May 11, 2011

MFA Dance Concert features meditations on ‘touch

News and Information

Four of the 10 dancers in Paula Peters dance, 'Connectivity Reconsidered,' rehearse. Rebecca Smith, left, and Arianne Herman are in front, Veronica Layacan, left, and Katitza Holthaus in back.

Kathy Sauber

Four of the 10 dancers in Paula Peters dance, "Connectivity Reconsidered," rehearse. Rebecca Smith, left, and Arianne Herman are in front, Veronica Layacan, left, and Katitza Holthaus in back.

Six new dances will be presented at the MFA Dance Concert May 19-22, but in a moment of synchronicity, two of them have the same theme. Both Bliss Kohlmyer and Paula Peters chose to explore the idea of touch in the work they choreographed for the concert, which spotlights dances by the members of the UWs Chamber Dance Company.

Although the general theme is the same, the dances are quite different, Kohlmyer and Peters say. For Kohlmyer, the inspiration was a class she took called Anthropology of the Body, in which the significance of the skin was discussed.

“So I was thinking about this and I began to get really interested in the sense of touch and how touch can travel through the boundaries of the skin and become really emotional and psychological,” Kohlmyer said.

The title of her piece is Touch(ed), reflecting both the physical and emotional aspects of touch.

Peters came at the idea in a very different way.

From left, Fausto Rivera, Kristopher Brackebusch and Margaret Jones rehearse Bliss Kohlmyers dance, Touch(ed). Alethea Alexander is in the back.

Kathy Sauber

From left, Fausto Rivera, Kristopher Brackebusch and Margaret Jones rehearse Bliss Kohlmyers dance, Touch(ed). Alethea Alexander is in the back.

“Ive noticed how space and peoples energy has really changed since everyone is plugged into their electronic devices,” she said. “People bump into each other and hardly look up. Being touched by somebody is an invasion. Weve become more connected to the broader world, but weve become really small in the inhabiting of our own space. So I started thinking about that and about how our bodies really change depending on whether were touching each other or not.”

Her dance is called Connectivity Reconsidered.

The way the two choreographers went about their work was also very different. Kohlmyer said she began with few dance moves in mind. Instead, she brainstormed with the four dancers in the piece, asking them to write personal stories about one experience of touch that was important to them and to create movement from the stories.

“The conversations about touch at the beginning of the working process very much inspired my own movement creation and other movement ‘tasks that I gave the dancers,” she said.

For music, Kohnlmyer turned to doctoral student Douglas Niemela. “We decided it would be interesting if the dance itself was the more physical part of the touch and the music represented the more emotional side,” she said. “So he [Niemela] bought a really fancy stethoscope and attached it to a really fancy recorder and he recorded the insides of the dancers as they were moving. Then he electronically processed and manipulated those sounds so the majority of the sounds you hear are from the dancers themselves.”

Peters approach to the work was more structured.  ”There was some creative contribution from the cast, but most of it was me saying, ‘Heres the phrase, and then I manipulated it,” Peters said. “I didnt tell them too much about my idea beforehand. My way is to give them the movement, then go back afterward and give them images to go with it.”

Her music is a piece by Amon Tobin which is electronically sampled. In other words, small sections of previous recordings have been manipulated to produce a new sound.

Peters said that in the beginning, her dancers are not looking at each other and are “pulling into their own spaces,” but there is a shift in the middle, and by the end they are looking and touching. Kohlmyer described her piece as “amoebic, flowing from one thing to another.”

Neither choreographer is particularly concerned about whether the audience “gets” the idea behind the dance.

“If they see the energy shift taking place, and Im pretty sure they will, thats enough for me,” Peters said.

Said Kohlmyer, “I just hope the audience feels something. Thats the beauty of dance for me. If you feel anything as youre watching it, then I think Ive succeeded.”

Other choreographers featured in the concert are:

  • Brenna Monroe-Cook, with a work that takes inspiration from Schuberts well-loved Lieder. This quartet of solos ruminates on ideas of constancy and steadiness, and contemplates both the monotony and deep comfort that come from regularity.
  • General McArthur Hambrick, who blends contemporary ballet, theater and pedestrian movement  in collaboration with lighting designer Peter Bracilano to create an atmosphere of destiny, longing and hope.
  • Christy McNeil, who creates a work that explores time, space and rhythm.  Drawing from hip hop, jazz and modern dance, she uses her dancers to create a visual representation of the electronic score.
  • Chengxin Wei, with a work that explores the relationships between individuals, space, and music.  By working in close collaboration with his dancers, he creates material that reflects their unique movement personalities.

Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $14, $12 for UWAA members, faculty and staff, and $10 for students.  Tickets are available online or at the UW Arts Ticket Office, 3901 University Way NE, Seattle 206-543-4880.