Seattle Dance Project’s “Project 6,” an evening showcasing the considerable talents of Seattle choreographer Jason Ohlberg, was intended to have three items on its program.
One of them, however, had to be canceled due to a dancer injury.
Not at all — at least, not from an audience’s point of view. Because the two remaining pieces, “Departure from 5th” and “Gloria,” form a perfect pairing.
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The first gives you behind-the-scenes glimpses of what goes on in dancers’ minds in a career where a narcissistic fixation on body image is practically a requirement of the job.
The second is a sublime translation into movement of excerpts from Vivaldi. “Gloria” makes it clear what all the self-doubt, body-obsession and rigorous training are in aid of: the creation of a transcendent stage experience built on expressive movement skills that very few people can master.
SDP debuted a shorter version of “Departure” last year. But Ohlberg has reworked and expanded it, to more varied and potent effect.
It opens with three elegant Fates (Irene E. Beausoleil, Narissa Herndon and Micaela Taylor, fantastically costumed by Carol Franklin) taking possession of the stage in a grand, stylized manner. The shock comes when they withdraw, leaving dancer Betsy Cooper in their wake, having apparently smuggled her onstage under their long-trained skirts.
Cooper, curled up on the floor and clad in a dancer’s typically informal rehearsal wear, gradually comes to life in a solo that sets the pattern for the whole piece. While a taped interview with her plays, disclosing her rawest thoughts about herself and her vocation (“I don’t think any ballet dancer loves any part of their body — ever”), Cooper in the flesh becomes a sheer joy to watch.
She may be aware of imperfections galore. But the average lover of dance can only take pleasure in the serpentine shapes and thoughts her body seems able to trace on the air.
The dancers who follow — Alexandra Dickson, Michele Curtis, Iyun Harrison, Chris Montoya and SDP director Tim Lynch — create the same tension between their tape-recorded doubts and their actual ability to say something with their bodies.
Sometimes the tension breaks into humor. At other times it shades into something darker. Ohlberg is well aware of age’s toll on the body and the limited time in their profession all dancers have — points he hits home in the piece’s closing image, spookily lit by Peter Bracilano.
By contrast “Gloria,” for six dancers, ascends into the light, leaving doubt and darkness far behind. It’s an ever-changing whirligig of gender-blind dancer configurations.
Each passage is precisely, symmetrically shaped. The tag-team momentum of the piece is what makes it work so well. But individual dancers do stand out.
A trickster-like Lynch, after springing mischief on his fellow dancers, repeatedly raises his forefinger in a cheekily sermonizing pose, as if he’s just accomplished some holy act. Ohlberg himself shines in a solo where his body, trapped in a circle of light, moves like a beautifully pliable gyroscope as he explores that circle’s limits.
SDP and Ohlberg are clearly a good match. Let’s hope their collaboration continues.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org