Walking up the stairs to the Open Flight Studio, it’s all very low-tech. Black plastic wrap lines the stairwell, painted and spangled with lights and stones. I’ve seen the stairs at Open Flight decorated a few times, but nothing quite so elaborate. It’s exactly the kind of thing I expect from Christin Call’s imagination. Ms. Call is well-respected as a dancer; her visual art and poetry are known to fewer people. I’ve followed all three of her paths for quite a while now. I’ve myself published her poetry before at The Seattle Star.
Does this make me less objective? Do I care? There’s always an assumption of prejudice at times like this. “That friendship may follow, rather than precede, work ably and soundly done, that it may be based upon mutual respect and a regard for personal integrity and honor, and that any invasion or corruption of any one of these would immediately end it, is apparently overlooked.” George Jean Nathan felt that way about Eugene O’Neill, and I feel that way about Ms. Call. At any rate I’m here to enjoy myself and not worry what knuckleheads think about my motives for writing.
I’m at the top now. I walked more slowly than I probably should have, but no matter. The studio is to my right. Ahead of me in the corner is a wrapped bundle that looks like a Christo sculpture. I’m certain it’s not on purpose but I can’t help notice its appropriateness. Turning into the studio, I am confronted immediately by the Threaded Cosmos sculpture, which I recall from earlier versions of Coriolis’ insofaras the landscopic field report. Now the piece has come full circle back to the place of its origin. I wryly consider that Ms. Greenwalt and Ms. Call probably now call that version false start with chronometric insinuation and parabola or something equally typical of Ms. Call’s poetic titles. I liked it, anyway. There really hasn’t been a Coriolis dance I haven’t liked. I enjoy their extension of ballet vocabulary into the modern contemporary dance realm, especially their pointe work. It’s loose yet highly structured, like free verse written with exactly four stresses every line yet still free in shape. I love that stuff.
Inside of the cotton ropes, Natascha Greenwalt is performing some kind of dance responding to the topological space of the sculpture. I think it’s evocative enough–a different connotative layer of “space,” the theme of the evening. Vector space, Hilbert space, N-space, M-space, space the final frontier. She has such wonderful movements and obviously tends to her upper body strength. Her movements evoke dim memories of the cosmic egg from the Rig Veda. I stay awhile then meander about the room. On the opposite side of the room, Kat Murphy is destroying a paper sculpture and trying to escape a paper costume that binds her. I spend some time trying to figure out the robotic aspect of it, then Marissa Quimby and Mariko Nagashima bounce past me dressed in pastels with star-shaped deely bobbers that give me flashbacks to Seattle Center in the 80s, accosting standing members of the audience and talking in some incomprehensible language–definitely not Polish. It’s partly quaint and partly kitsch. Shortly thereafter Shannan Behrens, I think, dressed in some mustard-colored schoolteacher’s garb begins to deliver a monologue about black holes as she walks ritually toward the north wall on which there are various light projections of spacey things. I suppose this is the event horizon for the show. No turning back now.
Off to the side, the lovely and magnetic Jackie An begins playing slow notes over a long drone. Dressed in a rather baroque garment with a long cathedral train that rivals Queen Amidala’s, Ms. Call enters the space at something just slightly faster than butoh speed, gradually losing her train. She disappears into the corner behind a diaphanous scrim and begins to undress. Two other dancers enter into the space, and Ms. Call joins them, clad in the same garb. So begins the first piece, Aestraea/Orbiting. The tone for the evening is set. This piece is elegant, filled with sinuous lines and lush string music. It is what I expect of a Coriolis opener.
The deely bobber-wearing folks that bounced past me earlier take center stage after the first piece and begin the second, Boldly Going There. The title tells me all I need to know. It’s parodistic, silly in a divine way–a bit of levity after the fairly solemn opener. It even includes a pantomime phaser death, though I wonder for a minute why the victim isn’t in a red shirt. The crowd seems nonplussed. I’m chuckling to myself. I needed that.
And then it starts. With letters at first. S. Movement. P. Five dancers. E. Dressed a little like priestesses, something out of the Black Milk Clothing catalog, more stylish. A. A primal processional. K. Speak. It’s hypnotic. Speak. Two dancers in unison play against the other three who hold static, still speaking. Words. All the letters, all the words move in rhythm against each other. Not plainchant, but polyphony. Speak words. Then all the dancers begin to weave their movements together, crossing lines, stopping short of space and reflecting backward against the astronomical video projections. It’s exotic. It’s gorgeous. And extremely difficult to put into words, despite what the voices say. It’s a Supermassive gravitational collapse, according to the program. This is no collapse. It’s an effusion, mathematically intricate, like a crystal structure, layered over the subtle music of Taylor Merisko. Extraordinary.
