June is most definitely festival month in Seattle. Even as SIFF and its ancillary programs are winding up and the Seattle Center is tidying away the last bits of Folklife, we’re already launching into two more festivals—this time for the dance community: On the Boards’ Northwest New Works Festival and the Seattle International Dance Festival produced by Cyrus Khambatta. The festivals, which simultaneously opened last weekend, will have presented 13 separate programs by the end of the month. Audiences who attend are guaranteed to leave with a much better handle on the latest in dance.
This is the 33rd year for OtB’s New Works festival, which means that many of the artists onstage weren’t yet born when the presenter started this project. Nonetheless, On the Boards, which has a long-standing commitment to the latest work and an unerring instinct for finding the freshest eggs, continues to serve as a launching pad for young artists. Past New Works choreographers and performers like Zoe Scofield and Amy O’Neal are currently touring the country in productions developed here. This year’s edition runs the gamut, as usual, with some work sharp enough to slice and some still in need of clarification. Coley Mixan, performing as Paris When It Sizzles! in the studio program, seemed to need a bit more control over the myriad elements in Kaktus Kolache, a “gastromorphic art-performance work.” Between the video collage and the prerecorded sound mix and live effects (a paean to Nebraska), not to mention the cookies distributed to the audience, the work slipped past happy chaos to something more baffling. At a different extreme, ilvs strauss pared away all but the essential bits in Doin’ It Right. Turning her back on technical virtuosity, the work is built out of pedestrian actions, performed hesitantly, with a wry voiceover text in which strauss comes to realize that trying to explain bad behavior (cheating on a girlfriend) isn’t the same as justifying it. The performance gives the audience plenty of opportunities to squirm along with the dancers, who seem intensely self-aware of their own awkwardnesses.
Britt Karhoff was so intent on starting Wonder Full that she began setting up the props before the houselights were even down, dragging out a large roll of flooring and weighing it down with sandbags before hauling a table into the space on her back. She launched herself across the table and onto the floor in a numbered list of poses, played with party favors, and recited one half of a business conversation. At one point, standing on the table, she reached up and tipped over a container that was balanced above the stage, showering herself in colored confetti. The table was filled with a swirl of colors, and for a moment she gloried in the display, but before we knew it, she’d tidied them up, moved the table and re-rolled the floor cloth. She exited with it much earlier than we’d anticipated—it took a long time for the audience to believe the work was over.
In When We, Allie Hankins and Rachael Dichter had a much more leisurely approach to their appearance, deliberately slowing their physical interactions so they took on a mordant quality. The two shared a shirt through part of the work, so that one was topless while the other was not. The shirt itself, which flipped between an elaborate hand-beaded side and a plain black lining, had a kind of personality of its own—when Hankins dropped it, the beads rattled like a snake when it hit the ground. The pair spoke simultaneously, with their joint voices canceling each other out, so that the occasional legible word was a surprise.
And this was just the studio program. Upstairs on the mainstage, Pollens performed a new opera; Members of the Au Collective, which is focused on works reflecting its own diversity as an ensemble, showed Bayanihan, based on the Filipino tradition of actually moving houses out of harm’s way during the monsoon; B.C. choreographer Vanessa Goodman performed a new work based in her highly physical contemporary style; and local choreographer and sound designer Dylan Ward continued to develop new work for his Sleep Nod project. Next week everything changes out for another pair of shows featuring Veronica Lee-Baik’s “Three Yells” project; a deconstruction of the romantic ballet Giselle; a light installation by video artist Gary Hill playing with visual memory and afterimages; and Kyle Loven examining the mind/body connection through dioramas.
Over in South Lake Union, the Seattle International Dance Festival opened its floodgates with a pair of shows last weekend and will dive in with three separate shows this week. Presenter Cyrus Khambatta began more than 10 years ago with a single program over a weekend, matching his own contemporary company with a visiting artist from France. Since then he has been working his international connections to bring a widening roster of artists to town and present them on bills with an increasing number of local counterparts—we see a fascinating slice of the art form in these programs. Thursday night features works examining gender, politics, and the environment from artists including Elby Brosch, Peter de Grasse, Stephanie Liapis, Kaitlin McCarthy, Ethan Rome, and Constanze Villines. Over the weekend, the program includes local heroes Deborah Wolf and Jovan Miller, along with guests Aura Dance Theater from Lithuania and the return of Lauren Edson Dance from Boise.
The following week examines contemporary ballet in a program with Jade Solomon Curtis, Julie Tobiason, Alana O Rogers, and Jason Ohlberg, while the closing program features the Khambatta Dance Company in a new work, set to tour to India later in the year. Alongside this is the Dafi Dance Group from Israel; Chop Shop presenter Eva Stone with her own Stone Dance Collective; and longtime Seattle dance artist Wade Madsen with a new ensemble work. Madsen has been honing his craft here since he arrived in Seattle with the Bill Evans company in the mid-1970s; he’s a choreographer at the top of his form, but most of his work is created for his students at Cornish College. A chance to see his choreography, alongside all the work coming our way this month, is another reason to celebrate festival culture. Northwest New Works, On The Boards, 100 W. Roy St., ontheboards.org. $14. Through June 19. Seattle International Dance Festival, Multiple locations, seattleidf.org. $22-$27. Through June 25.
Photo by Colleen Cooke