Review: Paper Dance

Even before Donna Isobel (Aluminum Siding) and Matthew Smith (mattisonthemove) started performing “Torn” at On the Boards’ NW New Works Festival this weekend, I knew what to expect. I had watched earlier versions the choreographers’ joint piece in two different instances, and was convinced nothing could be dramatically different this time.

I later realized that I was not giving the artists the appropriate credit for outdoing themselves.

The piece started with Isobel dancing solo in front of the closed curtains throwing A4 sheets to the air. Then the curtains opened, expanding the tight, unadorned dance floor into an elaborate composition of whites and blues. Stalactites and stalagmites of stacked white paper spread across the stage while paper-made icebergs rested on the back. The blue lighting over the glaring whites transformed the setting into an oversized ice cave.

Smith’s entrance to the dance was a surprise element not present in previous versions. A few minutes after the opening of the curtains, while Isobel was fighting with gravity to keep papers from hitting the floor, viewers would notice one of the icebergs slowly move. They would later realize that Smith was underneath it, slithering his way into the choreography. He would then perform leaps and inversions until the paper could no longer accompany his movements. His stealthy appearance enticed the audience to wonder if there was anyone else underneath the other paper mountains.

The dancers then engaged in a synchronous choreography with paper being the element that held them together. They grabbed paper with toes, neck, feet, knees and elbows, and used each other as props to prevent paper from falling. The chemistry between both dancers was visible as they moved fluidly across the stage and transported paper from one to the other with ease and grace. Smith and Isobel’s moves demonstrated the seriousness of their training. They performed headstands, plank poses and stretched their limbs to the limit in a spectacle of strength, control and preparedness.

Torn is one of the few local contemporary pieces that depart from the modern aesthetic that dominates the dance scene in Seattle. The use of paper as a key choreographic element – plus the execution of highly controlled movements as opposed to the loose contortions and spasms frequently seen in local performances – makes Torn one of Seattle’s most innovative dance pieces. Aside from all the trees killed to make the piece possible, Torn is the kind of dance you long for seeing more often.

Zumba and the perpetuation of the human species – how dancing bring us closer to our inner cavewoman

That Zumba is a hit among women is no news. What is news is that I recently found some compelling Evolution-theory-based evidence that explains why this workout is so popular in the female world. (For those who don’t know, Zumba is a type of exercise inspired in Latin dance that involves intense hip movements.)

The theory is simple: women like Zumba because it awakens their most fundamental instincts of reproduction, perpetuation of the species and natural selection. If you are familiar with the animal mating dances from Discovery Channel, you’ll probably find striking similarities with the Zumba dance that happens every day, right at the gym you go to. The difference is that humans, not birds, are the performers.

Photo credits: Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette

Let me clarify this scientific rationale. There are three main types of female Zumba dancers. The first one is the “ready-to-mate” woman. All females of this type dance very well – they are the goddesses of hip shaking. No matter if they are taken or available, there’s an unannounced competition among them to identify the one with the most sensual movements. They smile and pout while dancing (see picture), shake their hips and shoulders fiercely and generally wear stretchy, tight-fitting black pants and sleeveless tops.

Females of this and other types alike can smell these women’s fertility hormones from afar – a sense that can be very intimidating for all women who do not belong to this class. Additionally, the sweat generated by the dance probably helps propagate the scent even further. The ready-to-mates look extremely self-confident, go to the gym frequently and generally prefer not to have the company of other females during class. This class of woman is the most likely to find mates and win the competition to pass on their genes.

The second type is comprises the “I’m-here-just-to-have-fun” ladies. This group also consists of healthy, fertile women with one key difference: they can’t dance. Women of this breed generally go to the gym in pairs or groups of three – if they are to embarrass themselves, they would better embarrass themselves together. They laugh, point at each other and pat on each other’s back frequently. When they have a moment of lucidity, they look at the ready-to-mate woman in front of them and try to imitate her moves.

The I’m-here-just-to-have-fun women generally wear fancy gym clothes, jewelry, excessive makeup and impeccable hair. After all, their poor dance skills need to be compensated in some way. Unfortunately, these pretty ladies don’t have the same level of endurance of a ready-to-mate and will most likely lose the mating competition. At the end of the class, they are as dry as coconut shells. Useless, but fun workout – yay!

