Photo Credit: Beth Terwilleger, The Gray Dance Company
An evening at Velocity on Sunday, October 20, 2018. The Midsummer, by Beth Terwilleger, is a new work for her new dance company, The Gray, here in Seattle. I find it appropriate that her double-debut is the subject of my first article for the Seattle Central Collegian.
Because I arrived early, I got the rare chance to meet with the choreographer personally before the show. It was the final performance of The Gray’s first work, The Midsummer. Beth Terwilleger was both eloquent and friendly, with a certain relatability. I couldn’t help but hope for the show to go well, as her debut piece for her new company. I couldn’t help but hope for her to succeed.
Walking into the theater, even before sitting down, the first thing I noticed is the birdsong. The soundtrack, mixed by Gabe Herberston, is vibrating with peaceful nature. The birds eventually gave way to running water, equally as peaceful. Perhaps something’s gently wading through it, liquid flowing around it. The next ambient sound was a chorus of crickets, vibrating for all their worth. The lights, with their quiet “dappled” effects, give the experience of gentle moonlight in a forest clearing. I felt a darkness, but not anxiety. Perhaps ‘shade’ is a better term.
I couldn’t help but hope for the show to go well, as her debut piece for her new company. I couldn’t help but hope for her to succeed.
The music began, and Puck, played by an electric Leah Russell, entered with a gentle force about them, as if weighted to the ground, stretching and reaching forwards as they walk in slow motion. The powerful motif of a silent scream began, to be repeated throughout, where Puck unhinges their jaw, appearing to force their mouth open with their hands. Puck wears the bare minimum, with enough raw power and androgyny to remain mysterious in a simple bra and boyshorts.
Next came the four iconic Shakespearean lovers: Corbin Hall as Demetrius, in love with Hermia; Jim Kent as Lysander, in love with Hermia; Melissa Sanderson as Hermia, in love with Lysander– against her father’s wishes; and Sumaya Mulla-Carrillo as Helena (in love with Demetrius). The men wore clothes that wouldn’t be out of place on the street today, generally unremarkable in tee shirts and the tight-yet-flexible pants common with contemporary dancers. Helena wore a white Greek dress with clean lines, while Hermia would be comfortable at a gala in her flowing dark pink gown.
The central takeaway of the show was where the story diverged from the Shakespearean comedy. There is no speaking, no comic relief, but a lot of powerful dramatic dance. Puck especially commanded a power over the stage that is almost overpowering at times, controlling the characters and appearing to notice the audience. The plot itself is more “character based than text based,” with a imaginative rewrite of the story and none of the surrounding plot from the play; no Theseus or Titania, no Bottom or Oberon. It’s as if the 4 main characters and their relationships with each other were lifted into another universe where all that exists is them, dancing in the forest as the gods hold witness.
The dance was modern/contemporary based. The choreography was versatile and well tailored to each dancer. Hermia has gorgeous balletic lines, Lysander has both a sensuality and a sense of hesitancy, and Puck’s dances convey naïveté, curiosity, and pity. In the post-show talk-back, where the choreographer and dancers answered questions from the audience, Russell noted her character’s eventual turn to an “unhinged…tortured creature” full of anger, shame, and guilt. This reads especially well under her varied dance background, with “contemporary and modern dance, … hip-hop, capoeira and tai chi.”
…the 4 main characters… were lifted into another universe where all that exists is them, dancing in the forest as the gods hold witness.
Technically, the show is strong. The music, by composer/cellist Julia Kent, was visceral, emotional, and raw, lending itself well to the magic called forth by Puck as well as the desperate passion between the lovers. The lights, by Amber Parker, were dramatic (and harsh at times), casting silhouettes and highlighting different spaces of the stage, changing colors to reflect the tone of each scene. The dancers were talented, and could hold the attention of the audience even when the other dancers faded into the background to allow for short solo dances. There was no set, with a minimalist aesthetic in the costumes–no jewelry, no robes or scarves, just enough of a costume to distinguish the characters from each other.
One of the two complaints I have is that there was often too much happening on the stage for an audience member to watch. The male-female couples both had gorgeous movements together, and I was forced to choose between watching one partnership or the other. The dancers never leave the stage once the piece begins, and the combination of an energetic 5-man cast and the weight of the powerful music was at times suffocating. It’s an artistic choice, and most likely intentional, but I personally object to it.
Russell noted her character’s eventual turn to an “unhinged…tortured creature” full of anger, shame, and guilt.
My other complaint is that the men were rather underwhelming. Demetrius and Lysander were…fine. Jim Kent, a very talented dancer and longtime veteran of Whim W’him, wasn’t especially impressive in this show. Whether by choreography or the dancer’s choices or ability, neither Kent nor Hall exceeded the adjective fine. This was especially glaring when they danced with the three radiant women in the cast. Helena and Hermia commanded a presence and were choreographically front and center for more of the show than the men. Puck was especially memorable with distinctive music and costume and a dense, ethereal quality in their movement.
Velocity Dance Center is a short 3 miles away, with dance classes and regular performances (including an open mic, SH*T GOLD, on 1st and 3rd Mondays at 10:00). As for The Gray, I’m excited to see what they bring to the Seattle dance community as they develop new works. The Midsummer was overall a successful show, and for now I’m looking forward to Terwilleger’s next production.