Review: Opening night of the Chamber Dance Company's "Shape of Dissent."
“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution.” Activist Emma Goldman’s famous proclamation conjures wild, even purposefully un-pretty dancing, no?
Yet it is movement of extraordinary precision — both in form and texture — that lingers after the Chamber Dance Company’s “Shape of Dissent” concert, a timeline of modern-dance choreographers who incorporated social protest into their pieces.
Barring two warmer works that appear near the concert’s end, this program of highly polished reconstructions features human figures tragically altered by violence and struggle. In Charles Weidman’s “Lynchtown” (1936), the mob’s accentuated gestures are nearly cartoonlike, with bodies hanging in contorted midair poses — none more malevolent than the inciter’s coiled leaps (Elizabeth Lentz). Yet there’s subtlety too, as in the straight-legged, straight-armed processional that precedes the corrosive events.
Additional fascinating perambulations appear in both Jane Gentry’s “Harmonica Breakdown” (1938), where the shuddering foot of a half-broken woman (Bliss Kohlmyer) catapults her into flight, and Eve Gentry’s “Tenant of the Street” (1938), a portrait of the glancing freedom still available to a hard, homeless woman (Tonya Lockyer). In Daniel Nagrin’s “Strange Hero” (1948), guest dancer Jürg Koch deftly explores the hollow elegance of a stylized ’40s-era gangster (with Paul Moore stoking the hot Stan Kenton piano score). Though admirably performed by Catherine Cabeen and Matthew Henley,
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Josepth Gifford’s “The Pursued” (1947) is ultimately off-kilter, with not enough nuanced characterization to balance the couple’s repeated gestures of anguished fear.
Against these torqued bodies, the characters that still have a wide range of physical expression shine like floodlights. In Donald McKayle’s “Dink’s Blues” (1959), a tender dream-woman (Brenna Monroe-Cook) is conjured by men on a chain gang, with movements that ripple, flutter and catch on themselves. In the rip-roaring finale of Bill T. Jones’ “D-Man in the Waters” (1989), the jubilant group moves like swimmers (stroking, diving, splashing) and water itself (rising, pooling and dispersing).
It’s risky work to display some of the smaller, more obscure dance relics under the dazzling expanse of the Meany Stage. Yet somehow, this small Seattle dance company — with a constantly rotating cast of student dancers — always performs with a comprehension and commitment that overpowers almost every mothball.