Seattle has some fierce female choreographers. Over the weekend six of them showcased work at Velocity Dance Centre’s 2012 ‘Strictly Seattle’ performance. The two-night production was the end product of a three-week dance workshop, in which participants take classes in ballet, modern and hip-hop from prominent dance artists. This year the attendees came from twelve states, and workshop teachers included Zoe Scofield, Tonya Lockyer and Amy O’Neal. During the three weeks each of the choreographers worked with their class to create a piece of work. These dances were performed with incredible energy, palpable enthusiasm and, for the most part, admirable skill.
The show’s opener, Look of Love, was choreographed by Kristin Hapke and performed by a group of beginning-level dancers, some of who were making their stage debut. Performing to upbeat tunes like Stevie Wonder’s Sign, Sealed, Delivered, the group shook, shimmied and moved around the dance floor with bursting jumps, kicks and partnered dancing. Their seventies-inspired costumes (paisley, headscarves, bellbottoms) reflected the freewheeling fun so apparent on the stage.
Kate Wallich’s Teen Dream captured the tension and anxiety of teenage angst with slowly building choreography performed with precision to heavy sinister music. The group was a set of advanced dancers, and it showed. The dancers’ ability to perform excruciating slow, synchronized movements with their hands, arms and feet was impressive, and the technical skill was evident. One girl was constantly outside the tight-knit group, often on the floor, often facing the audience—an embodiment of the loneliness and singularity often felt during the teenage years.
Entropia, choreographed by Tonya Lockyer and her intermediate cast, was a toss up to popular culture and the current age of seemingly unlimited freedom we live in today. Dancers clad in blue jeans performed a mix of classical ballet (port de bras, foot positions) with pedestrian movement such as running and crawling. For a large section of the dance the performers traveled across the stage by various means of locomotion—crawling, sliding, tumbling, rolling—with one group traveling from one wing and out the next, the ensuing waves of people following the motion until eventually a group would begin to travel across in a different motion.
Amy O’Neal’s Don’t Disturb the Warrior brought a different flavor to the evening’s program with an underlying hip-hop flair. Dancers wearing hooded sweatshirts and black pants traveled around the stage, transitioning from larger groups to smaller partnering, to solos. Each person took on their own character—from swaggering hip-hop diva to sword-wielding ninja. Even with the disparate personas the group was cohesive, coming together for interaction and mirroring moves throughout the performance—popped shoulders, gyrating hips, and simulated dance battles. Although there was no narrative, the themes of individuality, self-discovery and expression were clear.
The most traditional of the pieces was Corvidae, from Mary Sheldon Scott. The title refers to a family of birds that contains both crows and ravens, and the dancers, clad in sheer black dresses perfectly reflected these winged creatures. A work full of bent elbows and turned-in knees, hands twerked at the wrists—seemingly award positions—was made beautiful through the grace of the transitions between movements, the urgent pairings as the dancers wrapped themselves around each other, and the skilled demi-pointe travels. The accompanying screech and scratch of violin music fit perfectly with the awkwardness, and the difficult technical skill was obviously meant for advanced performers.
The finale piece was a standout. Choreographed by the innovative Zoe Scofield (with Juniper Shuey), eleven. The titular number of dancers started out on the floor, legs out in a straddle. Set to Ravel’s Bolero, with its snare drum beats and layered upbeat tune, the dance contained many of Scofield’s signature gestures—palms to the mouth with fingers curled, arms moving swiftly from on sharp angle to the next in a jerky motion with each switch. The dancers, who were all professionals, moved like a well-oil machine, executing precise movements and floor patterns much like a military parade. Scofield knows how to play with the music; she times her choreography not only to the prominent beat of the music, but also to the inner rhythms below the surface.
All of the dances were creative and admirable in their own ways, but the Scofield-Shuey team blew out another stunner to add to their already-stellar repertoire of work.
Dancers perform Zoe Scofield and Juniper Shuey's eleven. at Strictly Seattle. Image: Tim Summers