancers occupy the space, they seem to intertwine, the projected Navy Yard perspective creating dimension and depth not normally found in a regular stage performance. Three camera angles at Vashon provide us the opportunity of viewing from different vantage points, something also not typically available when watching shows in person. Even while masked, the Seattle cast evoke a powerful presence and dedication in every moment.

Photo by Ezra J. Robinson.

The New York cast works with a sense of cause and effect, of sudden dropping movements, adding necessary punctuation and cacophony to the collective environment. Contrastingly, the Seattle cast seems to be in a state of serendipity, one dancer disappearing as another appears, or two arriving in a unison movement at an unexpected moment. Hand gestures play an important role – they gather energy with their hands, pulling it into themselves, as if storing it away for later on. In a time of intense isolation, the work nods to the importance of staying in a relationship with the space around us. Sound cuts out as both casts coalesce in a unison phrase, facing various directions. Dancers have a special way of staying in tune with each other when it comes to being on stage, but even with the challenge of dancing in different cities, the two casts unite energetically. Both groups seamlessly and expertly relate in their time and space.

Robert Moore duets with Jiemin Yang. Photo by Ezra J. Robinson.

Perhaps what helps take Search(Light) to an even greater range is the music by Sandbox Percussion. The piece begins with meditative, rich tones that accompany Seattle dancer Robert Moore as he energetically paints the space with an expansive, smooth solo. Later on, twinkly, xylophone type sounds help to pick up the energy, while rhythmic, metallic clanging produces tension. Airy, almost outdoor sounds quiet the spaces and foster even more focus. In one of these particular moments, Seattle’s Hendri Walujo gestures outward with his hands, which contrasts earlier gathering movements. Toward the end of the work, violin soloist Kristin Lee plays a beautiful rendition of “Spiegel im Spiegel” by Arvo Part, which ushers in a soft, repetitive group moment in New York. The dancers repeat a rolling action, accumulating dancers each time, and there’s a sense of internal focus, of joining, of getting lost in and developing a single idea. With no Seattle dancers in the space in that moment, the experience seems more distant, but not in a disconnected way. It seems like it’s happening in another time, another space, yet familiar. The mood is pleasurable and sweet, like a thread into something forgotten but cherished once again. 

Violinist Kristin Lee. Photo by Garrett Parker.

While the overall work is about finding points of light and connection, there are some eerie, lonely moments, reminding us that connection can only be treasured in contrast to isolation. A New York dancer stands alone at the edge of the space, the distance made even more poignant due to the fact that we cannot see the details of their face very well through the livestream. It’s a hard moment of realizing that no matter how hard we are all trying to connect through technology, there are still nuances we will inevitably miss. I only wish I could be in the room witnessing that New York dancer standing with authority, watching the subtle movement of their chest as they breathe, feeling the anticipation of what will happen next. I find a version of that in the projection, and I try to bring myself into the room, emotionally close, and try to put myself in that same pool of light, feel the same floor under my feet. It’s clear that the New York cast is full of talented performers, but through the projection they look more like moving figures rather than individuals. Perhaps this isn’t negative, as it adds a layer of mystery and background to the more distinguishable, seemingly “closer” Seattle cast. Search(Light) is enigmatic, a nod of appreciation to dancing together when we can’t really be together. It seems to muse on the idea of light – literally and figuratively – being our portal to one another.

Search(Light) was performed via livestream on January 30th, 2021. More information can be found here.