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On the Boards's twentieth-anniversary season and Seattle's newest dance facility opened simultaneously last fall with the inauguration of the Behnke Center for Contemporary Performance. Contributions from the Behnke family capped a two-year, $4.2 million campaign to raise funds for a home to embody the adventurous artistic spirit and daring that have characterized On the Boards's work for two decades.

Portuguese choreographer Clara Andermatt's A Story of Doubt/Uma Historia da Duvida, in its U.S. premiere, launched the season. The work, created for Lisbon's Expo '98, explores the cultural richness of Cape Verde, the former Portuguese colony off the west coast of Africa. It opens with a film showing the stark island geography--steep cliffs, hilly pastures, ephemeral sand dunes. Andermatt's choreography is an attempt to project the emotional contrasts of Cape Verde's environment and people, literally, with images from the film inserted into the live performance, and, figuratively, into its movement and music.

Andermatt developed A Story of Doubt in Mindelo in Cape Verde, and brought the performers to her native Portugal for its premiere last August. The all-male cast comprises dancers and musicians from Andermatt's Lisbon ensemble and from Cape Verde. Joao Lucas arranged and composed the music, with wild vocals and sometimes painfully loud instrumental pieces.

Architect Carlos Alberto Gomes (with MGC--Arquitectos Associados) fashioned the impressive set, which forms a high back wall to the stage and is inset with doors. A large rustic pier, moved around the stage by the performers, greatly expands the choreographic and set design combinations. Dancers leap from various parts of the set, face off, and dance in a frenzy. Musicians playing traditional and contemporary tunes move beneath or behind the structures, sometimes taking center stage.

Andermatt's movement motifs are not beautiful--a man in a squat position rests against a wall and beats the metallic pier set, and the entire theater reverberates--dancers' limbs, fingers, and toes tremble and are splayed as if in rigor mortis. In this emotional choreography, very little seems in balance. Andermatt's dancers form a presence that appears to embody this idea. At one point, they sit on the stage in a trancelike state, chanting, staring--bored, defiant, resigned, ecstatic. Perhaps this is indeed the message, reflecting the rugged existence of Cape Verde's people as they prepare to become part of some national myth about autonomy and promise.

A Story of Doubt is a challenging piece, and Andermatt demands theft a high level of physical and emotional energy be sustained throughout the dance. Andermatt explains that the necessary strength training evolved from the landscape itself. This is a strange environmental determinism to be sure, with the dancers running up and down the steep hills of Cape Verde for their training and interviewing its residents for themes for the dance.

Andermatt's work, with very little variation or modulation, after a while becomes almost a parody of a dance. As raw as the exposed bedrock of Cape Verde itself, this piece is scheduled to tour the U.S. this year.

Also exemplifying On the Boards's penchant for dance theater that tackles complex issues was the second program of its twentieth-anniversary series. American dancemaker Meg Stuart and her Belgium-based company, Damaged Goods, collaborated with visual artist Ann Hamilton in presenting appetite.

Premiered in Brussels in September, the work is about scarcity and excess, gluttony and sensuality, cooperation and competition. A loaf of bread becomes a mask while another dancer eats it; another makes dough sculptures downstage, which later become airborne when they are thrown into the audience. Early on, a dancer gathers parachute silk and stuffs the entire mass into a pocket, while other dancers locomote by pushing and pulling as they touch each other. At one point, dancers demonstrate power spitting that would put any preschooler to shame.

Much of the dancing is strenuous, with a lot of bouncing off the floor and off each other. Later, the dancers seemingly become glued to the floor and can hardly get up. In one of the more playful parts, Stuart and Yukiko Shinozaki together don one bright-colored skirt and perform a head jive in tandem.

Hamilton collaborated on every aspect of the project, working with Stuart in Brussels for several months. One result is a scenic design as active as the dancers themselves. A huge canvas backdrop evolves during the performance as water gently rolls down it, seeping into the material to create fabulous forms and gorgeous columns that grow larger until they can no longer be ignored.

A novel design twist is the floor of fresh clay, painted on wet before the performance, which marks the dancers as they mark it and hasten the cracking as it dries. Such elements, together with playful stage effects, such as a dancer's fluted metallic collar that twirls and reflects stage light's onto the backdrop, add to the whimsy of this intelligent, lively piece and perhaps denote a new direction in Stuart's oeuvre. The humor and lightness of the work are new for her, and she wears them well.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Geographic Code:1U9WA
Date:Feb 1, 1999

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