On stages both indoors and outdoors, the Seattle International Dance Festival (SIDF) kicked off over the weekend — and the results were a mix of pleasurable tease and mild frustration.
Friday night saw the opening of the “Inter National Series,” bringing together guests from overseas (Israeli choreographer Idan Cohen and dancer Noa Shiloh) as well as out of state (Tere Mathern Dance collaborating with jazz group Battle Hymns & Gardens, both from Portland).
Cohen’s “Songs of a Wayfarer,” a solo performed by Shiloh to a recording of a Mahler song cycle, was the highlight. Shiloh may have been dancing alone, but she had a quasi-partner in the form of a mysterious bird’s-nestlike prop on the floor that she alternately observed and ignored, moved toward and shunned — until, at last, she picked it up and stuck it on her face.
The mercurial beauty of her movement kept shading into struggle or grotesquerie, with its edgily detailed filigree of collapses and trembles. Once the nest “became” her face, “Wayfarer” became akin to watching a surreal sculpture on the move.
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The frustration was that the piece, just over 15 minutes long, was all we got to see of Cohen’s work. SIDF artistic director Cyrus Khambatta explained that difficult scheduling logistics prevented Cohen and Shiloh from putting more of a program together for the festival.
Mathern’s “Gather: a dance about convergence,” performed to the live sounds of Battle Hymns & Gardens, felt more diffuse by contrast. Five dancers alternated between slow-motion connection with one another and sudden reconfigurations into five-body sculpture shapes, as the band delivered its jazz-improv-goes-bump-in-the-night score.
Anxious contentions for space, as dancers kept trying to displace each other, kept yielding to lovely effects: a rubbery ricochet of movement, triggered with the merest touch, up and down a line of five dancers; a leaning/interlacing duet between Mathern herself and Suzanne Chi.
Still, the high point came when saxophonists Reed Wallsmith and Joe Cunningham left their band pit and started stalking dancers, sending them reeling with punched-out “body blows” of sound. The effect was both comical and electrifying, in a dance that otherwise seemed to involve a lot of process but not much memorable character.
Friday night also included an excerpt from Khambatta Dance Company’s “Truth and Betrayal,” with dancer Meredith Salee making especially pleasurable work of fluid, curling movement within a sharply defined rectangle of light.
SIDF’s “Art on the Fly” lineup of free outdoor entertainment on Saturday centered on two closed-off blocks on Terry Avenue North, between Thomas and Republican streets. The Terry/Thomas hub of activities is more pedestrian-friendly than the intersection of Westlake and Denny Way, where the action has been centered in past years. It hasn’t reached crowd-drawing critical mass yet, but has plenty of potential.
The festival continues with “Spotlight on Seattle” Tuesday-Thursday. Ashani Dances’ “Like Sand Between My Fingers,” on the bill Thursday, is especially worth catching for the high-speed, multifaceted movement-wizardry of Sam Picart, who’s heading off on a scholarship to study with Joffrey Ballet this summer. “The Inter ǀ National Series” resumes Friday through Sunday, with acts from Canada, Oregon and Seattle.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com