Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Being Artful

Ezra Dickinson in downtown Seattle, performing "Mother for you I made this" photo@Tim Summers
Not too long ago, my friend and fellow arts writer Rosie Gaynor invited a group of her colleagues to contribute our favorite dance performances of 2013 for a "yearbook" she's creating.

Choosing favorites was a difficult task for me, partly because I can't remember everything I saw last year. Even if I remember a dance, often I have a hard time placing the date of the performance. Was it 2012? 2013? Could have been five years ago. More than a faulty memory, I tend to be very impulsive when somebody asks me to name my favorite anything. Favorite dance performances? When Rosie asked, three leapt to mind: Ezra Dickinson's poignant "Mother, for you I made this," Andrew Bartee's performance of "L'Effleure," a solo created in 2010 by Anabel Lopez Ochoa and included in Whim W'him's June program, and last, but certainly not least, Crystal Pite's monumental "Emergence," staged in November by Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Ever since I submitted my choices, I've been contemplating not only why I landed on these three dances, but what they have in common. Superficially, that's an easy question to answer. All three were performed by technically excellent dancers who committed themselves fully to the work. Beyond that, though, these dances communicated something, at least to me. None of them is a straight-ahead narrative. But each conveyed emotion and ideas skillfully and artfully.
Ezra Dickinson's "Mother for you I made this", photo @ Nate Watters
If you didn't have the opportunity to see these three performances, let me re-cap briefly. I'll start with the first of the three: Ezra Dickinson's site-specific solo. "Mother for you I made this" was inspired by Dickinson's mentally ill mother. At one time, she was homeless in downtown Seattle, occasionally hanging out near the Greyhound Bus Station. And that's where Dickinson began his performance. A limited audience followed him along the streets, listening to a recorded soundtrack through individual headphone sets and radio receivers.

Ezra Dickinson is one of those dancers you see in different performances around town. Classically trained at Pacific Northwest Ballet, Dickinson has performed with Seattle Dance Project (founded by former PNB dancers). He also has created work for his own group, the Offshore Project. He's an excellent dancer, seemingly able to bend his body like Gumby into any position.

With "Mother...," Dickinson has created a transcendent work. Months later, I still remember vividly both the experience of following him along the streets, and the surge of emotion that overcame me when the dance ended.
Andrew Bartee in "L'Effleure", photo @ Bamberg Fine Art courtesy Whim W'him
Emotion was at the heart of Andrew Bartee's performance of "L'Effleure." I've known Bartee since his days as a PNB Professional Division student. Bartee is very interested in contemporary work, and he's performed with his former colleague Olivier Wevers' company Whim W'him almost since that troupe formed in 2009. This month he teams up with choreographer Kate Wallich at Velocity Dance Center for "Super Eagle."

Bartee is a lanky redhead with extremely long limbs. In "L'Effleure," he performs shirtless with tight black pants, a red rose clenched between his teeth. Anabel Lopez Ochoa created the piece for Rubinald Pronk, who performed it at Jacob's Pillow in 2010. The choreographer reworked it for Bartee, and the young dancer truly possessed this melancholy abstraction. Set to music by Vivaldi, the solo feels like an elegy, demanding muscular precision from its performer, along with the ability to wordlessly convey all the emotions that accompany loss and remembrance. Bartee stunned the Whim W'him audience with his full commitment to the work and with his level of execution. I saw it not long after Ezra Dickinson's solo. Despite the differences in tone and style, they both impressed me greatly.

I've already raved endlessly about Crystal Pite and "Emergence" at PNB last November. All I need to add here is that I've seen four of Pite's dances in Seattle, and I'm invariably impressed by how she successfully weaves together the choreography, music, and visual design with her intellectual curiosity. The final product is far greater than the sum of those components. Pite is interested in the aesthetics of her creation, but she's also exploring ideas; she pushes her audience to think as well as to feel. What could be more artful than that?
Pacfic Northwest Ballet company members in "Emergence" by Crystal Pite. Photo courtesy PNB

I sometimes joke that Crystal Pite may have ruined things for other Seattle-area performers. Her work sets such a high bar, one I now use to measure everything I see. I expect technical competence, at a minimum. But I hope for beauty combined with something more, something that touches my heart and my mind.
Gustave Flaubert wrote in his great novel "Madame Bovary":  "Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars."
It's something I think every artist strives for, but very few achieve. These three 2013 performances, for me, were transcendent. I long for equal pleasures in 2014.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more Marcie, these three are definitely at the top of my own list as well!