A battement hits the air, ripe with underlying tension. A hinged torso bends from side to side, twisting in a creepy and compulsive manner. Beth Twigs’ The Psychosomatic Experiences of Obligation: A Study is one of four works in Chamber Dance Company’s performance this past weekend, her charged and eerie stage a clockwork of intricate moving parts.
Miniature landscapes of phrase work form across the stage, creating communities of dancers that gather and lose members over time. At the front of the stage, dancers mouth the words to a deep voice referencing a medical study, their faces glowing with handheld lights. In a particularly stunning moment, Alicia Pugh crawls across the stage as a dark silhouette, juxtaposed against the shiny white costumes illuminated upstage. Pugh’s movement is magnetic, even in a simple crawl. Each step is laced with nuance, maintaining a slow and steady rate while conveying an internal simmer.
Psychosomatic Experiences contains many scenes happening simultaneously, with equal attention granted to each one. This makes for a lot to look at and a lot to guess about, in the best way. It’s a jigsaw puzzle and the audience is invited to put the pieces together. Characters come in and out of the story, disappearing and reappearing. Demolished scenes return later. This work is fascinating, both to marvel at and dissect. I would have liked to see it multiple times.
Twigs’ work is shown alongside pieces choreographed by Robert Moses, Noel Price-Bracey, and Doug Varone. The resident company of University of Washington’s dance MFA program, Chamber Dance Company is made up of the program’s graduate students, who performed along with contributing local artists. Choreographers Twigs and Noel Price-Bracey are also locally-based artists and matriculated members of the program. Their two works were my favorites of the night, a testament to the strength of the Seattle dance scene.
Price-Bracey’s work begins in a spotlight. A singular dancer pauses before settling into a repetitive movement. Their pelvis shifts with heels moving forward and back; the rhythm becomes clear and established. They are in the zone, alone in this rhythm but anchoring the stagnant dancers around them. Another dancer replaces the original, assuming the same movement but with their own sensitivities. This occurs again and again. Even though the audience learns the pattern, each overtake is equally exciting. It highlights individual differences while simultaneously shouldering the responsibility of the group environment.
This repetitive movement is the choreographic core of the piece, but the work incorporates other staple movements to expand on the group vocabulary and aid in some really lovely transitions. For example, a marching motion with lifted arms becomes a reference point for both reconvening the group as well lifting off to new phrase work. There is a clear directive when the group is changing, a delight to see both aesthetically and in service of the work’s concept. The transitions felt as though they were happening in the moment (even though it would be near impossible for that to occur spontaneously). This speaks to the mindful quality of the work, an ability to be both present and extremely well rehearsed.
The program notes “This work was formed through executive direction and artistic choices made by every artist involved; one vision, many voices.” The work shares choreographic credit with dancers Rose Amlin, Olivia Anderson, Derek Crescenti, Eva Crystal, Annie Franklin, Lisa Kwak, marco farroni leonardo, and Tshedzom Tingkhye. There is a wide array of dance vocabulary, blended cohesively without movements that felt out of place. One minute there was a sweeping contemporary upper body motion, the next a surprise drop into a split. The tone was celebratory, building to sections of unison and communal joy. Joy can be difficult to display in a performative environment, but it came across believably in this work. It looked so fun I wanted to be on stage with them by the end of it.
Noel Price-Bracey’s work is a complete showstopper. Acts ‘n III: of what joy, receive, betta move sum bodies does what it is trying to do, and does so exquisitely. The program describes it as “a moving reflection anchored on the necessity of community during intrapersonal conflict.” The prevailing movement threads shared between dancers demonstrate the resounding message of community support.
Overall, every work in this performance felt fully realized and practiced. It is special to watch dancers perform on such a large stage. They jump in bodily extremes with no walls to avoid, hoisting each other into the air with no immediate ceiling to accommodate. I saw such brimming versions of every dancer, each one determined to honor the space in their greatest capacities. It was fulfilling to watch such generosity.
This performance from Chamber Dance Company ran October 12, 2023 – October 15, 2023 at Meany Hall. For more information, visit https://dance.washington.edu/chamber-dance-company