Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ten Tiny Dances

Sara Jinks in Pat Graney's "Cowgirls"
photo by Teri Pieper
When you think about a dance performance, you may envision something grand and expansive, like “Nutcracker.” Or maybe a sparkly ballroom competition comes to mind, something akin to “Dancing With the Stars.” No matter the dance style, these performances are about bodies moving in space. In this case, people moving across large stages or big dance floors.

But what happens when a performance space is tightly circumscribed?

This weekend ten Seattle-area choreographers explore that question in a performance called “Ten Tiny Dances,” onstage at Velocity Dance Center on Capitol Hill.

I've never attended one of these productions, and was curious what makes something a "tiny dance."

“There are a lot of things that are tiny about this show,” producer Sara Jinks told me. “The number one most notable thing is the stage itself.”
it really IS a tiny stage
photo by Kenneth Aaron

The ten dances are performed on a four foot by four foot, 18-inch high platform. Apparently, the audience sits very close to this tiny stage; they're so close, Jinks explains, that it can be unnerving for the dancers.

More than that, “the whole thing feels like the edge.” Jinks says anyone who’s performed onstage understand the sensation you get when you're within two feet from the edge. It’s a sense of unease, of being a just a little off-kilter. In a tiny dance, Jinks says you're always within two feet of the edge of the stage, always right next to the audience. “It’s a vulnerable performance.”

“Ten Tiny Dances” was first conceived in Portland by a dancer named Mike Barber. Seattle-based choreographer Crispin Spaeth collaborated with Barber on some bi-city productions, and eventually started a local 'franchise.'
Dayna Hanson in a Tiny Dance
photo courtesy Dayna Hanson

This year Sara Jinks takes on the producer mantle. She’s invited an array of choreographers to participate, including Spaeth, as well as other established local dancemakers,like Wade Madsen, Mark Haim and Diana Cardiff.

But Jinks wanted to expand the reach of the performance beyond the city’s contemporary dance community. This year’s program includes both Indian and African dances.

Most of all, Jinks wants to encourage people who are new to dance of any kind to attend Ten Tiny Dances, and to come with an open mind.

“I think people beat themselves up a bit when they’re watching contemporary dance,” she explains. “But I think some of those same people would go into Seattle Art Museum and they’d look at a piece of art on the wall, and they’d like it or not like it, and they don’t feel frustrated by that.”

But when live humans are moving, on a tiny platform or a huge stage, right in front of us, Jinks admits it can challenge the audience.

None of these dances lasts longer than eight minutes. In that sense, it’s the Whitman's Sampler of dance. And that makes it the perfect entry point for people who don’t know much about contemporary dance. “If you don’t like what you see, something different will come along very soon.”
wow, you can fit a lot of performers on the stage for one Tiny Dance!
photo by Kenneth Aaron

You can check out the 2015 edition of "Ten Tiny Dances" February 6-8 at Velocity Dance Center on Capitol Hill. Ten Tiny Dances

Monday, January 26, 2015

Karel Cruz, Seattle's Cuban Heartthrob

Pacific Northwest Ballet Principal Dancer Karel Cruz in "Don Quixote", by Alexei Ratmansky
photo @ Angela Sterling
Okay, maybe Karel Cruz isn't everybody's heart throb. But dang, when you're sitting across from him asking about his childhood in Cuba, and he flashes that impossibly white smile at you, well, you are hooked.

Plus, he's a genuinely nice guy!

So, I was delighted to hear that he'll be dancing with his wife, the equally heart throbby Lindsi Dec, in the Saturday January 31st evening performance of Alexei Ratmansky's "Don Quixote" at Pacific Northwest Ballet.

If you've never seen him, Cruz is TALL: six feet, four inches, to be exact. And actually, that height is what landed him in the United States. He was fired from a job in the corps at Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Cruz told me he just didn't blend in with the other corps members. It's kind of hard to blend when you're a foot taller than the ballerinas.
PNB Principal Dancer Karel Cruz
photo @ Angela Sterling

His aunt got him a job in Venezuela, and when his dance company came on tour to the U.S., Cruz decided to check out job opportunities in Philadelphia. The Rock School at the Pennsylvania Ballet offered him a spot, and helped him with his visa applications. A year into his stay there, the school arranged for him to audition in Seattle, for PNB. That was 2002. Cruz is now a principal dancer with the company.

