Jessie Smith is a tough young bird. Between her theater company Implied Violence and her dance company Dead Bird Movement, the very small twentysomething dancer has been flung, dropped, spit at, slapped, and held underwater—sometimes by her own hands.
Smith's dances, which she typically performs solo, have the muscle and pacing of heavy metal: savage thrashing interspersed with grindingly slow balances and precarious postures. Her Double Feature, playing above a pottery warehouse next to the train tracks in Sodo, begins with a dance film shot in Berlin. To an eerie score by Jherek Bischoff, Smith wanders around in an orange tutu, making little leaps on a crowded train platform, through some industrial rubble (barefoot), in the dark on a spray-painted sofa. She presses her butt against a warehouse wall and leans forward, curving her spine, caving her chest, and twisting her arms gracefully inward.
This is Smith's signature posture. She turns her small and willowy body into a scaly bird claw, or a curved, leafless branch in winter. It's a kind of self-effacement, a young limber body making itself gnarled and cold. The camera jiggles as she lifts one leg and, for just an instant, we can see scabs and blood on the tops of her feet.
The second half of Double Feature, in the flesh, is even tougher. In a small, spare room with 12 fluorescent poles, Smith and drummer Jeffrey Mitchell perform a fearsome duet. He pounds the toms and cymbals, filling the room with a wash of percussive noise, panting loudly in the occasional breaks. Smith rocks and jumps, twisting her bird-claw arms and pivoting violently on the balls of her feet. The drums go silent, and she slowly folds herself into a runner's starting posture, walks around the floor on her knees, and flings herself up and around. The drums begin again.
Panting, Smith hauls a table with an unopened bottle of Maker's Mark and five shot glasses into the center of the stage. She lines up the glasses and pours five shots, drinking the first two quickly. The third goes down with more effort and coughing. She stares at the other two slack-jawed and panting, like an exhausted boxer. Smith holds her hand over her mouth to keep the fourth shot in. The fifth she swallows, then immediately vomits back up through her fingers. She looks pissed. The audience winces and leans forward at the same time.
The rest of the dance is slower, Smith executing difficult balance postures, struggling against her own drunkenness. She lifts one leg slowly, painfully in the air, her lips curled in a determined snarl, her eyes rolling back in her head. It's an ode to effort, to self-limitation, to being one's own worst enemy. She thrashes some more, then collapses. The drummer stops, walks onto the stage, and drags Smith out of the room. The audience claps and murmurs. A young, crusty punk dude says to no one in particular: "That was hardcore."