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PARTS OF THE WHOLE

“Group heart,” is how Karin Stevens thinks of the audience when she introduces her show, KSD & Kin. She invites us to ground ourselves as she recites Mary Oliver’s poem The Moth, The Mountains, The Rivers. The poem captures Stevens’ interest in our relationship with Earth and the power of movement to connect more deeply with each other. The poem ends with the line “We are only one design of the moving, the vivacious many.” The concept, “one of many” reflects the use of the word kin in the show’s title as the evening’s program includes choreography by two of her company members, Sara Caplan and Anja Kellner-Rogers.

Measured Reflections by Sara Caplan, feat. dancers Anja Kellner-Rogers, Ellie van Bever, and Michael Walton. Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis.

When the lights come up on Measured Reflections, a premiere choreographed by Caplan, a dancer commands, “Go.” Like a green light at a crosswalk, three dancers— Kellner-Rogers, Ellie van Bever, and Michael Walton—launch across the stage first with small steps, then belly crawls, and shoulder rolls. The dancers clad in gray and red street clothes begin a series of movements where two of them pose touching and the third gently joins, sparking the group to shift into a new configuration. This chain of movement across the floor seems a poignant exploration of the individual as it exists in community.  

The theater is transformed for the next work, Kellner-Rogers’ Solitary Rhythms, when the curtains are pulled back to reveal the Seattle night skyline through the windows. Caplan, seated facing a brick wall, repeats a disturbing series of movements in silence where she appears to hit her head on the wall. Caplan then drags herself across the floor, arching as if receiving an electric shock. Dark hypnotic music starts–loud like a heartbeat–and Caplan touches her skin as if to come back to herself. Caplan pulls out her hairband in apparent frustration. The work reminds me of the perils of isolation. As I watch her dancing alone in front of the city skyline and all the people it houses, I resonate with my own experiences of isolation, and the difficulty of developing healthy routines living solo. Choreographer Kellner-Rogers seems to explore this scenario with sensitivity and integrity.

The second half of the show features three works of Karin Steven’s choreography. In A Small Space of Wildness, Caplan and Kellner-Rogers wear beautiful tunics designed by Sarah Mosher that spiral from shoulder to ankle. It’s like watching the wind blow as the dancers flow through the work. A voice comes in over the swelling cello music by Heather Bentley saying, “Sinew the woman’s strings for her flawless arrows,” and “Sweetened earth into thin air.” Words that seem to convey ancient wisdom. The dancers spin, push and retract to wind noises that intensify to almost hurricane-sounding levels, transporting me to childhood when I was energized by the wind to run and play. 

Karin Steven’s Remember River. Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis.

The next piece, Remember River, a solo danced by Stevens, is like a moving meditation. She begins laying on her side, slowly moving to her stomach through arches, to her knees, and finally to standing at the end of the piece. It’s almost a visualization of water tumbling and smoothing rocks into new forms. As noted in the program, the dance is an embodied exploration of the Mary Oliver line, “Who can imagine in what heaviness the rivers remember their original clarity?” The atmospheric electroacoustic music by Jeff Greinke titled Upon a River that Still Flows amplified the haunting quality of Stevens’ movement.

Karin Steven’s A Small Space of Wildness, feat. Anja Kellner-Rogers and Sara Caplan. Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis.

Dressed in gray tie-dye tops and pants, Caplan and Kellner-Rogers return to perform a series of entrancing movements for the final piece, Parts of the Whole. The piano music, Dark Waves, by John Luther Adams roils and intensifies as the dancers sway into lunges and seem to hold up the sky. The work hypnotizes with uniform energy as the two dancers move as one, coming in and out of synchronization throughout the piece.

At intermission on this cold January night, I’m brought back into the power of community, a central theme of KSD and Kin, as fellow audience members work together to find the owner of a missing mitten. The mystery remains unsolved as the second half begins, but after the house lights come up at the end, a woman asks, “Has anyone seen a mitten like this?” My fellow audience members cheer to be able to reunite the lost mitten with its owner. We are certainly parts of a whole, living together in the ecosystem. This show is like a kinesthetic philosophy lesson in the challenges of being human. It ranges from the desperation of isolation in Solitary Rhythms to the synchronization of moving together in Parts of the Whole. With new urgency, I think of Mary Oliver’s entreaty that Stevens quoted, “I suggest…that your spirit grow in curiosity, that your life be richer than it is.”

Karin Steven’s Dance presented KSD & Kin January 13-14, 2024 at Nod Theater.