Seattle Dance Project's "Project Four" presents work by Molissa Fenley, Hilde Koch, Heidi Vierthaler and locals Stacy Lowenberg and Ellie Sandstrom at Erickson Theater.
It may have happened entirely by coincidence, but disconnection-within-connection seems to be the recurring theme of “Project Four,” Seattle Dance Project’s strong new lineup of five pieces by female choreographers.
Sometimes it’s a couple who, aiming for contact, slip past each other. At other times, it’s a group of dancers seen in shifting alignments of catch-and-release.
Molissa Fenley’s “Planes in Air” is a light, dreamy piece using large balsa-wood fans to extend the sweep and reach of its two dancers (Betsy Cooper and Oleg Gorboulev, when I saw it). Set to an atmospheric, multitracked cello score by Joan Jeanrenaud (formerly of Kronos Quartet), “Planes” has a ritualistic feel, as the performers sail their way through arcs, spins and rotations, sometimes in unison, more often in counterpoint. Some moments are striking — especially one where Cooper handles both fans while Gorboulev, empty-handed, mirrors her movement just behind her.
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Still, the performance doesn’t look quite as effortless as it should (those fans are heavy!). With firmer command of their props, these dancers could lift its grace into feather-light enchantment.
“Al Poco Tiempo” by Seattle choreographer Ellie Sandstrom is a more agitated affair. Alexandra Dickson and Timothy Lynch are paired in visceral twists, tangles and near embraces, overseen by Julie Tobiason who, with courtly gestures, seems to be the guardian spirit of their volatile affair. Chad Beieler’s score, which threads excerpts from a Mozart piano concerto into an electronic drone and hypnotic percussive tattoo, enhances the action, creating an aural dream (or nightmare) that keeps the lovers restless.
By contrast, “Rodin” by Stacy Lowenberg, another local choreographer (she’s now in her last season with Pacific Northwest Ballet; many of her fellow SDP members are former PNB stars), uses a more direct piece of music, Phillip Glass’ “Metamorphosis,” to spur more direct contact between dancers David Alewine (formerly of Spectrum Dance Theater) and Michele Curtis. Curtis virtually slams into Alewine at times — only to slip partially past him, her leg in knifelike, horizontal extension beyond his or her hand reaching for something that isn’t there.
In another recurring image, Curtis seems to find what she wants when Alewine embraces her from the back and folds his body tenderly down with hers — even if they’re not facing each other. Lowenberg’s sense of the pending separations lurking in connection is sharp.
In the two group pieces, the exchanges between performers are more complex and multidirectional. Hilde Koch’s “Torque” uses the full stage as its eight dancers shift between speedy angularity and slower stately movements. Catch-and-swing (or catch-and-fling) partnerings are set against measured, meditative moves that ground them. Koch’s artist’s statement suggests abstract patterns of movement are what interest her. A more human feeling emerges only in the finale when Alewine and Gorboulev keep trading off an airborne, continually flexing Lara Seefeldt (also formerly of Spectrum — and absent from Seattle dance stages for far too long).
In Heidi Vierthaler’s “Surfacing,” debuted by SDP in 2009, the dance is all psychology and knotted human feeling. Set in a living-roomlike space with a floor lamp in one corner, the piece simultaneously encloses and separates four dancers who can’t quite connect with one another.
It makes perfect sense that SDP should revive “Surfacing,” for it shows them off at their best — especially Gorboulev who, led floatingly into the action by Curtis, mixes vernacular moves (twitches, cranings, double-takes) with masterful dance prowess. The two are joined by Seefeldt and Cooper, in a quartet that devises a whole elastic body language from everyday gestures.
Special praise should go to Peter Bracilano’s lighting which, here and throughout the show, is full of dim, rich and subtly protean touches.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com