A review of dance company Ate9, which performed at Velocity on Capitol Hill June 19-21, 2015.
The past weekend’s performances by Danielle Agami’s Ate9 company at Velocity was a homecoming of sorts. Agami founded her troupe in Seattle in 2012, before moving it to LA a year later, but while she was here she brought her distinctive movement style and aesthetic to a cadre of local dancers.
One of them was Matt Drews, and Drews’ evocative solo, which opened the program, clearly reflects Agami’s influence. On a stage that’s bare except for a small black and white hanging textile, Drews turns and twists his sinewy body through a series of exquisite shapes. There’s an exaggerated slowness to his movement that makes it a kind of meditation both for him and for the audience.
At times, Drews moves like a marionette as an arm stretches in one direction while a leg extends in another; at other times he slowly drops to the floor with legs bent inward. Although Drews move continuously throughout the 10-minute solo, the overall impression is of stillness.
Drews’ choreography is deeply rooted in the Gaga style, which Agami introduced to Seattle when she moved here after leaving Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company. Gaga was invented by Batsheva’s Ohad Naharin and Agami is one of its greatest ambassadors. Gaga focuses on inner-directed movement and in a Gaga class, mirrors are forbidden; the goal is for dancers to explore their own bodies and the space around them rather than use the common vocabulary of ballet or contemporary dance.
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In Agami’s creations, individual dancers often seem to be doing their own thing. A 50-minute work, “mouth to mouth,” contains an abundance of riveting solos, duets and trios for Ate9’s powerful dancers, each with his or her own special talents. Some are tall and lanky with extensions that reach to the sky while others are compact bundles of energy that seem to explode out into the universe.
Throughout, “mouth to mouth” is full of Gaga’s signature bold, quirky gestures; there are rolls on the floor, vertical bounces, buoyant split-leg leaps, jumps that seem to stop in mid-air, an almost superhuman athleticism. But it’s in the ensemble sections that Agami really shines. Like her mentor Naharin, she knows how to create an intensely emotional experience from a group of dancers performing the same steps over and over.
Despite its inventiveness and sophisticated score — a collage of original music by Jodie Landau, and songs by Radiohead, Nina Simone and others — “mouth to mouth” lacks the cohesiveness of Naharin’s abstract works and winds up feeling somewhat fractured and random.
There are also some confusing sections. At one point, the dancers put on masks (the Pink Panther, a panda head, a gas mask), then take turns staring indifferently at the audience. In the final action, a dancer rips open a bag of potatoes, which spill onto the stage. These gimmicky moments seem meant to shock and are unnecessary in such an original and fascinating work.