Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center, Seattle, WA; January 16, 2015

Dean Speer

Justin Reiter and Mia Monteabaro in Penny Saunders' 'Soir Bleu'.  Photo © Bamberg Fine Art

Justin Reiter and Mia Monteabaro in Penny Saunders’ ‘Soir Bleu’.
Photo © Bamberg Fine Art

Other choreographic greats before Olivier Wevers, Paul Taylor among others, have experimented with taking two or more exact danced or movement phrases and presenting them with different elements or in different combinations, such as changing the cast but not the steps or keeping the choreography exactly the same but set to completely different music. I recall enjoying one work a number of years ago where team ‘A’ of four dancers did a work ‘forward’ and then team ‘B’ of four dancers did it entirely in retrograde. You could easily see the brief moment when these two converged.

Wevers, in his new “We are not same” piece, does this kind of experimentation with two couples – one all male and the other male/female (Kyle Johnson was paired with Tory Peil and Jim Kent with Justin Reiter), giving them sometimes the same and sometimes similar movement phrases. It was interesting to compare and contrast, one of the more overt ones being that men are more challenging for men to partner than women, being physically heavier or sturdier.

It is a strong piece accented nicely by the starkness of no wing/leg curtains nor backdrop; just the open, bare stage – which seemed to be the sense of the relationships – kind of stone-cold and the color of cement.

While I enjoyed the Brahms score, I’m not sure it needed the insertion of Brian Lawlor’s sounds. The Brahms alone was sufficiently soulful and bittersweet on its own. Yet, Lawlor’s interpolation also seemed to mirror the complexity of these two similar, yet different, couples.

I’ve avoided saying something about the second piece on the bill, Loni Landon’s “new year new you” just as long as possible. It is improvised using pre-made phrases and sequences – a performance technique that, while it may be interesting in theory, made for a piece that was hard to sit through. It was hard not to guffaw when Kent and Reiter raised their respective arms to each other mummy-style, palms down, and began tilting side to side; the audio in my mind went off with “ZZZT!” as it looked like they were trying to zap each other. Oh, dear.

The three dancers, Kent, Reiter, and Mia Monteabaro were and are beautiful and better than the material given them.

The great modern dance choreographer Alwin Nikolais, who was a renowned teacher of improvisation, when asked by me if his company did this in performance, he promptly replied no, in that “it was too risky.” Merce Cunningham’s “chance” dances are actually a misnomer. They were very well worked out in advance. The chance part was putting the elements together, sometimes for the first time during the first performance – choreography, music, scenic design. Landon should have taken her phrases and strung them together into a coherent piece. While perhaps scary and risky from her viewpoint to have done so, it would have been less chancy than what became the actual result.

Edward Hopper’s painting “Soir Bleu” should have reproduced either in the program or perhaps as a projection to give us a better point of reference beyond the program notes. I looked it up on that source of all human knowledge, the Internet, after the show, and it’s not just seven people at a Parisian café. It’s six normal appearing persons and one bizarre one right smack in the middle – a man dressed and made up as Pagliacci, the all-white tragic opera clown.

If, as the program note suggests, it’s a piece primarily about Hopper and his model and wife, Jo, it probably should have focused more on the couple. I liked and enjoyed many of the dance’s elements but felt that at times there was too much running around and use of entrances and exits.

Hopper, I’m guessing, appeared to have been portrayed by Reiter (having a love/hate relationship with an upstage distressed mirror, probably representing his artistic oeuvre and life) and Jo by Peil in a long red dance dress, complemented by Whim W’Him’s superb dancer artists, Kent, Monteabaro plus Kyle Johnson, Thomas Phelan, and Lara Seefeldt.

Threefold gave us a program of dance that challenged us and got us cogitating about art, dance, winter-like relationships, and the ever-changing nature of this wonderful and lively art form.