This piece is one in a series of critical, contextual essays by Christin Call in response to Seattle performances. Here she responds to Next Dance Cinema 2013 and Next Fest NW 2013 at Velocity in December 2013.
Because festivals are like snippets of thoughts, mosaics differentiated by random differences and devoid of context, I offer this small collection of thoughts and impressions in snippet-form. Mostly I found Velocity Dance Center’s program induced questions about dance and filmmaking and about individual artistic intention and choices, which, in the festival context, can rarely be answered. Some of these pieces, I hope, will be more fully developed in the future, which would alleviate or maybe even cancel out some of my questions.
Next Dance Cinema, Tuesday, December 10, 2013 at Northwest Film Forum
The Time it Takes
The lure of British pastoral countryside captured with sensitivity and populated with dancers of equal sensitivity to interpret wind textures, sun-weathered wood posts, drips of pondwater. The use of repetition and quick cutaways to re-witness intimate moments between dancers and their landscapes.
Platform combat boots and jet black hair. Two goth women in a satisfyingly rhythmic floor-based work. Why are they on a football field? Unpleasant high school stereotypes frothing up in the throat. An otherwise decently executed piece of choreography. Is it about something?
She’s desperate for the job. She’ll do anything—cut her hair, tear off her clothes, perform ridiculous dog tricks. Intended as comedic, instead I felt worn down and incredibly saddened by this bit. Being an artist who follows her own vision is hard enough without trying to be someone else’s vision.
Denmark does a Euro-steampunk version of the Roswell landing with fully vintaged film look, and its celestial/extraterrestrial creature is a doll-like girl with leathery skin, milked-out eyes and silver tresses. The terrain is harsh—could be snowing or it’s just the bales of wind continuously picking up the long-laid snow and hurling the flakes like stingrays. This Roswellian doll opens up the front of her body like a hinge, a cavity for receiving these winds or for routing them over her form.
Interpretive Site: Uranium City
Adam Sekuler and Mary Margaret Moore
Cleverly built on a single, long shot. Careful tromping through the forest, weaving between the trees then out of shot. Pause. Woman re-enters, and we discover the trompe l’oeil effect of strategically placed twigs as she picks them up out of the ground and flings them around quite angrily. Background story gleaned from the artist talk: they were filming on top of a dumping site of a uranium plant. Could this activist strand have been more pronounced in the film itself?
Native American dance in front of a mural and in a nebulous black space. Details observed. Costume beads and fringe, the mallet hitting the drum, the earnest dancers’ faces—a documenting of the “what” of the event. But why is the dance important? What does it mean culturally and to these particular individuals? Artist talk reveals this dance had been guarded from being recorded, and the dance was performed in honor of the mural, which was set to be demolished. Does this film need to educate its audience? Is this subject matter automatically forced into documentary mode? What other processes could elucidate this cultural event as an artistic event?
Jacob Rosen and Kate Wallich
The only film of the evening with a narrative sensibility. Exists in a muted concrete-colored palette of a universe and follows an adorable, skateboarding young woman and a dashingly inquisitive young man from first eye bats to a massively tension-filled moment of fingers touching. Poignant in its own naïve way. Human touch is powerful. And even really cute boys and girls are transported by it. It’s hard not to be incredibly jealous of the soaring, mythical cuteness of this story.
Beneath Our Own Immensity—The Film
Alia Swersky and Sebastien Scandiuzzi
Made from a live site-specific dance performance underneath the freeway. Scrambles the timeline to invent its own logic. In doing so captures the immersively sensitive and rigorous performances of then-Cornish dancers Matt Drews, Ariana Bird, Colleen McNeary, Whitney Ford, Sarah Butler and others. Bird’s tactile exploration of a sand-pit. Body and sand detritus to be flung and tossed to dispersion. Drews and Ford hanging from the lip of a concrete canyon. An instinctive, self-preserving scrimmage and dangle. There are also raised, wood-plank paths, a gravelly side road, the ever-present growl of the highway overhead. Butler an ethereal goddess in a green gown, calling to and running from the dancers inhabiting and navigating their own spaces.
Babette Pendleton McGeady and Tyler Coray
Gold-painted bodies strung together in a warehouse saturated in reds and purples. Also an adaptation of a performance. The piece’s content of string theory, weaving, linear vibration, tethering, collectivity, groupthink, worship and ritual feels cut-and-pasted together here. How could a film version keep that cogent presence? Could the film version feel more disruptive and disturbing? Could the gorgeous dancers be placed in a setting more dehumanizing and corrupted or more groundedly human and natural?
The apologetically-manic Cherdonna Shinatra doing her awesome thing in front of double French doors. This is a kitchen? Is there a stove? A fridge? A hot plate at the least? What kind of dinner does Cherdonna make herself? Vodka-infused cherry pie? Steak and potatoes with a side of steak potatoes? We will never know, and this is a sadness.
