Hold the spice

In which delivery on an opening promise is withheld

ROCKHOPPER DANCE GIVES its newest offering a culinary theme, beginning with two waiters introducing the evening and promising the audience "more spicy" dancing. But like menu offerings in a fusion restaurant, some of the dances deliver what the waiters promise, while others are just a mishmash of ingredients.

On the Side

Rockhopper Dance

September 16 at Seattle Mime/Chamber Theater

In Splash, choreographers and performers Shannon Hobbs and Yoav Kaddar begin well, with a tightly crafted exploration of swimming images. They employ traditional mime techniques while hidden behind an upturned table, their bright blue bathing caps peeking over the top or tilting from the sides. They work through several classic routines—as when his paddling hands on one side and her fluttering feet on the other appear attached to the same body. When they climb over the top and "dive" onto the stage, though, their work becomes more diffuse—without the discipline of their original prop, they flounder a bit in deeper water.

The creators of Leftovers (Juliet Waller) and Self Love (Scott Davis and Rob Kitsos) combine dance and theater elements with varying results. In Leftovers a laconic exchange between a man and a woman ("Hey, how's it going?" "Shitty,") escalates as he begins to manipulate her, using his hands as blinders until she slaps him away, screaming. A third person, flamboyantly dressed in rumba pants and ruffled shirt, slashes her way across the space periodically but doesn't interact with the couple until the very end, when she draws a gun and shoots them. The work is over, but the relationships are not actually resolved, just finished.

Unlike the phlegmatic couple at the beginning of Leftovers, the duo in Self Love starts in high gear and accelerates from there. At the start, most of the energy comes from their delivery of the text, which seems to be drawn from self-affirmation handbooks ("I follow my highest joy," "I create what I want easily"), while the movement doesn't quite match the same level of irony. But as the work develops, the dance phrases take on a manic energy. By this time the text has taken on a morbid tone ("My gods are dark and ugly"), until the dance ends as it began, with a conversation about jumper cables and some intense use of an electric pencil sharpener. This is all performed to a set of easy listening songs that seem to evoke a certain paranoia in the dancers.

Tending the Garden, by Caroline Sutton, draws on vocabulary from Far Eastern dance styles and the succulence of the title, but it could go much further in both directions. In the first section, a trio in floral scarves is more decorative than verdant, with arms and hips reminiscent of Polynesian dance without its sense of weighted swinging. The dance often combines nature with danger—as when a potted "plant" emerges from its container to wrangle with a person meditating nearby—yet it stops short of its potential, humorous or otherwise. When the floral trio, this time carrying small knives, reappeared at the end of the work during a menacing solo performed with a pair of garden shears, I found myself wishing they were more dangerous, or more lush, or both.

THE DANCERS IN Paul D. Mosley's Turning in the Widening Gyre are very able, making an easy job of any technical challenges. The foreboding quality of the score (Shostakovich's String Quartet #8) and the title quotation from Yeats' poem ("Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world") create a dark environment for the work, so the performers' abilities seem to isolate them—to keep them from connecting with one another.

Mark J. Kane's Surge, set to a French lounge music score by Serge Gainsbourg and using a set of physical therapy balls, could have easily become a set of gimmicks but manages to stay just this side of silly. There's something slightly illicit about the dance, as the performers roll and bounce on these extra-large balls. By the end it combines images as disparate as Sally Rand, specialty jugglers from the old Ed Sullivan show, and bodysurfing in a cheerful mix. At last—the "more spicy" dance we were promised.

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