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Out-of-towners out-step locals at Bellevue dance fest

BodyVox in "Advance." Credit: Mitchell Rose

There are advantages and disadvantages to Chop Shop, the dance showcase presented by local choreographer Eva Stone every winter at Bellevue’s Meydenbauer Center.

The main advantage is that, with as many as 12 works of varying quality on the program, the qualities of an effective dancework quickly become clear. There is also an opportunity to see the direction that modern dance is taking, at least as expressed by the choreographers Stone selects for the festival. The disadvantages include too many similarities in steps and mood, and an overload of dance snippets rather than fully-fleshed out works.

Stone is Artistic Director of the Kirkland-based Stone Dance Collective, which performs around the region. Five years ago she came up with the idea to showcase some of whom she considers the best local dance makers at an annual festival on the Eastside. Each year the lineup is different, although it always includes a a few companies — Stone’s among them — that are regular fixtures on the local dance scene. 

This year, Stone took a slightly different approach to the festival, including more artists and companies from outside the Puget Sound area. Among them were Adam Barruch Dance from Brooklyn, MOVE from Vancouver, Bellingham Repertory Dance, and Portland’s BodyVox and Northwest Dance Project.

This was an astute decision on Stone’s part; the works by these five were show highlights. All five troupes shared a deep understanding of music, inventive movement, a dramatic arc and an ability to evoke an emotional reaction in the audience.

The program opened with BodyVox’s “Advance,” a captivating video created and performed by Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland in collaboration with video artist Mitchell Rose. Hampton and Roland romped in unison through a series of natural environments to the pulsating, upbeat score by William Goodrum.

Rose shot the dancers entirely from the back, a surprising and engaging way to show them skipping and hopping across desert, snow-covered field, beach, and forest. Sometimes Hampton and Roland held hands, sometimes they moved on parallel planes but they always conveyed the joy of moving through spectacular beautiful settings in this short (5 minutes), punchy work.

The troupe’s other video, “Deere John,” was a wacky pas de deux for Hampton and a John Deere backhoe. Hampton moved toward the back hoe and the back hoe, in turn, inched toward him; for the next several minutes they moved around each other as Hampton seduced the back hoe in a love duet that ended with Hampton gently caressing the back hoe’s digging bucket.

Bellingham Repertory Dance provided the other light moment in a program heavy on the dark and serious. “Politics” is an urban hoedown, choreographed by the internationally known choreographer Daniel Stark and set to hootenanny music, and featuring eight dancers in a parody of political goings on. Dressed in black suits and ties, with split-second timing the performers smacked each other on the back, gossiped, shook hands over deals, and generally slapped each other around. 

“Politics” is the first movement of a longer piece by Stark, and — based on both the technical skill of the Bellingham dancers and their sophisticated taste in choregraphers — Bellingham Repertory Dance is a company worth seeing more of. 

Despite its title, Northwest Dance Project’s “A Short History of Walking,” did not include any walking. It did however showcase dazzling, martial arts-inflected moves. Choreographer André Mesquita took kicking, twisting, and punching to a new level of beauty and the bare-chested Patrick Kilbane and Elijah Labay were riveting in their flowing black pants.

MOVE’s “Allemande,” on the other hand, didn’t have so much inventive new movement — like many of the other dances there was a lot of swooping and turning — but choreographer Joshua Beamish has a real feeling for music. He brought a strong visual component to the J.S. Bach score, mirroring the melodic quality, forward thrust, and symmetry of the Bach selections he used. “Allemande” was excerpted from a longer work for six dancers and the three who performed here — Beamish, Heather Dotto, and Cai Glover — have a technical polish and stage presence worthy of a Brooklyn-based company.

“Allemande” was followed by a hard-edged love duet — Adam Barruch’s “Folie a deux” (French for “a madness shared by two”). Barruch and Chelsea Bonosky played lovers locked in an on-again, off-again relationship. Barruch was especially adept at filling the Meydenbauer’s stage with just two performers, as they twisted and turned each other.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with small modern dance companies, Barruch didn’t seem to put much thought into the costumes. He and Bonosky looked like they had simply worn whatever t-shirts and pants were handy. With more vibrant and dramatic costumes, “Folie a deux” would have significantly more power.

Spectrum’s Donald Byrd performed a solo based on his recent residency in Jerusalem. “The ‘little’ JERUSALEM DANCE” was really a verbal recitation of Byrd’s experience in that extraordinary city, rather than a dance. As gifted a writer as he is a choreographer, Byrd’s observations about Jerusalem — which he called a city of narratives — were moving and insightful. Given his recent forays into politics, it will be fascinating to see what other creations come out of his time in Jerusalem. 

Rounding out the program were works by Cyrus Khambatta, Penny Hutchinson, Ellie Sandstrom, Jason Ohlberg, and Stone herself. All are among Seattle’s best-known choreographers. Sadly, none broke new choreographic ground. In fact, the dances they presented bore striking resemblances to the movement language they usually use — particularly disappointing since all five have, on occasion, been known to produce truly stirring work. 

This year’s festival was not Stone’s strongest “Chop Shop,” but — as it does every year — the festival did highlight a number of dance gems, introducing unfamiliar dancers and choreographers to area audiences. They are now, justifiably, on our radar. 

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