Dancing About Life
Cyrus Khambatta's Literal but Exacting Choreography
Two dancers in tight, blood-red minidresses face each other in the center of the stage, eyes locked, moving in small circles to the eerie sounds of plucked cello strings. At the center of the dancers' slow orbit is the central device of Vice and Virtue: a single apple held by dancer Ellen Cooper. Cooper alternately offers it to fellow dancer Meredith Sallee and yanks it out of reach, Sallee reaching and yearning, Cooper pulling back with rigid gestures, an almost evil look in her eyes. The wavelike rhythm of their back-and-forth is hypnotizing, and the snow streaking through the night sky outside Cyrus Khambatta's backyard dance studio heightens the feeling of being stuck in a fairy tale.
As a choreographer, Khambatta's work is very literal. Sometimes artists translate an aspect of the human experience into dance with corny and vapid results, but Khambatta's mature, intricate, and exacting choreography—combined with his eclectically trained dancers—prevent these pieces from falling into that trap. Jeremy Cline's capoeira background, for example, lends a time-stopping quality to the long, sweeping jumps that repeatedly take Vice and Virtue dancers from the floor to the air and back again.
The theme of the evening's second piece, Interview with the American Dream, is equally heavy. At the height of the American recession, Khambatta selected random numbers from a phone book and asked the first person to pick up the phone what he or she thought about the American dream. Responses ranged from "I think the American dream is having your cake and eating it too" to "I don't have time for this shit!" (Khambatta did not include that one in the piece.)
The dancing in Interviews, punctuated by recordings of those conversations, reinforces these sentiments with grim representations of struggle and frustration. In contrast to Vice and Virtue, the dancers are stony-faced and detached, dressed in gray and black and isolated from one another even as they dance together in diagonal lines across the stage. Movements are repeated in quick succession with dancers rolling across the floor, making generic hand gestures ("I see you," "call me," blowing kisses), lifting and dragging each other across the stage, and dancing in pairs in a sort of pissed-off tango. Interviews is driven more by the music and recorded quotes than by the choreography, which is not as captivating as Khambatta's work in Vice and Virtue, but is thought-provoking nonetheless. Kyle Williams's sharp partnering and firm, snappy head movements show off his Latin dance skills and add a crispness to the piece, while Alexandra Madera's tiny frame and dreamy gaze bring a hopeful innocence to an otherwise dark and stormy mood.
The third piece in the show, Love Story, was not included in the previews but will be accompanied by footage from interviews about love with various community members, including Donald Byrd of Spectrum Dance Theater and Tonya Lockyer of Velocity Dance Center. After its one-night premiere in Kirkland, Khambatta's company will take its apples and dreams on tour through the Pacific Northwest and India.