Chop Shop: Narrowing the Field

Dancers of The Stone Dance Collective. Photo by Rex Tranter. All rights reserved.
Dancers of The Stone Dance Collective.
Photo by Rex Tranter. All rights reserved.

I haven’t written about dance in awhile. I’ve only been out to a couple dance shows in the past three months, in fact, some of which is down to pure distraction and some because I’ve had no compelling reason to go, no show I hadn’t seen where I felt I should be much if I didn’t attend.

Still, Chop Shop Dance Festival have compiled interesting work for the past nine years, so it wasn’t too much of a gamble to go and enjoy myself.

Of the ten items on the list I didn’t dislike any of them particularly but some show more ambition than others. There is no shortage of excellent dancers in Seattle, and the visiting dancers from Boise, Portland, and Montreal were equally good. The audience were in good hands, or feet if you prefer.

Though I’d seen it before, Michele Miller’s opening piece, What We Have was surprisingly tender to me this time around. Ms. Miller has always had an excellent eye for partnerships and arrangements, and this piece is no exception, but the work of hers I’ve seen over the past four years has favored intense physicality. What We Have is a bit more subtle, emphasizing transfer of force and motion. Ms. Miller’s work always makes me think in terms of my own martial arts training, so I would label this piece more like a Yang style, with each movement folding neatly into the next. Dancers Danica Bito and Jana Kincl have always excelled at this particular approach and they are in fine form here, but Becca Blackwell struck me as particularly inspired this evening, making me think I’ve underrated her in the past. She moves thoughtfully

Liz Houlton’s Close Quarters in a Large World was new to me. I’m still of two minds about it. I found it pretty but glib. Or perhaps I simply expect more out of a piece that uses the Bach Piano Concerto. Above all I expect counterpoint which is not really present in Ms. Houlton’s work. Close Quarters is instead quite linear. It’s not a particularly ambitious piece, but then that isn’t a flaw. There’s a lot to be said for linear simplicity.

Carbon Black and Fiber reminded me of the power of a strong idea. Eva Stone’s piece is dedicated to the vanishing art of the handwritten letter, as the program says, but it neatly unifies its movements and its subject matter. I especially like watching Kelly Hui and Alexandra Kate Spencer. The joy all the dancers show in using their bodies essentially as pencils emanates from their movements. It’s a light piece, full of wit and abandon, and quite pleasant.

I confess I have very little to say about Kyra Jean Green’s solo piece, Eytan. I remember very little of it distinctly, and have only quick impressions of it: languid, yearning moves that seem to be performed with an invisible partner. But it was a little like watching a dance by flashes of lightning for me. It would be fair to say I cannot really be fair to it without another viewing, and I will have to leave it at that.

The Architecture of Being, by comparison, is a stark piece about individual vs collective dynamics that impressed me greatly with its power. Coleman Pester’s solo dance enters the mass then recedes from it, then circumscribes it, then recedes again, then approaches. The entire piece is filled with hesitation. Images of repulsion follow images of acceptance and images that are much more ambiguous, building an intelligent argument about the price of belonging.

Tectonic Marrow Society dancer Patrick Kilbane.Photo by Joseph Lambert/Jazzy Photo.
Tectonic Marrow Society dancer Patrick Kilbane.
Photo by Joseph Lambert/Jazzy Photo.

After intermission, the tone of the works remained the same but the works became more complex. SubRosa Dance Collective brought their Foibles piece north for the audience and engaged the audience with a lighter-than-air rococo dance set to the music of Vivaldi. The excerpt they chose this time from the larger work is a piece that values fun over a lasting effect. The movements are balletic with a kind of post-modern irony added to them and offers the most facile look at its subject matter. Still it’s nice to see Lena Traenkenschuh again, whose work I first saw at Western almost a decade ago. Carlyn Hudson, whom I’ve seen many times on my trips to Portland, continues to create work that reminds me of Seattle’s Coriolis and she understands her ensemble’s strengths, from her own dedication to the formality of balletic language to the more eurythmic inspiration of Kailee McMurran and the sprightly grace of Jess Evans.

I’m a bit confused by Anna Conner + CO’s piece, The Machine, not by the work so much as its transformation. I saw it in Portland as a solo danced by Katie Wyeth. Here Ms Wyeth is joined by Jenna Eady and Marlys Yvonne, but I’m not sure the piece has yet found its proper form. Comparing the two versions is probably unfair and largely irrelevant so I won’t. Instead I will simply say that I hope Ms. Conner and her company re-visit this work again and search for its ultimate structure. For a piece that is essentially about energy, it is far less energetic than it could be as a trio, but I understand that Ms. Conner treats the piece as research, and I’d like it to be a bit more decisive because I think it holds great promise.

In comparison with Kyra Jean Green’s solo in the first half, Alexander Pham’s work Re:Repetition is more elaborate and yet somehow more straightforward. Beginning in silence, the dance is a study in learning how to speak, not only on the level of speech but also with the language of the body. Phil Kaye’s accompanying text offers Mr. Pham an excellent latitude to respond to the text directly or obliquely.

The closer from Spectrum Dance Theater was an excerpt from The Octoroon Ball. I often struggle with Donald Byrd’s work for various reasons, and while I’m not entirely fond of this piece either, it’s a step in the right direction. Often there’s a tone in Mr. Byrd’s work that strikes me as beyond dry into the realm of the downright bitter and nasty. The Octoroon Ball has a hint of that but it differs from much of his work by actually attempting, at least at moments, to be tender, free of his usual cynicism. The dancing is, of course, excellent. Spectrum’s work always has been. Yet here the technical precision has a kind of heart to it. Perhaps it’s because Mr. Byrd doesn’t feel that he doesn’t have to make a grandiose statement about race but instead has chosen to dramatize his subject and let the viewer sort it out for herself. I find that much more respectful. The rest of the work that isn’t onstage may very well contain all those things in Mr. Byrd’s work that I dislike, but here for the most part he elides them nicely.

As a showcase, Chop Shop has delivered a mix of styles and material. Having been out of the loop of the dance scene in town, I came to it with minimal expectations, simply wanting to see what people find worthy of showcasing. Most of these pieces are spartan, with few props, a notable absence of video projection, and other than Mr Pham’s piece not much emphasis on text or any extension of dance into a non-moving space. Tactically it makes sense–there is a lot of work on the stage and multiple setups simply slow down the show. My experience of the dance world, limited as it is, has led me to conclude this showcase isn’t an attempt to satisfy all audiences or even to be truly eclectic. Its focus is quite different. Chop Shop emphasizes pure movement and makes no attempt to be anything other than what it is. Which, I think, is probably a good thing.

Categories Dance

Omar Willey was born at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Seattle and grew up near Lucky Market on Beacon Avenue. He believes Seattle is the greatest city on Earth and came to this conclusion by travelling much of the Earth. He is a junior member of Lesser Seattle and, as an oboist, does not blow his own trumpet. Contact him at omar [at] seattlestar [dot] net

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