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Flash Review, 8-16: Alt-Dance
Espresso Improv

By Asimina Chremos
Copyright 2000 Asimina Chremos

SEATTLE -- Hello, Dance Insiders! Asimina here reporting from the Seattle Festival of Alternative Dance and Improvisation. I know Ben-Itzak is having a fit because my report is late... but hell! In typical festival fashion I've been participating in mind-blowing workshops eight hours a day, seen some provoking performance, gone drinking, gotten very little sleep, and slept in a different place every night. Taken a lot of busses out to far-flung Ballard and back, fueled myself with the ever-flowing river of espresso running through the Emerald City.... I'm here at the Aurafice Internet Cafe and I have about 40 minutes to record my thoughts before running back to dance in the divine Kathleen Hermesdorf's tech class.

The SFADI brings together an impressive community of artists and students, all committed to the various permutations of current explorations in body-based performing arts. All the workshops and performances take place in the generous, welcoming caverns of the Odd Fellows building, where the Velocity Studios and the Freehold Theater are housed.

In the Student Performance last night, I was impressed with the elan, joie de vivre, and creativity I saw from the youthful participants. From a simple walking score for a large group, to a soulful airy quartet by two women dancers and two men on drum and voice, there was a level of playfulness, awareness, and depth that contrasted so wildly to the type of contrived modern dance one can see coming out of college level dance departments. Several solos combining dance and speaking were powerful, either for their humor and sarcasm or their honesty and fearlessness.

I saw two Faculty Programs. This Arising, organized by the shamanistic Christina Svane, opened the 7pm show. I am taking Svane's intensive, studying with her every day for two hours. Her work is deeply rooted in her Tibetan Buddhist practice. She has challenged all of us to perceive our work in a context of spirituality, of devotion and service. How wonderful, scary, and disorienting for me. She's teaching for Ishmael Houston-Jones, who could not come because his mother passed away recently. A shout-out of love and compassion to Ish! We miss him.

Svane sang and played the harmonium stage right, Margit Galanter reached long, antennae-like arms out of the wings to begin her improvised solo. She then appeared in fishlike sequined green tunic and blue velvet pants, twisting, falling, and opening her self to space. In fluid, intricate kneels she expressed power, struggle, and seeking. Nancy Stark Smith and her famous ponytail later entered, and what can I say about this? I know that Nancy is primarily a teacher and torchbearer of contact improvisation, and I found myself watching to see how she puts to use her skills of intuition and perception to use in a solo performance context. She's a quiet but certain presence, exploring and showing what she explores, finding gestures, ideas, and moments, delivering them as consciously as she can to the attentive audience.

It was fascinating to watch Nancy Stark Smith, Cathy Caraker, Andrew Marcus, and Kim Epifano dance together in the Group Contact Improvisation. Epifano brings speaking and vocalizing into contact, it's a big part of her work (I took her rockin' Sound Waves class this very morning), and it makes the dance more playful and communicative. At times, it illuminates the internal narrative for the audience. The kids in the audience loved watching the contact dancing.

The final piece on the programme was Relic, by the local Dappin' Butoh director Joan Laage. Suspended on an oversize rope ladder in an orange dress that sported plastic food items on the skirt, she dangled, clowned, and dripped, dropped, fell from one rung to the next to the floor while some very upbeat techno music played. Two of her dancers, shirtless in Japanese-looking pants and cummerbunds, were living demonic advancing columns on either side. Butoh is just such a good formula for performance. The white makeup, the moving images.... It usually works very well for me as a viewer. I didn't have the same transcendent amazement I once had watching Ko Morobushi, but it was well-crafted. I also enjoyed Laage's workshop earlier that day, where she turned the crowded class into starfish, tsunamis, and trees.

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