BodyCartography with Steve Paxton
A legend. Standing in front of a house with a patch of tallgrass. Swaying imperceptibly.
Next Fest NW, December 13-15, 2013
This piece understands it’s a pretentious prick, right? Lots of strutting and preening. The magically funkalicious Devin McDermott is severely under-utilized. Submersing one’s head in ice water is a familiar cinematic trope. Holds an intrinsic tension. How long can he hold his breath? Will he be ok? I keep wondering, what if this piece was just that moment repeated over and over? Would it get harder for Blackwell to hold his breath with each repetition? Would it have the same effect of shaking up his and our senses?
Gender Tender (Syniva Whitney with Will Courtney)
A more formal iteration of what I saw at Vermillion during Gay Pride Week. Proof of the resilience of jock strap elasticity, how letter jackets and basketball hoops as garments bring communities together, and that malformed “rubbers”/footballs should be kept in several specific places on the body like spies have their knives. Whitney calls on the heroic tropes of high school sports to localize her viewpoint of alienation. As she and partner Will Courtney perform drills interspersed with lip-synced lounge singing, a radical alternate reality is created in which appropriation of words and pretending to speak them is a way of voicing dissent and difference; overstating gender is a way of calling out understated and ingrained views of what constitutes normalcy.
Proudly gushing forth a pandemonium of kinetic games that take their point from a news story about the morality of touch. Playful in construct and execution. Laughed aloud. Sang aloud. But where was the crafting process? Jan Trumbauer, natural leader among dancer groups, portrayed as having a tyrannically explosive response to dancers doing “wrong” things on stage like eating snacks or having the wrong foot in front. Juicy territory—how could this correspond to the ways we construct systems of right and wrong? Is our moral sensibility based on the arbitrary? Are some moral “feelings” innate? Ward can look to other artists already making work in this manner—like local dancemaker/performer Vanessa DeWolf—for methods of crafting chaos.
Matt Drews and Coulliette
A move to the smaller studio for this installation. Mirrors exposed, a columnar screen with video of Drews “in-the-wild.” Inside the screen, Drews a ghostly double-image in confinement and hermitage. Excruciatingly slow modulations of the torso. An exquisite physique. If the best view of this specifically-constructed environs is through the mirror, where the superimposition could be seen more clearly and vividly, how can the audience be directed and guided into this viewing? Drews (and other Pendleton artists) need to facilitate the best viewing of their work.
Drews ended his performance by coming to the outside of the screen, walking the perimeter, and melting to the ground. Its poignancy prompted unsolicited gestures from audience members. As they filed out past him, several leaned down and kissed him on the cheek or touched his crumpled hand as they left. The truest embodiment of the evening’s theme of “Touch.”
Curiosity and skepticism. Reads as an ode to dancers. They seem ultra-human—able to overly indulge in the sensation of touch in any given moment. They seem inhuman—moving the body in foreign, unimaginable ways, able to analyze and dissect the components that will make the most “correct” kind of touch. How can the visual elements of blindfolds and skin pigmentation that are instinctively important to the artist be as imperative to the expression of this work?
30 unsure steps to my seat
Coleman Pester and dancers
Well-crafted and satisfying experience. Puts viewer in Plato’s cave. In the pre-show audience members could go up on the floor and pair with a dancer for a one-on-one. I was asked to close my eyes and then gently led by the hand through a few traveling steps and exploratory weight-sharing. A preparation for later, a sensitization for the piece later when was asked to wear blindfolds. Perception and perceptivity. Sound of breath, gasps, kinetic effort, skin skidding and squeaking on the floor, feet pattering or pounding based on speed—all magnified. Imagination fills in any blanks. Then a second repetition without the blindfold. The contrast of what I thought I experienced and what actually happened. Felt tuned in to the dancers proprioception and my own inner landscape simultaneously.
In general the dance festival format can be quite limiting for the artists, but very invigorating for audiences as a way to survey the ongoing creative endeavors of the dance community. As a rule they can never be comprehensive, but what they can do is help us to shape a dialogue about art. It’s very exciting to see Velocity’s Executive Director Tonya Lockyer take on the role of curator to produce thematic programs, understanding it as a means to develop this dialogue into something that can be articulated, discussed and carried forward.
I personally feel that Seattle has too many dance festivals and not enough opportunities to be supported in fully produced, locally-made evening-length works. But Velocity is really doing the festival circuit a credit by finding a way to engage artists under a commonality and then providing multiple modes, with artist talks, workshops, and Speakeasy discussions, to understand that commonality.
Nobody knows Christin Call the dancer/choreographer/poet/artist, explainable by part-existential, part-marketing reasons. As a fair weather critic she has written articles for F5, Kansas City Review, The Ulrich Museum, SeattleDances, and now, happily, STANCE. Her poems have appeared in the lively journals Boston Review, Eastwesterly Review, KNOCK, and Anemone Sidecar. The Mountain? The Mountain., her self-published book of poems, is available through Lulupress.com.
Photo: Tim Summers