A review of Velocity Dance Center’s 2015 “Strictly Seattle” performances. Highlights included works by Zoe Scofield, Kate Wallich and Pat Graney, and a breakout performance by dancer Jack Russell in Anna Conner’s “Pigeon.”
Velocity Dance Center’s “Strictly Seattle” is a dance laboratory in two distinct senses.
It introduces you to new dancers from all over the country. It also lets you see local choreographers — including Zoe Scofield, Pat Graney and Kate Wallich — try new things, sometimes with big future projects in mind. (Graney’s “A Study for Girl Gods” is her preliminary take on an evening-length work, “Girl Gods,” scheduled to premiere at On the Boards in October.)
The 84 dancers taking part this year fall into professional, intermediate and adult-beginner categories. But those categories don’t determine where the out-of-left-field surprises come from.
Case in point: Anna Conner’s “Pigeon,” a piece for 12 intermediate-track performers that combines vibrant, edgy choreography with a Who-the-Heck-Is-That moment.
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Conner has a knack for using sets and subsets of bodies to create curious carvings and contrasts of space onstage. Her movement encompasses everything from omnidirectional torso ripples to pigeon-like head bobs. Her dancers alternate between headlong, break-out gestures and orderly regimentation.
That what-the-heck moment occurs after 11 of them sit down in a neat diagonal line across the stage. Jack Russell, standing apart from his peers, goes into wild, swiveling, hip-grinding maneuvers so fluid and intoxicating they eventually lure his rigid sitting companions into joining him. This guy should go straight to professional track next time around.
Even Kaitlin McCarthy’s beginner-track “Sleep Slip” had a wily visual theatricality that made light magic from novice capabilities, as her seven dancers employed twirling white umbrellas as masks, as screens for silhouette action and in flirtatious peekaboo games. We’re not talking dance pyrotechnics, but playful imagination taking something simple and giving it just the twist it needs to make it beguiling.
Shannon Stewart’s “Delta” (intermediate track) was all about protean transformation, as 12 dancers became a restless, rolling, rippling heap of bodies shifting from one location onstage to another. The piece’s abrupt end suggested it might be a work in progress, well worth pursuing.
The three professional-track pieces were a study in contrasts. Kate Wallich’s “Choreographic Devices: Exercise for Group 10” mixes every kind of movement: stretches, zany kicks, slippery pratfalls, balletic flourishes and even massage with chatter (“It feels like nothing’s happening”). Wallich seems to be atomizing all the dance gestures in her vocabulary – including pre-rehearsal activities – and letting them float as a sort of droll collage on stage. She may be on her way to something new with these experiments — but it doesn’t feel as if she’s gotten there yet.
Graney, with her “Girl Gods” sketch, summons a dark, jittery, sometimes bitterly sarcastic mood. Her 12 female dancers have a whiplash intensity in their floor-rolls and floor-slaps. It will be curious to see what other moods inform the full-length “Girl Gods.”
The glory of the evening was Scofield’s “AlexAlyssaAshleyCarolynLeviLivLizShane” (named for the dancers taking part in it). Group dynamics and individual voices played off one another with a jagged grace. There was humor, too, in the sheer oddity of some of the movement, whether it was percussive pony prancing en masse or tight-circled arm-flailing that one dancer launched into like some high-speed endurance feat he couldn’t stop doing. This piece seems good to go.
The live dance alternated with 11 brief dance films (the dance-film intensive being led by Seattle choreographer-filmmaker KT Niehoff). These were hit-and-miss, but in the best of them — Yujie Chen’s “Light Years,” Shannon Mockli’s “Fluctuating Frequencies” — the filmmakers showed a keen instinct for fusing editing rhythms and dancers’ movements into a single visual-music flow.