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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 24 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 43
UW's Chamber Dance Company presents a terrific and moving program of modern dance
Arts & Entertainment
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UW's Chamber Dance Company presents a terrific and moving program of modern dance

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN Contributing Writer

CHAMBER DANCE COMPANY
'Cloudless' by Susan Marshall (2006)
'Jardi Tancat' by Nacho Duato (1983)
'To Have and to Hold' by Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith (1989)
MEANY HALL
UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON
October 11


The order of presentation in a dance concert sends a subliminal message to the audience. While directors may actually be thinking of which dancers have to dance twice or how sets and wardrobes need to change, the message received is that the best work is presented last so that audiences will persist through more challenging projects to see the stellar dance at the end. I was not surprised, then, when the series of strange vignettes that comprise Marshall's 'Cloudless' was presented first. But when 'Jardi Tancat' - the most famous and popular selection (you can see half a dozen companies performing it on You Tube) - was placed in the center instead of at the end of the evening, I suspected that the final work would be something spectacular - and I was right. I attended this concert at Meany Hall on October 11th for a chance to see Nacho Duato's moving tribute to Catalonian culture, but left with indelible images of dancers lying on, under, wrapped around, draped over and tangled up with three wooden benches in Shapiro and Smith's AIDS drama, 'To Have and to Hold.'

The mission of the Chamber Dance Company - a group of professional dancers earning higher degrees at the University of Washington - is to 'present and preserve modern dance works of significant historical and artistic value.' In some cases this means rescuing works that are in danger of being forgotten, but in this terrific program none of the works are in that precarious state. Duato's 'Jardi Tancat' is in the repertory of the Pacific Northwest Ballet - where I first saw it and loved it - while Marshall's 'Cloudless' is a fairly recent, prizewinning project. Only Shapiro and Smith's 'To Have and to Hold' is an older work referencing an earlier time, when the AIDS epidemic was still wreaking uncontrolled havoc and everyone knew someone who had died. It's hard to believe, however, that this profoundly moving work could ever fall out of the dance repertoire.

The first presentation, 'Cloudless,' is weird in the impressionistic way that Dada or experimental film is weird. It uses dance movements and soundscapes to baffle the rational mind, forcing the viewer to either abandon narrative or to come up with such contorted ideas that reason is stunned for the duration. Marshall explores the realms of 'unacknowledged knowledge' - what Borges calls 'the third meaning' - information that is there but remains unprocessed because it seems random or unrelated to coherent thought. A man sits in a chair with a teacup while a woman lies on her back blowing tissues in the air, which he tries to catch without looking. Two catatonic men sit at a library table with a dictionary while a fan blows the pages over and two people sitting behind them rise periodically to whisper into their ears. One could impose stories on scenes such as these - which are more like happenings or performance art than dance - but that would be to miss the point: to quote Churchill, it is a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

In contrast, Nacho Duato's 'Jardi Tancat' ('Closed Garden' in Catalan) is a passionate account of men and women struggling to survive hard times - blight, war, want - through the bonds of community. To Catalonian folk songs sung in cante jondo style by Maria del Mar Bonet, six barefooted dancers - three men, three women - enact their relationship to the unyielding earth in an angular, lyrical dance vocabulary crouched close to the floor and flung up to the sky in alternating gestures of hope and despair. The stage is bare but for stark tree trunks rising from the flat ground, and the women's simple, circular skirts fly or droop around their legs in a coda of expressive movement. Duato's constantly unreeling variations on relatively few movements is a feast of invention on the subject of deprivation - an irony that engages the mind as it captures the viewer's sympathy, particularly during the final song, 'Canço de na Ruixa Mantells,' that features the plaintive cry of gulls over the indifferent sea. It's hard to believe that this was Duato's first choreography project as a young dancer. Though he has followed up with a significant catalogue of dances performed world wide in the past thirty years, nothing yet has surpassed the deep note he strikes in his audiences with 'Jardi Tancat.'

The history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is conjured up whole in 'To Have and To Hold' - a corny title for an extremely moving and cleverly choreographed dance. Three benches placed on an angle across the stage act as beds, pews, coffins, and graves for six dancers, all in gender-equalizing white. They party, panic, die, and mourn by diving, sliding, rolling and disappearing onto, into and under the benches. Computer-generated music provides an appropriately moody and detached environment - the opposite of 'Jardi Tancat's passionate folksongs, but no less moving. 'To Have and To Hold' is a powerful visitation for those of us who were young adults during the early years of the AIDS epidemic - a reminder of the way it was before AIDS (a lot of fun), how confused and frightened people were about the 'Gay disease' (What? Don't they know about Bisexuals?), and how horrifying the relentless loss of friends and colleagues was before treatments were found. The dance is subtitled 'For those we have loved and lost but not forgotten,' and I am grateful to have been reminded of those people as I watched. Though an example of this work is on You Tube, it doesn't begin to convey the experience of seeing the history of AIDS unfold so clearly and compellingly on the bodies of dancers. The Chamber Dance Group was right to revive this dance, and to place it last on the program.

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