Opening Nights: Project 5

Seattle Dance Project marks a birthday.

Seattle Dance Project is celebrating its fifth anniversary in “Project 5” with a pair of new works and a handful of revivals. The program continues SDP’s exploration of material that extends traditional ballet into contemporary territory, but probably the most successful work of the evening reaches the farthest back into the classical.

Choreographer Penny Hutchinson’s Brahms Afoot is set to one of the most significant and romantic dance scores around: Brahms’ Liebeslieder Walzer (aka the “Love Song Waltzes” song cycle). The waltz was once considered a highly erotic dance, since it brought partners so close together in a series of dizzy turns. And while there’s little traditional waltzing in this staging, that romantic tension remains. Inspired by the poetry of Goethe and Georg Friedrich Daumer that Brahms set to music, Hutchinson presents a collection of emotional events: A young girl falls for a boy and leaves her parents; a couple argues and reconciles; a young man throws a tantrum and rushes away. Regan McClellan’s minimal set suggests a drawing room with a chandelier and a table; later the table is transformed into a forest with branches tied to its legs. Hutchinson, a founding member of the Mark Morris Dance Company, shares Morris’ love of rhythmic structure and physical dynamics. Her movement choices are full of verve, and the dancers look exceptional in them. Brahms Afoot is a lovely work of melodic turmoil and poetic anguish, created with the singers of the Inverse Opera Company, who perform live onstage.

The other new work here takes some of its cues from our current fascination with memoirs and reality TV. Jason Ohlberg’s Departure From 5th includes taped audio interviews with the performers, who reflect on their self-image as dancers. As they describe their strengths and weaknesses (bad turnout, but beautiful arms; can dance like a straight man even though he’s not; “No teenager ever likes their body—ever”), they perform sequences that highlight all these facets. As they demonstrate their skills and deficits, we become witness to their concerns. But, unlike a confessor, we cannot really offer absolution. Departure From 5th is further complicated by a trio of women in ballroom gowns, who escort the dancers on- and offstage. They’re listed as “Fates” in the program, but it’s difficult to tell if they’re meant to be like American Idol judges, divine figures asserting their will over hapless mankind, or just a beautiful theatrical device.

“Project 5″‘s revivals include Molissa Fenley’s atmospheric Planes in Air (a postmodern version of a fan dance), Edwaard Liang’s ensemble work To Converse Too, and Kent Stowell’s pas de deux B6. All three looked even more polished than at their premieres, danced by a company that continues to improve with age.