Seattle's Chamber Dance Company mixes dance magic with stage illusion in a knockout lineup of works by Oskar Schlemmer, Tandy Beal, Lar Lubovitch, Llory Wilson and Alwin Nikolais.
All kinds of stage-magic and movement-magic are at play in this year’s program by the Chamber Dance Company.
As it does every fall, CDC has delved into the dance archives and painstakingly reconstructed classics in danger of being lost. The troupe takes meticulous care with costumes, lighting and, of course, choreography. The rigor of its art, under the direction of Hannah C. Wiley, translates into pure, buoyant delight for audiences.
This is a show that will enchant kids and adults alike.
Wiley’s focus this time is the influence of German choreographer Oskar Schlemmer (1888-1943) on Americans Tandy Beal, Lar Lubovitch, Llory Wilson and Alwin Nikolais.
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Schlemmer’s “Bauhaus Dances,” dating from 1927-1929, are four brief pieces of exquisite geometric precision, successively creating ever more complex illusions. By the third piece, “Hoop Dance,” Schlemmer is serving up an op-art adventure, as his dancer (Christy McNeil) handles five concentric rings to suggest everything from a peacock fanning its tail to a flamenco dancer snapping a castanet.
“Pole Dance” goes even further, transforming a scarcely visible dancer (General McArthur Hambrick — yes, that’s really his name) into a 10-foot tall stick creature, sliding from one inventive angular pose into another. The percussion accompaniment to the pieces (played by Paul Moore) is as spare as can be, yet the overall effect is richly witty and fantastical.
Beal’s “Heisenberg’s Principle” (1982) offers another kind of fun, as Hambrick “partners” with a slow-moving, high-rising weather balloon. Sometimes he carries it, Atlas-like, on his shoulders; sometimes he lets it alight like some bright, spherical bird on the back of his hand. The unpredictability of the balloon’s “performance” is part of the tease — but Hambrick knows what he’s up to, right down to the gracious curtain-call he takes with his dance partner.
Wilson, formerly of Seattle, plays with a prop of another kind — a couch — in “Davenport Memoirs” (1991). The piece winds up being a total romp.
Two lovers/antagonists (Bliss Kohlmyer and Chengxin Wei on Thursday night) engage in slow-motion leanings, dips and weight-shifts that soon progress to more strenuous perches, catches and vertical lifts. As the music switches from the slow movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” to something friskier by Gottschalk, things get increasingly out of hand. The couch does its part, too, providing a reckless wild-card factor as the dancers rebound from its wobble-inducing cushions.
The highlight of the show, however, is “Pond” by Nikolais (1910-1993). CDC is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Nikolais’ birth with its restaging of this 1982 dance.
A “Nikolais dance” doesn’t just mean Nikolais choreography, but a Nikolais score, costume design and lighting design. The result is close to sorcery, as ten crouched dancers glide in unexpected ways, thanks to some stage props that Nikolais’ lighting disguises. Their limbs extend in sometimes languid, sometimes sharp elegance, creating stage-wide ripples and crests of movement. Nikolais’ parti-colored costumes play off the lights to accent the kaleidoscopic nature of the moves. “Pond” is about pattern — and about dancers as magical morphing sculptures. It was impeccably done.
Lubovitch’s “North Star” was almost as pleasurable. It opened with eight dancers dressed in black, moving as a single, fleet-footed creature. One passage for a quartet of dancers — Alethea Sadie Alexander, Jim Kent, Fausto Rivera and Wei — was a special treat: a nonstop carnival ride of changing symmetries and airy kicks.
If you haven’t discovered CDC, this is a first-rate introduction.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org