ARC Dance Company
Bagley Wright Theater – Seattle Center
August 11, 2019
20th Anniversary Program (Program 2):
QUE!, Schumann, THE END (Study in Action 4), Black and White, Infinitum, Evening Song, Quartet, Reflection, About That Glass
If there’s a common thread throughout the collection of retrospective dances that Marie Chong, ARC Dance’s Director curated, it’s that of the communal experience. Several of the dances on Sunday’s bill reminded me either somewhat overtly or in a more suggestive way of Jerome Robbins’ deeply poetic Dances at a Gathering. What makes his hour-long ballet to Chopin music so profound is its simplicity, but it’s a simplicity as the great American modern dance pioneer and choreographer Martha Graham once quoted T.S. Elliot as saying “costs no less than everything.” In it may be found joy, wonder, nostalgia, longing, and great wit — from a shared life and environment.
There is a collective thread amongst dancers and artists that immediately connects one to another. I count myself blessed to have been one of the many choreographers to have been invited to make a work for ARC Dance, mine in 2002. It was a great experience all around and the outcome (G Suite) is available for you to see for yourself on You Tube. I was pleased to see, too, a really good turnout of the local dance community in support of this ARC Dance show, from Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, to those who have supported ARC Dance in various ways over the years, such as providing badly needed rehearsal space before ARC found its own home in 2004, to other “alumni” choreographers, dancers, and artists.
The 9 works presented were a good crosscut — from simple in design to more complex but each imbued with a sense of having made great art and each beautifully performed by ARC’s stable of 17 dancers — who had to learn, rehearse, and get 17 dances performance-ready in only 8 weeks.
The program opened with an early work from ARC’s first year (1999), QUE!, choreographed by Kabby Mitchell III. It’s a large company work fusing both ballet technique and phrases with hints of a Spanish influence, particularly in its second section.
Chong’s own Schumann is a lyric ballet set to some of Robert Schumann’s iconic piano music, including “Träumerei.” It’s a sunny ballet with a melancholic fourth movement, deeply danced by Samantha Bell. Overall it’s a nice group work that’s just the right length and tenor, and it’s pleasant and fun.
Alex Ketley’s THE END (Study in Action 4) is a “chair piece,” which all choreographers, including myself, seem compelled to do at one point or other in their creative output. While I did enjoy its dramatic and lonely atmosphere, I found it a bit long — not in terms of time so much, but I felt that Ketley said all that he had to say, choreographically, and was not able to sustain the work’s development. The work could have finished earlier than it actually did, and I would not have been the wiser.
Wade Madsen has made a career out of making dances that are typically satirical and sardonic, with ironic overtones. His Black and White to a couple of Beatles songs and costumed with ’60s garb and truly dreadful wigs is a good example of this. It was light, humorous, had some real dancing in it. It was a fun way to conclude the first half.
Representations of death figures show up in many art forms, including dance. In Edwaard Liang’s Infinitum, a lone female, dressed in red, seems to be this. Her kiss crumples one of the three men as the piece concludes. Was she resisting doing this and was compelled by her nature? It was actually not a downer of a piece, but rather lyric with perhaps sad undertones. And I’d be happy to see Victoria Jahn in just about anything. One of ARC’s longest-serving dancers Jahn has it all — amplitude of movement, a sunny disposition when called for, and a capacity to drive deep into dramatic works as well.
Betsy Cooper’s Evening Song features a large cast dancing to some of the best excerpts from “Songs Without Words” by Felix Mendelssohn. This is a good piece at its best. Cooper is smart in not trying to get too clever with her compositional response to Mendelssohn’s great music. She lets it inform and propel the choreography and its dancers.
Quartet by Wen Wei Wang for two couples was retrospective and served as an excellent vehicle for Madeline Bay, Erin Crall, Ethan Schweitzer-Gaslin, and Daniel Ojeda.
The men of ARC could be on a best-selling calendar — my goodness they are technically and artistically strong and in great control. Chong’s 2008 Reflection showed off two men mirroring each other (Graham Gobeille and Hamilton Nieh).
About That Glass by David Fernandez really did remind me of another of Robbins’ works, Glass Pieces, in that it began with the dancers in a walking motif coming from upstage and toward the audience, with their respective shadows looming in the background on the backdrop.
ARC Dance is one of the best things going in the Seattle area and how lucky the region is that Chong’s vision — to provide more paid and professional-level work for dancers —has continued to pay off well for 20 years…and counting.