The third and last type of Zumba goer comprises the women who have already gone through menopause, the “I’m-more-concerned-about-dinner-than-appearance” ladies. This breed is no longer in the mate-finding race and really don’t care about the way they dress. A loose white t-shirt (probably from their son’s wardrobe) and spandex shorts are just fine.

Women of this class are actually the winners of the matting race. They’ve accomplished their role to reproduce and perpetuate their genes; however, exactly because they are no longer competing, they can be easily ignored – or even despised – by the fertile crowd.

Next time you go to the gym, pay attention to these types. If you are a woman, you’ll be shocked to find out how a favorable environment (gym) with the right sensorial stimuli (music, dim light etc.) can make us more similar to our cousins from the animal kingdom than to the homo sapiens sapiens we’re supposed to be.

“Strictly Seattle” brings the city’s artistic richness to light

There’s something about contemporary dance that shakes things up inside me. Side effects of a good choreography include an uncontrollable will to dance, loud and spontaneous singing, involuntary spasmodic movements and extreme happiness. I’ve experienced these symptoms a few times, and the most recent occurrence was yesterday night, after I watched the Strictly Seattle performances at Velocity.

The show comprised six dance pieces created by different choreographers. Each presentation was special in its own way. For instance, watching Kristin Hapke’s “Wanna French?” – performed by beginner dancers – was an uplifting experience. The colorful costumes accompanied by the simplicity of the movements and the cheerfulness of the cast would make any bad-tempered creature leave the room with a smile on the face.

Another piece worth mentioning was Corrie Befort and Beth Graczyk’s mouthful “A skin within a skin within a skin within a skin.” The costumes – Befort’s own creation – were simple, versatile and complemented the choreography well. But the star of the show was actually the live music performed by Angelina Baldoz. Baldoz, who is a bassist, trumpeter, composer and more, put together a myriad of electronic sounds and threw one-off notes from a trumpet, creating a unique compositional background.

Amelia Reeber’s “Petal to the Metal” made me want to dance along. It started slow with very little movement, and gradually, dancers would intensify their moves, building up the choreography. When I thought the dance couldn’t go faster and noticed the dancers losing their breadth, things started to slow down, and the choreography evolved to end the way it began.

The show closed with Amy O’Neal’s “no excuses,” (in lower caps) a rich, well executed and well assembled choreography performed by skillful dancers. The piece had multiple elements worth pointing out, starting with the dance moves themselves. With stroboscopic steps and intense, slow hip shaking, the dance made several allusions to nightclub parties. The lighting – be it a glaring light or just the beams of cigarette lighters or flashlights – was a crucial element to bring forth that party atmosphere. Additionally, most dancers had their hair lose, which brought about the idea of party ecstasy, nightclub sweat.

The costumes – I indeed need a separate paragraph to describe them – were all black. Black, not boring, to be clear. Half of the dancers were wearing a t-shirt covering their faces, with the t-shirt’s neckline exposing only the dancers’ eyes. Try to imagine and you’ll quickly figure out. Yes, these dancers were ninjas. And they went on to choreograph real ninja movements, which added humor and surprise to the piece.

This succession of good choreographies did have a positive effect in my mind – and body. I still don’t know what causes it, but whatever it is, I’m glad Seattle has such a strong dance community and quality shows I can always go to when I’m in need for transformative experiences. Thanks to Velocity and the amazing dance artists that give it life, I’m glad and proud to live in a city that offers such artistic richness.

The edge of intimacy: artist and audience share emotions and desires at ACT’s Bullitt Cabaret

The more I watch KT Niehoff’s work, the more I fall in love with it. This weekend I went to ACT Theater to watch the final performance of Glimmer, a project by Niehoff, the Artistic Director of Lingo Dance, to create a more tangible intimacy between dancer and audience.

I was completely blown away by the performance. The venue, dancers, makeup, costumes, movements, lighting, band, music, all elements were a perfect match for each other.

Before the show started, when the band “Ivory in Ice World” was crafting the background music and everyone was enjoying their beers, all dancers were dispersed over the cabaret interacting with the audience members. While I was waiting for my husband to come, one of the showgirl dancers named Ginger – or Lola – (her name changes depending on her mood) stopped by my table and started to chat. “What’s your name?” she asked. I told her my name and she replied, “Beautiful name, but can I call you sweetie?”