PNB is known for its legion of tall dancers: former Principals Ariana Lallone and Stanko Milov, and current principals Laura Tisserand and Lindsi Dec, just for starters. Cruz told me he was well aware of the "tall dancer" reputation here; he says he couldn't take another heartbreak like the one he suffered when he lost his Cuban job.

Cruz was sidelined with a knee injury most of last year. He rehabbed for months, and finally was back onstage last month. I caught him in the final performance of the Stowell/Sendak "Nutcracker," opposite Laura Tisserand. He looked to be in fine form. But take it from me, when he's partnered with his wife, Dec, they take the performance to a smokin' hot level.
Can't wait!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Whim W'him's "Threefold"

Whim W'him company members Jim Kent and Justin Reiter in Olivier Wevers' "We Are Not The Same"
photo by Bamberg Fine Art
Wind. Rain. Dark.

That's what it was like on Saturday, January 17th. The kind of Seattle night where pools of water collect in every crevice and indentation on the roadways. The kind of night where passing cars kick up rooster tails that momentarily blind you on your way to a dance performance.

In other words, it was the kind of post-holiday night when even the most die-hard Pacific Northwesterner harbors hidden dreams of Palm Springs' sunshine.

But sun comes along in a myriad of forms. January 17th I found it at Whim W'him's "Threefold," a trio of new dances presented at the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center.

I saw Whim W'him's inaugural performance exactly five years ago at On The Boards. Olivier Wevers' company has grown and evolved tremendously in that time. Wevers started with a pick-up troupe, mainly colleagues from Pacific Northwest Ballet augmented by other talented dancers from the Seattle community.

Five years later, Whim W'him has seven company dancers, all technically proficient, all devoted to Whim W'him and, it appears from the performances, to one another. And, like the evolution of his company, Wevers' choreography has grown and become more sophisticated.
Jim Kent and Justin Reiter in Wevers' "We Are Not The Same"
photo @ Bamberg Fine Art

"Threefold" opened with Wevers' creation "We Are Not The Same." The dance is really a pair of interlocking duets, performed by (pair #1) Jim Kent and Justin Reiter, and (#2) Tory Peil and Kyle Johnson. The couples drift past one another, then engage, curling around their partners almost like koalas hugging gum trees. Then, wham, the connections break, and the duos uncouple, seemingly strangers to one another.

Designer Michael Mazzola lights the bare stage with defined squares or circles of light. The dancers move into and out of those illuminated areas, the way romantic partners experience highs and lows in their relationships.

I've watched Olivier Wevers' make dances for almost a decade; his pas de deux have been his strength and with "We Are Not The Same," he extends that facility for intimate communication between two dancers into a more complex, thought-provoking work.

Mia Monteabaro, Kent and Reiter in Loni Landon's "new year new you"
photo @ Bamberg Fine Art

New York-based dancemaker Loni Landon's "new year new you" is a trio for Kent, Reiter and the powerful Mia Monteabaro. The program notes don't reveal much about Landon's intentions or inspirations. Dylan Ward's ambient sound design provides a landscape for the three dancers. The piece is most effective when the trio moves in unison, face to face or front to back. Landon uses the phrase "abstract meditation," and that's true up until the very end of the dance.

The evening capper was Penny Saunder's lyrical and lovely "Soir Bleu," inspired by Edward Hopper's painting, with a new and wonderful score by Paul Moore augmented by additional instrumental music.
Mia Monteabaro in Penny Saunders' "Soir Bleu"
photo @ Bamberg Fine Art

I loved this dance.

Saunders' work is set on the full company. Tory Peil, Mia Monteabaro and the lovely Lara Seefeldt float and spin across the stage in gem-toned flowing dresses by costume designer Mark Zappone. The four men, Kent, Reiter, Johnson and Thomas Phelan, wear slacks, button down shirts and a variety of sweaters.

A large mirrored wall lets Monteabaro and Reiter dance duets with themselves. Reiter cuts loose with an amazing series of movements. He can control each muscle in his body; a hand moves or a shoulder lifts, seemingly in isolation from Reiter's torso and limbs. I miss former Whimmer Andrew Bartee terribly, but Justin Reiter is a dancer to watch and to savor.

Justin Reiter in Penny Saunders' "Soir Bleu"
photo @ Bamberg Fine Arts

"Soir Bleu" was balletic, it was melodic and it showed off the talents of all the company dancers. At one point, they line up single file behind a hanging window frame. The image of them executing a refined version of a sports stadium wave lingers in my mind.