Coming from that piece about synchronicity, the troupe present the next number, Vortex immanence/transcendence. It has a completely different tone from the last piece. It starts with all four dancers isolated at the extremes of the floor. Then a duet forms, then another duet. The duets play simultaneously at varying levels of intensity and various levels of mechanization. As the duets break down, a solo dancer reverts back to stuttering, partially mechanical movements that repeat until they break down into an endless loop. The three dancers that move in sync behind her finally cover her and absorb her into unison, then draw her down to the floor in a crumpled heap that looks something like the Kafr Qasem Massacre. The quartet’s crumpled bodies shift three times, then one by one stand up and depart their earthly vale. Darkness. Transcendence.
And then it’s intermission. Everyone stands up. I go and lean against the eastern wall, pondering. I thought I would be missing Andrea Larreta’s dancing tonight. To some extent I do: I’ve always loved the counterbalance her style provides to the lissome Marissa Quimby. But I’m kinda digging Hannah Simmons’s style. I’ve liked Kat Murphy and Shannan Behrens, too. I’ve even liked Mariko Nagashima’s dancing: her earthbound style here gives the pieces she’s in a real anchor so that they don’t disappear into ether. Also–loving the music.
So far, so good. I haven’t even thought about what I’m going to write. If I were a dance connoisseur, I’d probably go on about how the video projection is keystoned, and worry about whether or not the wood on the floor properly reflected the lights, and grouse why the chairs weren’t set up like in a regular theater, and other such intellectual niceties. Fortunately I am not so I could actually enjoy myself in full naïvete by paying attention to the dancers. And enjoy myself I have.
The chairs have all moved. Reoriented–i.e., they are facing the Orient now. I sit down. A trio of ladies in overcoats–or am I imagining Columbo?–file in and stumble upon some gigantic metallic blocks. Space rocks, I suspect. Near them is a rocket. Forth burst two travelers who have boldly gone. I recognize this piece. It’s another iteration of insofaras the landscopic field report. It’s more personal this time. The interactions between Ms. Greenwalt and Ms. Call are clearer but not just physically: they are somehow more emotive than I remember them, suffused with a humor that transforms into real pathos. I love watching these two dance together. Both are balletic, of course, but they are complementary dancers here. Ms. Greenwalt’s movements are sharper, more brittle; Ms. Call’s are curvilinear, more fluid. Together they are wonderful to watch. The piece ends with Ms. Call’s character returning to dust, as it were. A procession of figures in black, clerical garb led by a divinely dressed figure enter in silence.
And then the leader of the procession launches (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) into an unaccompanied rendition of Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro.” Her voice is sumptuous, powerful. I can feel my chest resonate with her song. I think the glass itself may be trembling, worried of being in a 70s Memorex commercial. The voice, the light, the sense of communion–it’s all quite resplendent. The song over, they bear away the body and begin the final piece, Estranged Incandescence: A Funeral. The piece is sober, grave, yet it is, I think, ultimately triumphant in its quiet acceptance. Every journey ends. Even those to outer space. What remains is what is human. Dust. Memory. The future.
The six dances on the program invoke a whole string of tropes from science fiction literature and television, but what interests me most is the quality of ritual in the pieces. There is real devotion in this work, and the alternation between somewhat vernacular pieces with pieces of almost religious gravity strikes me as a truly lovely thing. It’s exceptional work from Coriolis, never too hopeless, never too goofy, always playful, always emotional.
I still have no idea what I’m going to write. I don’t really care. After a show like this, I like to let it wash over me, to live with it, to recall its imagery. It’s why I don’t answer when people ask me what I thought of their show. I only ever have two answers to that question: either I tell the asker that I haven’t the faintest idea what I think yet, or I tell them the costumes were nice. If a show has any probity at all and pretends to make its audience think and feel, why should I have an immediate reaction before I’ve had time to think and feel? I’m not on a deadline anymore. I can afford to take my time. Let some other dance writer pronounce his sentence on the piece. No one cares, anyway. I’m not interested in pronouncing sentences. I am interested in the work.
This one will take me awhile to sort out. That is far from a problem. It is why I go to dances. Something to think about. Something to feel deeply.