Chutzpah Festival takes a walk on the wild side with mouth to mouth and gR33N

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      An Ate9 dANCEcOMPANY and Project 20 production. A Chutzpah Festival presentation. At the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre on Sunday, March 2. Continues March 3

      Another trip to the Chutzpah Festival, another walk on the wild side of contemporary dance. Pulsing beats, fever-dream visions, and cutting-edge movement: this was the place to find them this weekend. Once again, the relatively small festival is proving it’s not afraid to take big risks.

      In one of several coups it’s scored in its dance programming this year, Chutzpah nabbed a new work by Ate9 dANCEcOMPANY, the hot, rising troupe run by Batsheva Dance Company alumna and in-demand choreographer Danielle Agami.

      The Israeli-born, now Seattle-based artist’s mouth to mouth, a “pre-premiere” of a piece that will have its grand debut in Los Angeles in April, lived up to its promise. Building from the sultry sounds of Nina Simone to the skittery electro beats of Radiohead and composer Jodie Landau, it crescendoed into a wonderfully strange, buzzing vision of rushing, urban figures pairing and pulling apart. Duets gave way to trios, which flowed into trios again in an fascinating, hypnotic whir of dancers dressed in incongruous blazers and tight undies; at the beginning of the piece, one performer even snipped giant holes in the red dress of another, revealing her underwear. Was it an announcement the piece would rip away façades, or an attempt to reveal the sexuality we barely contain in our clothes?

      One moment the movement would be intimately familiar—gentle kisses on the cheek, arms raised like they were grabbing subway straps. The next, the extremely honed and insanely watchable dancers would move like automatons or giant alien mantises. Women lurched across the stage, dipping their torsos deeply as they strode, then breaching their heads and chests up like dolphins. In another sequence, a man on all fours carried a woman, turned backwards, on his back, her legs jutting out on either side of his head like antennae.

      The rush of bodies, the detailed, edgy movement, and the thumping beats fully captured the sound and the fury, the rapture and the rush of life. Odd, fleeting, and gorgeous, it left you wanting much, much more.

      That couldn’t be said for Donald Sales’s gR33N, a surreal piece that went on too long, but you had to, again, marvel at the gutsiness of his approach.

      The full-length debut for his company, Project 20, opened with Sales himself, set against a green screen and wearing a hospital gown, being tended to by nurses/orderlies, a doctor affixing a cast to his leg. He would sit there, deadpan, for almost the entirety of the performance, sometimes sipping a juice box, sometimes putting on his headphones and nodding his head to the beat.

      What unfolded in front of him on the stage, the nurses dancing in their medical scrubs, played out like whatever hallucination was happening in his head—a side effect of the prescription-strength painkillers, perhaps? The feel was eerie and delirious. But there was a clever dual symbolism to the scene, as well, with the immobilized choreographer keeping a watchful eye on his three female dancers.

      As expected from an artist who is also a music producer, the soundscape was an off-the-hook span from emotive folk to cinematic instrumental to composer Owen Belton’s electronic score. The dance was an offbeat hybrid of balletic extension (Sales is a former soloist with Ballet B.C.), idiomatic gestures (cellphone gabbing and sneezing), and loose, earthy lunging and squatting. Big, physical trios would often break abruptly with an interruption—say, Sales hilariously begging his nurses for more painkillers and the whereabouts of the mysterious Dr. Fred (Fred Middleton).

      The work was at its best when Sales would send his idiomatic phrases into high gear, set to Belton’s sampled mix of cartoon sound effects, his dancers lurching and cavorting to the maniacal blurps and bangs. His charismatic dancers, Sarah Brinson, Katie Cassady, and Rebecca Margolick, committed fully to the physical tasks. But when the work extended into standup and old-style comedy routines, it felt like it needed editing.

      Still, gR33N was a lot of fun, and, paired with the first act, a real trip—with or without the use of prescription painkillers.