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Saturday, January 26, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seattle Dance Project finds new moves

Seattle Times arts writer

Repeat performances

Seattle Dance Project 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle; $25 (206-292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org; info, www.seattledanceproject.org).

A ballet dancer's career is a tantalizingly brief one; seemingly as fleeting as a perfect arabesque; reaching to the heavens for a moment before becoming earthbound again. And where do ballet dancers go, when injury or (very) early middle age make the daily regimen of company life difficult or impossible? They retire, they teach, they find different careers — or they keep dancing, translating the artistry developed in decades of training into a new, looser language.

Seattle Dance Project, founded by former Pacific Northwest Ballet members Julie Tobiason and Timothy Lynch, is the newest local home for dancers in transition, and its debut performance Friday night was reason for celebration. All of its dancers are classically trained; all are teachers; many are PNB alumni. They came together at ACT Theatre for an evening of world premiere choreography, and while not every dance was a complete success, the company radiated energy and promise.

Tobiason, whose lightness and charm has been missed at PNB, was a standout in Donald Byrd's "Tatum Dance #2," a breezy work for two couples set to Art Tatum's jazz piano. Danced with the women on point, with textbook ballet moves (a plié here, a developpé there) effortlessly merging with ballroom steps, the piece had an appealing, slouchy casualness as the couples spoke to each other in a language of dance.

Modern dance choreographer Molissa Fenley's "Castor," set on five dancers, was the kind of intricate, detailed work you immediately want to watch again. Playing with the idea of the twins Castor and Pollux (and whimsically incorporating stuffed swans), the dancers mirrored each other in rapidly changing pairings and trios, marked by quick shifts in direction and precise, angular elbows.

Its activity never felt chaotic, in contrast to Pat Catterson's unfocused "The Intimacy of Strife" with its pulsing, busy movement (too much blurred by the bulky drape of Elizabeth Hope Clancey's costumes). But individual dancers emerged with lovely moments: Lynch's simple, soaring jump; Alexandra Dickson's fierce strength.

And current PNB principal Olivier Wevers contributed "Still One," a spiky, inventive work set to a lush Arvo Pärt score. His use of arms was especially fresh: reaching from the wings; dangling lifelessly from bent elbows; twisting and zooming as if caught by some force from inside. An idea of woundedness, recovery and strength permeated the dance, making the elaborately literal costumes (complete with bloodstains) unnecessary.

Between the dances, video was shown of the company rehearsing and talking, often movingly, about their new endeavor as mature artists. Tobiason, on screen, asked a question that the evening's performance seemed to answer: "How do we change the heartbeat of what we've been doing all our lives?"

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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