Seattle Has Still Got It

Over the weekend, Velocity Dance Center presented its annual Strictly Seattle showcase featuring work from six big-name Seattle dance artists—each of whom brought varied and inventive pieces to the stage and proving that Seattle is still a major hotbed of innovative choreography. Strictly Seattle is a three-week intensive that attracts dancers of all levels from across the country who take classes and workshops from Seattle choreographers and teachers, then perform new work at the end of the program. Some pieces were fun and lighthearted, others were dark and emotional; choreography from Marlo Martin, KT Niehoff and Zoe Scofield stole the show.

The beginner track opened with There is no “I” in Bride, choreographed by Ricki Mason. Dressed in all white with bridal veils, the dancers pranced around the stage with white flowers, breaking into groups and pairs, dragging each other dramatically across the stage, coming together for group choreography with sautés, hip rolls and lots of enthusiasm.

Two very different pieces came from the intermediate track, one by Mark Haim and one by Ellie Sandstrom. Haim’s …In Pieces was dark and tempestuous, using violent sound clips from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (glasses breaking, people yelling) to set the mood. The dancing started on one side of the stage under bright lights, the other side blacked out. Two women and one man dressed in 1950s inspired clothes slowly moved as the clips played, their arms and legs stretching and bending, and eventually they worked their way down towards the floor. When the light went out on that side and one came on on the right, it revealed three more dancers who moved faster: swirling, spinning, throwing their arms up in a whirling juxtaposition to the first group. Eventually the dancers integrated, moving freely around the stage, confronting each other, pairing up, stomping, pantomiming drinking. The acceleration and frantic movement that unfolded was a slice of the terror and chaos that unfolds in the characters of George and Martha in Albee’s play (click here for reference)—the horror of living a life without the protective lies we tell ourselves to stay sane.

Isolated Fields opened with Ellie Sandstrom’s dancers lying on the floor. Two women in black jumpsuits came out from stage right, wandering unhurriedly through the horizontal mass until the group on the floor started to work their way up, roll on the ground, come to their knees. One dancer rolled up onto all fours, contorting her body, a sinister look on her face. She shook her head and stretched her limbs in a way that looked Butoh-inspired. When all the dancers were up on their feet they wove around each other, appearing like mechanisms in a larger machine, at times a dancer or two broke away from the group in a wonderful suggestion of freedom.

The three heavy hitters worked with different sets of advanced students, and the skill and technique were evident.

KT Niehoff remounted a 2007 work, Tipping Point, increasing the number of dancers from five to 14. They started out sitting on the floor with thier legs open, an eerie soundtrack playing with strange deep tones and breathing noises. Very slowly the dancers rotated their torsos, used their hands to bounce up and down or rock back and forth, moving on different beats of the music until they all synchronized their movements, bending forward slowly, reaching arms above their heads, and eventually working their way up to standing—some body rolling up, some jumping. The movement in this piece was a mix of balletic, organic and mechanized. It created the visual appeal of ongoing motion—always something new and exciting to watch. Even as the lights went down at the end and the soundtrack slowed to the rhythm of a beating heart the dancers still moved their heads until the curtain drew.

Marlo Martin’s Missing Pieces was a refreshing and hypnotic work that made use of a large white rectangular background against the black wall of the back of the stage. Dancers dressed in black and white stood together in a group slightly off center stage. To their right a girl against the wall began to shift her weight slowly back and forth until the others begin to move in opposition, eventually reaching thier hands out to her. She moved faster and more frantically, seeming trapped within the lines of the white background. A mix of ballet, modern dance and a little country step, the group (and choreography) proved versatile yet whole, and one duet between two dancers was sensual—full of lifts, stunning arabesques and a strong emotional connection. Throughout the piece dancers used the wall for various positions and phrases; it a symbol of conflict—a supportive feature, but as shown at the beginning, it is also a cage that traps.

Closing out the show was Zoe Scofield + Juniper Shuey’s eight, performed in brightly colored underwear and tank tops—a piece full of unmistakable Scofield-choreographed phrases and movements such as military-precision arms, the slight bouncing back and forth and shifting of weight from foot to foot, a certain tilting of the head. A mix of large and small movement (arms, legs, jumps, torsos, heads), eight was an athletic exploration of the body, stage and light—a big and colorful work full of beauty, strength and open movement—the perfect cap for an afternoon of Seattle dance.

Above: Zoe Scofield’s eight. Photo by Tim Summers