For a Weekend, Chop Shop Makes Bellevue a Modern Dance Destination
Eva Stone, of the Stone Dance Collective, has been putting on the Chop Shop: Bodies of Work dance festival for five years now. Besides its overstuffed programs–this year’s included twelve works–the festival also sponsors master classes and lectures by the participating artistic directors/choreographers, and free community outreach programs.
The festival works best as a showcase for modern dance, since it’s more of a glimpse of a choreographer’s work. Stone means to stir up curiosity about what you see from the many choreographers and companies involved. Last year, she gave an interview with our peripatetic At-Large Editor Jeremy Barker:
“The whole purpose of the festival is, I want everyone to love this art form as much as I do,” Stone told me. “It’s, you know…constantly fighting against people going home, turning on something electronic, and finding that satisfaction there. And I’m guilty, I do that too. But to have that live experience, to experience that as a human being, watching other human beings, that creates something.”
“And then to walk out and it’s gone,” she said with a grin. “That’s the great thing about this art form–it doesn’t exist. We work and work and present and then it’s gone. We have nothing to hold on to. And that thrills me.”
It must also be thrilling for Stone to look out from the Meydenbauer stage at a full house, as she did last Saturday night. For the audience’s modern dance fans, I suspect, part of the fun is in discovering new faces. I found an early favorite in Adam Barruch Dance, whose fast, fluid Folie à deux (danced by Barruch and Chelsea Bonosky) was plainspoken enough to incorporate a post-argument fetal curl, along with some flat-on-the-back inventiveness. Here they are in another piece they’ve posted online:
Another standout new to me was Bellingham Repertory Dance. “Politics” was an excerpt from Politics, Religion, Sex, and featured the ensemble dancing to “Texas Star,” from Square Dance Hootenanny. If the style was narrative dance–dancers in suits doing back-slapping politicking, facing off, and punching each other in the gut–the dyspeptic tone was completely contemporary, and the sheer precision of the group’s movement was remarkable.
Portland’s BodyVox joined the program via video, with Advance and Deere John (which you can stream here). Advance is as much a feat of editing as it is dance: In two minutes, a pair of dancers, filmed from behind as if moving along a magic people-mover strip, end up performing in 50 different locations (including below the Viaduct). It’s jaunty as hell. Deere John features a dancer infatuated with an earth-moving machine with a scoop bucket, and the contrast in tonnage provides endless humor. The dancer approaches by petit pas; the machine, bucket hoisted, rattles forward on its tracks. Rotating on its base, the machine assists the dancer clinging to its bucket in grand leaps.
Vancouver’s MOVE: the company presented an excerpt from their Allemande, set to Bach; they were one of the few companies to present an actual leap (and a number of polished pirouettes), in their work featuring solos, pas de deux, and a trio. Jason Ohlberg’s Sweetness of leaving was too pretty an accompaniment to “Calling All Angels,” with the little kicks, curved arms, and rocking motions all painting a picture of what’s already in the song. Stone’s own group presented Piñata, which showed off her talented young troupe, and Stone’s intriguing arrangement of them into three lines that then alternated in height (e.g., standing – kneeling – standing), creating interesting depth of field variations.
SANDSTROMMOVEMENT‘s the Series For (For One / For Two) opened with Ellie Sandstrom demonstrating how you own a stage (when works are coming fast and furious, as they can during a festival, it’s notable when an artist stamps their own sense of time), before moving on to a shadow-backed ensemble with Hannah Crowley. Khambatta Dance Company’s meditative Centrifugal Force combined yogic poses with circular ensemble dances.
It’s always interesting to see what you fail to respond to, which in my case were Northwest Dance Project‘s A Short History of Walking and Penny Hutchinson‘s Alien Dances. NDP featured Patrick Kilbane and Elijah Labay in black martial-arts pantaloons, performing martial arts-tinged moves with intensity, separately and occasionally intruding into each other space, as a tachycardic drum machine played. Alien Dances, oddly, didn’t offer anything that alien, just a likable young trio gamboling about the stage. I couldn’t sustain my initial interest.
I suppose if you invite provocateur Donald Byrd to your festival you have to be prepared for the possibility that he may show up and present an expository talk at your evening of dance. The “little” Jerusalem Dance followed fresh from another visit to the city; Byrd appeared, hands up, outstretched, as if at synagogue, listening to a found chorus in the air (music by Emmanuel Witzthum), then walked over to a podium to present a meta-talk about the need to pay attention to the dance of narratives in the Middle East, not just who is pro and who is con. Slapping his hands and circling became a postscript to his more personal reaction to arrival in Jerusalem, the discomfiture and critical alienation of the traveler. Another lesson in owning the stage.