As the goal of the project is for “artist and watcher to confront each other” and “exchange their personal histories and desires,” ACT’s Bullitt Cabaret provided the most appropriate space for that interaction. First, there was no geographic distinction between stage and audience. Dancers performed everywhere from the main floor to the stairs; from the balcony to the doorways. Second, there was an actual proximity between the dancers and the audience. It was common to see watchers making way for dancers to pass through.

The show started and it was one surprise after the other. We never knew where the dancers would come from or go to. On top of that, performers would sometimes act, sing, scream or laugh, bringing elements of unexpectedness to the show. The dance moves were not beautiful. Sometimes they were violent, sometimes sexual and sometimes disturbing; however, all movements had a common characteristic: everything evoked proximity and intimacy – both between dancers and the audience and among the dancers themselves.

KT Niehoff surprised me with a beautiful voice. She shared the stage with Ivory Smith and her band, Ivory in Ice World. Niehoff’s high-pitched voice complemented Smith’s deeper tone, and the soprano/contralto duo worked well. The band’s pop sound, combined with sound effects and lighting brought a sense of suspense and intensity to the performance.

Lingo and Ivory in Ice World will be performing Glimmer at ACT’s Bullitt Cabaret Thursdays through Saturdays until May15. This is not a show for kids or people who feel uncomfortable with nudity, but if you are fine with that, I can guarantee: You’ll be blown away.

Lingo Dance gives a heartbeat to SAM’s art

Last Thursday I listened on the radio that Lingo Dance would be doing a special performance at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM). As I left the office earlier that day, I took the afternoon to check them out.

I don’t go to museums very often and some of you may know that I’m a performance art geek. So when I say that Lingo was by far the best exhibit at the SAM, you know that I’m biased.

Favoritism aside, the Lingo performance was indeed a breath of fresh air in the museum. Five dancers “installed” themselves among SAM’s permanent collection as kinetic sculptures.

At first, I felt a little uncomfortable in staring at the dancers as if they were a picture or sculpture. However, as time passed and I witnessed other museum visitors shamelessly gazing at the performers, I realized, you know what, these dancers are here to be watched anyways – I’ll just take my time and admire.

Good decision that was. Like in visual arts, you can’t actually “get” Lingo’s performance at the SAM unless you take the appropriate time to watch, to appreciate. The performances certainly added warmth and life to the museum, a place in which the artworks generally don’t have a heartbeat. The more I looked at the dancers, the more they attracted me. I didn’t want to leave the museum.

I had an especially pleasing interaction with one of the dancers named Kelly. As I entered the room she was performing, she smiled to me and continued doing her dance. I didn’t want to distract her, but I wanted to tell her that I was enjoying her performance, so I took one of the brochures from the museum, wrote her an encouragement note and placed it next to her business cards. I hope she had the chance to read it. If someday she reads this post, would love to have her comment.

I also met choreographer KT Neihoff, the artistic director of Lingo and creator of the project. She was discreetly checking on the dancers, giving them water and ensuring the performance was running smoothly, like a mom taking care of her kids. She was happy to know that I was enjoying the performance, but at the same time, recognized that some people might have been confused with the whole thing. In fact, there were some people who were like, “what the hell is going on here?” Others were laughing; others ignored, while others – like me – watched and appreciated.

To avoid any confusion, the performers were appropriately labeled like all the other artworks in the museum (with information about artwork title, artist, materials, date etc.) Here is an example of what was written on the sign next to a performer:

  • Title: Aaron
  • Date: Right now
  • Materials: Muscle, sweat, human hair, ethic, challenge
  • Artist: KT Niehoff

Lingo’s presentation/exhibit is part of a bigger project called A Glimmer of Hope or Skin or Light, a project by KT Niehoff to create a more tangible intimacy between audience and artist. According to Lingo’s Website, KT’s investigation of the relationship between the performer and the witness led her to seek out more potent environments that ask both artist and watcher to confront each other as unique individuals who bring to the exchange their personal histories and desires. If that is the goal of the project, KT just nailed it. Hats of to her!

Lingo will be at the SAM the upcoming Thursdays (March 25th and April 1st), from 3:00 to 8:00 p.m. If you have the time, go check them out.