Fueled by the results of last November’s elections, Chamber Dance Company presents the works of eight influential female choreographers who used dance to fight against injustice and push the aesthetic envelope.
When you watch Chamber Dance Company’s (CDC) presentation of “The Revolutionary” by choreographer Isadora Duncan (1887-1927), you’re seeing it through the eyes of five generations.
The brief 1922 piece embodies Duncan’s reaction to the bloodiness of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Performed to a tempestuous Scriabin piano prelude, it’s a big, emotive, fist-shaking solo for CDC dancer Alexandra Bradshaw.
But how, almost a century after its debut, do we still know what it should look like?
‘The Body Politic’
Presented by Chamber Dance Company, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12-14, 2 p.m. Oct. 15, pre-show talk 30 minutes before showtime, Meany Theater, University of Washington, Seattle; $10-$22 (206-543-4880 or artsuw.org).
That’s where CDC’s mission of dance-preservation comes in.
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Duncan taught it to one of her six “Isadorables” (dancers whom she trained and later adopted). That Isadorable, in turn, taught it to Gemze de Lappe of American Ballet Theatre and Agnes De Mille Dance Theatre. De Lappe taught it to CDC director Hannah C. Wiley. Wiley taught it to Bradshaw.
“The Revolutionary” is one of eight pieces in CDC’s new show, “The Body Politic,” paying homage to “choreographers who have used dancing bodies to contest social injustice, eradicate gender, economic and racial prejudice, and push the aesthetic envelope,” as Wiley writes in her program notes.
A rehearsal run-through last month promised a varied and vigorous show.
Highlights include “Go Down Moses,” a muscular solo protesting American racial injustice, excerpted from Helen Tamiris’ “Negro Spirituals” (1932) and defiantly performed by the strapping Brandin Steffensen. Eve Gentry’s “Tenant of the Street” (1938) is a dramatic vignette in which a homeless woman (Bradshaw and Barbi Powers will alternate in the role) takes wary, jumpy measure of her surroundings to a score consisting of garbage trucks on their morning trash-collection rounds.
Psychological tensions between the sexes come into play in Kate Weare’s “The Light Has Not the Arms to Carry Us” (2008) and Susan Marshall’s “Arms” (1984). Marshall, whose “Kiss” is a Pacific Northwest Ballet staple, delivers a remarkably nuanced take on the fractious, codependent couple (Steffensen and Lucie Baker) who smother, manipulate and cling to each other. Weare’s piece is an affair of slinky limb-swings and percussive prances in which questions of seduction and connection unravel in ambiguous ways.
Dance innovators Lucinda Childs and Crystal Pite provide the program’s cutting edge. An excerpt from Childs’ “Pastime” (1963) finds Powers soaking luxuriantly in a strangely elastic “bathtub” (a tent-and-body-stocking combo) as she seems to combine existential inquiry with striptease. An excerpt from Pite’s “Dark Matters” (2009) will let CDC dancers revel in Pite’s intricately fluid movement-world.
Wiley is frank about what triggered “The Body Politic.”
“This is a result of the election,” she says. “I just started thinking of women who acted on the status quo and who fought against injustice and pushed the envelope.”
Wiley didn’t set out to do an all-female lineup of choreographers, but that’s what wound up making sense to her.
While Duncan’s and Tamiris’s pieces have an agitprop flavor, Gentry’s “Tenant” and Marshall’s “Arms” have quirkier three-dimensional qualities. Wiley sees “Arms” as a clear companion piece to “Kiss” in its study of troubled coupledom.
“Every dance that she makes looks at the subtleties of relationships and people and abuse within them,” Wiley notes. “It goes two ways, and they’re not going to end it.
One of Wiley’s undergraduate students, on seeing “Arms,” pinpointed what’s thrilling about it.
“I didn’t know dance could say things so explicitly,” he told Wiley. “I’m just out of a relationship like that.”
Wiley concludes: “This isn’t a rep [repertoire] about abstract dance. I think it’s a rep about dance that has clear intention and is meant to reach everybody and touch the common experiences we all have.”