The sun may not be out in full force yet, but dance certainly is with two performing-arts festivals underway in Seattle, both starting this past weekend. In south Lake Union the Seattle International Dance Festival, an enterprising venture headed up by choreographer Cyrus Khambatta, is holding forth at Cornish College of the Arts’ Raisbeck Performance Hall for its major performances, along with site-specific events and educational activities in nearby locations.
Over on Queen Anne hill, On The Boards began a two-weekend run of its annual NW New Works Festival. Not all dance, but with music, theater and performance art also on the bills, NWNW has become the region’s best showcase for performing artists to display their newly minted work.
Three pieces stood out for me. Two were at NWNW: a duet created by Allie Hankins and Holcombe Waller’s solo. The third was at the international fest: Mexican choreographer Alejandro Chavez and his company of lively young dancers, Compania Ciudad Interior.
Chavez’s work, "Homoloial," was impressive for its precision and big, juicy movement — always on the edge of, but never quite going over, the precipice into chaos. It was a blending of styles, indicative of Chavez’s background in ballet, and his performance and study with the Martha Graham Dance Company. On a program whose two other works were more restrained, it was a pleasure to see the counterpoint provided by these dynamic dancers moving quickly and expansively around the small Raisbeck stage, never once, as far as I could see, banging in to each other.
The seven dancers, other than Chavez, stressed clarity of movement working together well as an ensemble. The choreographer, a fine dancer, brought unnecessary attention to himself with a rather unflattering costume, and with his more dramatic performance style. The work might have been better served without the distraction of his distinctive presence.
A second dance that also held some interest on this program was “Le Temps l’emportera,” created and performed by Paris-based Lotus Edde-Khouri. She was to be joined for a different work by three other performers who together formed the company Iraqi Bodies, but two had visa difficulties, a disturbing pattern since 9/11 that has faced any number of artists who have been invited to perform in our country.
Edde-Khouri hastily revised a work of her own for inclusion in the festival, intended to be a women’s duet, but performing it herself as a solo. A melancholy and meditative piece filled with falls, rises and turns, and sweeping arms, it is her response to visiting the now unoccupied home of her grandparents in Beirut. It seemed ultimately about loss and memory on a scale larger than family, perhaps the sadness and regret of the travails of the Arab world, Lebanon, and Beirut in particular. However provocative the images, Edde-Khouri’s dancing was too uninflected, rather than with the shaded nuances that would have given deeper resonance to the work.
Khambatta and his colleagues need to proof their written program more carefully, as there were many typos and awkward translations from other languages into English. His festival is a welcome addition to the schedule of dance in our town, and as such he should be careful that it not be seen only as a showcase for his own company and choreography, which appear several times in the course of the festival’s run.
At On the Boards, the first mainstage show (there is also a schedule of performances in their studio theater) of NWNW opened with a wry piece by the Portland singer/composer/performance artist Holcombe Waller. A heady work of high concept, it was a conceit, but a clever and imaginative one whose witty title is far too long for inclusion here. Waller takes on the persona of Tameron Beck, the grandson of Julian Beck (now deceased) and Judith Malina, founders and directors of New York’s famed and politically radical Living Theatre.
Waller's singing of his own composition, "State of Grace," muses upon the nature of love and compassion, the vehicle for their elicitation a letter that the Pope sent to the Jewish Malina asking her to comment upon her friend Dorothy Day, a Catholic social activist who worked among New York City’s poor, and is being considered for sainthood. Malina and Day served 30 days of jail time together in the 1950s for civil disobedience. The Pope wishes to know, among other things, if Malina had ever witnessed a miracle performed by Day, as two of them would be needed for her beatification.
Waller’s thin, reedy voice, amplified to the point of almost sounding auto-tuned and not of his body, was accompanied by fine live music from Steve Kennon and Ben Landsverk, plus a video of the cellist Galen Cohen.
Waller enters the stage dressed as a hiker with large backpack, a stylized tent set up in the space, which also acts at one point as a screen for Cohen’s playing. On the back wall is projected a large mountain, Rainier-like, occasionally lighting up as if erupting, or profiled by lightning strikes. Maybe Waller/Tameron is a pilgrim, a holy traveler seeking the truth in this mountain fastness. All in all a work that grew on me as it progressed, poetic and funny, portraying a longing for earthly harmony.
Allie Hankins’ "Part and Parcel: By Guess and By God" was a duet that began with her and Mary Margaret Moore dancing together almost as one. The dance is meant to express “experiences of loss, nautical expanse, and the disorientation of longing in absentia.” I’m not sure what this meant, but once Moore and Hankin become separated there results a sense of loss in the viewer, and with deft use of lighting, the two seem even more distant on a stage that seemed suddenly to dwarf them.
Hankins does the heavy dancing, as program notes indicate Moore is still recovering from injuries suffered in a motor-scooter accident, resulting in restructuring of the originally intended dance. She is a lovely and intelligent performer, most resonant in quick darting and cutting movement phrases she performs several times once she's alone on stage. Hers is a keen choreographic mind at work, never rushing the movement or the intention of the dance, rather letting its little mysteries unfold in an ineffable and entrancing manner.
If you go: Both festivals offer entirely new programs this weekend (June 17-19). For more information on the Seattle International Dance Festival click here. For Northwest New Works Festival information, click here.