Dancers in distress

D-9's vision tends toward hallucination.

BEFORE LAUNCHING INTO a critique of West Works, let me say that D-9 deserves credit on several fronts. For seven years the collective has galvanized Seattle's often sleepy dance community with its workshops and master classes. The group tours. It teaches. Its concerts are role models of professional organization and presentation.

West Works

D-9 Dance Collective

September 10-12 at On the Boards

Lastly, D-9 hires a variety of local and national choreographers—nearly two dozen since 1992, exposing dancers and audiences to a cornucopia of movement styles and aesthetic visions. The fact that over 70 dancers competed for three vacant spots at D-9's recent audition testifies to the company's attraction.

D-9's democratic atmosphere may be even more of a draw to dancers than its performing opportunities. Unlike a traditional dance company, where an artistic director calls the shots, D-9 members operate in consensus. The upside: a communicative working environment. The downside: committee-created art. Herein lies the problem.

Individually, each of D-9's members is a fine dancer—strong, enthusiastic, physically articulate. But as a collective, the group suffers from herd syndrome. It's a little creepy to see even the three new dancers (Freya Wormus, Kate Kerschbaum, and Kelly Parker—all fabulous on their own) succumb to commonness.

Perhaps in honor of shared responsibility standing out is a no-no. Or maybe D-9's work habits encourage lassitude: After a choreographer has set a piece, the dancers rehearse alone or with their peers serving as directors. Without the push of a strong vision, the resulting performances tend toward homogeneity. In addition, perfecting one movement style takes years of practice. Constantly switching between many styles not only is damned hard on the physique, it can be schizophrenic. When the going gets tricky, D-9 dancers are more likely to fall back on dependable steps and the warmth of their smiles rather than tackle the more subtle, ephemeral, and difficult performance details, such as expansive dynamic range and crisp timing.

As usual, D-9 created West Works around a theme—in this case, West Coast choreographers. Sections of Peggy Piacenza's eccentric Voices from a Troubled Paradise punctuated the program three times, interspersed among the four other works on the bill like bright green bows on a multi-tiered hanger. Unfortunately, this external structure wasn't enough to support the concert's mostly flabby choreography.

The dancing in Greg Bielemeier's potentially lush Trio for Three and Crispin Spaeth's saccharine quartet, Love Macro, was distressingly one-note. Neither dance is a great work of art, and in these performances costumes and lighting offered the only real distinction. In the latter piece, lighting designer Meg Fox's pulsing heart projections in shades of candy apple and bubble-gum pink upstaged most of the cast. Charging around like a horny grizzly, Kara O'Toole momentarily injected the piece with a hilarious dose of satire, while the other dancers tended to neutralize every gesture—even butt grabs. Performances of Piacenza's loopy pieces, featuring dancers making designs and fooling around with and envying each other's helium balloons, required much more tomfoolery and neurosis than D-9 offered. And Amii LeGendre's interminably long Just Stop It, a mash of hostile pushing, delerium tremens, and supposed redemption, lacked grit.

Sarah McCormick's Inheritance, set to Hamza El Din's gently percussive Escalay, offered the only fresh breath of the evening. Four "mothers" and five "children" manifested McCormick's simple message: Love—what goes around comes around. The sophisticated patterns and rhythmic counterpoint wrapped the dancers in a rich solution that rose like cream to the top of the evening. Here, the dancers could lose themselves and still stand out—which leads to the moral of this story: Excellent choreography makes excellent dancers. D-9, especially, needs to take heed.

 
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