If you listen to the psychologists, we are all performers, presenting ourselves to the world whenever we leave the safety of the bathroom. So Lingo's newest program is just a chance to blur the distinctions between the dancers and the watchers, as we all mingle and sip. Inhabit is a "social art feast," according to the press release, but mostly it's a variation on a party, the kind where you don't really know anyone but they all seem pretty interesting.
Inhabit Lingo dancetheater at Capitol Hill Arts Center, 1621 12th Ave., 349-8772, www.lingodance.com. $18. 8 p.m. Thurs.–Sun. Ends May 19.
The dancers take turns escorting the audience into the space by twos and threes, hanging up their coats and offering a drink like any good hosts would. Once inside, the audience does that awkward shuffle step where you're trying to look all around without being too obvious. Floor lamps are scattered about, beverages and snacks are laid out on a couple of rolling bars, and the west-facing windows are glowing with the beginnings of the sunset—it doesn't exactly look like someone's living room, but it's not really a theater, either.
As they chat people up and make introductions, the quartet from Lingo (director KT Niehoff, Bianca Cabrera, Dustin Haug, and Aaron Schwartzman) are just a bit more animated than the rest of us. It's still as easy to watch the other guests and puzzle out their actions as it is to look at the "official" performers. Eventually the dancing phrases get slightly longer and more dynamic. People are milling around and sight lines are constantly changing. Like Merce Cunningham's work with random structures, there is no one focal point, no place that everyone is supposed to be looking at any particular time.
The sun sets and the lights shift in the room, making the space for dancing more formal and sharpening the distinction between doers and watchers. As the dancers interact more powerfully, covering more space and carrying themselves with authority, the audience starts to tuck itself along the edges of the room, trying to keep out of the way. Niehoff and her dancers use a mixture of contact improvisation and the release techniques that are almost ubiquitous in contemporary choreography, so that fluidity and ease are the baselines for most of the actual dancing. It's a style that is particularly suited to this environment, where the audience is close enough to the performers to see tiny details in gesture and posture. The proximity makes it easier to notice how a slipped hip can shift the center of weight and start a cascading series of steps.
Niehoff in particular is an articulate and commanding performer here, while Cabrera seems more agitated. Haug has a very light touch, especially in a long sequence about moving an (imaginary) enormous rock. Schwartzman is especially adept at the unconventional balancing act required in contact improvisation, turning on the top of his head as easily as on his feet or his hips. All four dancers have a liquid quality, swirling around themselves rather than surging across the room. Inhabit is designed to show off its performers in a very intimate situation, and this quartet handles the challenge exceptionally well.
The dancing becomes more harsh as the lights dim, the relationship between the four more like a competition. Instead of a cocktail party, we might be at a ritual, invoking the powers of nature around a campfire. After several intense solos by the cast, it is a relief when the final toast is given "to naps," and we each get a little pillow if we care to lie down. Niehoff sings us a lullaby, and we rest until the lights start to come back up. It is as charming as it is comforting.