Karin Stevens Dance (Seattle 2010)

As promised, here’s some syndication for you: my first dance post about a lovely concert I saw during my year in Seattle.  Since this show, Karin has gone on to create more wonderful work for her own concerts as well as group shows such as Spotlight on Seattle (part of the Beyond the Threshold series).  I highly recommend seeing this company if you’re in Seattle, or bringing them to an area near you.  Click the link for my original review.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a performance of a relatively new Seattle dance company, Karin Stevens Dance. Full disclosure: a coworker of mine is a member of the company and invited me. Perhaps because of this I had a vested interest in seeing the positive aspects of the performance. To my surprise and delight, there was very little else.

Sadly, the performances I had seen up to this point have not been of the caliber I traditionally expect of professional dance. Each performance boasted similarly classically trained dancers, focused on the completion of ballet-based movement tasks that simply left me bored. It is hard to describe, but I sense a certain hypocrisy from such artists. As an artist myself, I try very hard to believe that there is something driving the choreographers, something they are trying to explain or demonstrate through movement. Yet time and time again, their point is lost in the desire to demonstrate how awesomely they can dance ballet. In these dances, there is no mystery. The movement does not relate to any choreographic theme, it is just ballet. Sometimes it is really good ballet with interesting contemporary developments, but it is just ballet — the tyranny of tradition.

Back to Karin Stevens. I almost did not go see the show because I feared it would have similar problems to other Seattle performances. I decided to go because my coworker told me she did not grow up as a ballet dancer. I thought that anyone who would use someone who studied primarily modern dance might be capable of creating interesting dance through the use of multiple dance modalities and genres. Indeed, one of the strongest aspects of Karin Stevens’ choreography is the manner in which she seamlessly weaves ballet-inspired movement with her own unique gestures and full-bodied phrases. Her work also is capable of existing as pure dance or as dance in which you can read a story. For example, in Suite for Cello #1 in G Major – J.S. Bach, the dancers jump and turn joyously in the space, creating visual pathways of a mostly ballet-based movement vocabulary. Most entrances and movement developments follow the music closely, and I felt watching it that it was about the pure joy of dance. In contrast, her work You and Me showcases quick, furtive dancers barely avoiding each other in space, ending in a stand-off that asks questions of identity boundaries in interpersonal relationships.

Another aspect I greatly enjoyed is the collaborative nature of much of Stevens’ work. All but the J.S. Bach dance were scored by a local composer/musician, and the final number, Byway Connection, was set to live jazz music performed by the Mack Grout Jazz Trio (who provided incidental music throughout the evening). Even the Bach number was performed with a live cellist! It is refreshing to see the amount of positive collaboration going on between dancers and other artists. Stevens’ next big project is a dance that draws its inspiration simultaneously from the Large Hadron Collider and Islamic architecture, and it, too, is scored by a local composer. I saw a preview of this dance at her concert, and it promises to be a compelling and architecturally driven evening-length work.

I first came to see Karin Stevens Dance because of my coworker. I will go again because it is truly fun, spunky, and delightful dance. To find out more, visit her site.

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