When the dance ended, I overheard a woman behind me say to her companion "I liked that one the best of all."

I had to smile to myself. What "Soir Bleu" said to me is that Olivier Wevers has succeeded in assembling a company of artists as good as any in Seattle. And with "Threefold," he presented work to make you think, to inspire, and to delight on a dreary winter night. As I said, there's more than one kind of sunshine in Seattle in January.

Whim W'him company members in "Soir Bleu"
photo @ Bamberg Fine Art

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Dancing Back In Time, Into The New Year

PNB's Jonathan Porretta in Molissa Fenley's "State of Darkness"
photo by Angela Sterling
Somebody told me last week that it's customary to post "best-of" lists at the end of a year. It hadn't occurred to me, but after 14 months of writing and thinking about mostly dance in this platform, I most definitely have some favorites. So, why not write about them? Plus, thinking back on the 2014 performances that stick out in my mind gets me excited for what 2015 will offer.

One of the standouts for me: Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Jonathan Porretta in Molissa Fenley's demanding solo "State of Darkness." To say I was electrified is an understatement.

Set to Stravinsky's entire "Rite of Spring," the dance is more an expression of emotion and passion than an evocation of peasants and ritual sacrifice. In other words, not a literal interpretation but a physical response to the music.
PNB Principal Dancer Jonathan Porretta in "State of Darkness"
photo by Angela Sterling

I loved how Porretta gave himself over to the passion, fully and completely. And how his years of training and performance gave him the confidence to trust himself. (I have to say, PNB corps de ballet member Angelica Generosa's turn in the solo was also remarkable and I can't wait to see her perform again.)

Zoe/Juniper offered an evening in March at On The Boards that I really can't get out of my mind. A rumination on aging and memory and personal evolution, "Begin Again" really clicked for me. Plus, the performance had these fabulous paper cutout sets by Celeste Cooning. I understand they were lost in transit; I know Zoe/Juniper has been trying to raise funds to replace this amazing work. I contributed-you should, too.
"Begin Again" by Zoe/Juniper at On The Boards
Paper cutout set by Celeste Cooning

Rounding out my 2014 highlights, Amy O'Neal's "Opposing Forces." With her group of b-boys, O'Neal explored what it means to be male, and female. She brought an energy and a thoughtfulness that still resonates for me.
Amy O'Neal's "Opposing Forces" at On The Boards
photo by Gabriel Bienczycki
These three dances are by no means the only interesting things I saw. I always love Whim W'him, as well as the University of Washington Chamber Dance Company's annual October performances.

Looking ahead this spring, I can't wait to see the all-William Forsythe program in March at Pacific Northwest Ballet. What about you?

Friday, January 2, 2015

Hunting For Moments Of Grace(fulness)

photo @ Alan Lande
Happy 2015!

That feels good to say. Fresh starts are always great-whether it's a blank computer screen, clean sheets on the bed, or a semi-New Year's resolution.

I've embarked on a large, ungainly project: to write about the connections between the spiritual concepts of grace and the more quotidian aspects of grace and gracefulness in our daily and creative lives.

This year I've decided to keep a daily log/journal of the small moments of grace I encounter as I go about my daily routines. Just simple things that make me think, that give me pleasure, that make the world feel like it's humming.

Yesterday, for instance, I took an early morning walk in the glorious sunshine. My destination was a hilltop vantage point to view the snowy mountains. On the way, I happened upon a small shelf tucked into a picket fence. Have you ever seen those neighborhood lending libraries? Leave a book, take a book? Well, this little shelf was "Take a toy, leave a toy." And a row of plastic dinosaurs, along with a baseball, were arrayed there for somebody's pleasure. Made me smile.

If you read this blog (somebody must, right?), you know that dance and dancers make me smile, too. A great performance touches me in a place beyond words, and I think of it as another small moment of grace. And that got me to wondering if dancers feel that grace, too.

I'm looking for dancers to talk about how you feel when you are dancing. Seattle b-boy Brysen Angeles told me recently that dancing, at its best for him, feels like he's tapped into a universal energy. British choreographer David Dawson's "A Million Kisses To My Skin" is a dance that sets out to show us how a classical ballet dancer feels when he or she is really lost in the onstage experience.

I'd love to hear your stories, if you're willing to share them. Leave a comment here, or find me on Facebook.

Oh, and a grace-filled new year to you all.