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In Digging, Kate Corby & Dancers explore meditation through movement with UW Dance
Digging is a collaboration with the dancers from Corby's company.
Credit:Kat Cameron

UW dance professor Kate Corby presented Digging, an evening of contemporary works at Lathrop Hall's Margaret H'Doubler Performance Space (through Nov. 23). Her Chicago-based company, Kate Corby & Dancers, appeared with students and faculty from the UW Dance Department.

The program opened with guest artist Danielle Russo's That one should open like an eyelid and lying there beneath it simply eyelids, a sextet for student dancers. The performers wore sweet dresses but did not always behave sweetly. The floor was carpeted with white rose petals. The flowers sometimes served as a giant featherbed, with gusts of petals rising and falling with the dancers' movements.

The dancers' interactions ranged from tender to menacing. Flora Kim was trapped under a chair for a spell, and I almost forgot about her, but she surprised me when she appeared again. Meredith Weissert showed strength and vulnerability. She surrounded several times by the women who picked her apart, pulling her auburn hair into sections and then rebraiding it. Grace Deane exuberantly crossed the stage, hopping between mounds of petals like they were rocks in a stream.

At times the dancers gathered the petals in their skirts, shoved them inside their dresses, pushed through them as though they were swimming through a sea. In one gripping moment, they tried to drop them, one by one, into the mouth of a dancer who was prone on the floor, her mouth pried open. The six dancers end up in an exhausted heap, the once pristine floor looking like a battlefield.

Choreographers Corby and Collette Stewart addressed the audience between pieces. The two discussed the intersection of meditation and the creative process, and Stewart described the practice of open-awareness meditation before leading the audience in two minutes of this activity.

Stewart's own piece, Nondistraction, paired her with UW dance lecturer Mariah Lefeber. The two sometimes pulled together in curvy and soft ways. Other times they sliced through space, the movement initiated with a strong, straight arm, somewhat like that of an archer. Stewart's work almost always looks good on her, but it suited Lefeber as well. Both are dancers free of artifice. The sparseness of this piece was like a bracing sorbet between courses at a fancy meal.

Corby's Tacit Triggers has some new cast members and stylish new costumes from designer Maggie Dianovsky. These updates give the piece, which premiered in the spring of last year, a fresh look. The dancers seem mature beyond their years and are in tune with each other, rocking themselves side to side, until they appear woozy. Later the group of six propel themselves around the stage in an arc, each of them circling an arm up and around, the opposite knee rising behind.

Digging, Corby's latest work, which premiered in Chicago last month, is a collaboration with the dancers from her company. The evening's program describes their process of using meditation as a catalyst, starting each rehearsal with 20 minutes of meditation, sitting together. Ryan Ross Smith and a group composed of Tim Russell, Nat Evans and Ross Simonini, approached the writing of the score in a similar way.

Wearing street clothes, the sextet of dancers are still for so long that when they begin to make the smallest movements, it seems like a lot of action. Benjamin Law and Mikey Rioux approach each other, purposefully pressing their flattened palms together. The duo's hands touch for most of the piece, forcing them weave their arms around each other so they remain linked. When they ultimately break apart, they devour the space around them. In another section, the dancers are more playful, the drums accelerating until Josh Anderson erupts into a frenzy of riotous movement, cymbals crashing. Law approaches him, straightening Anderson's tie and helping him compose himself, but Anderson's labored breathing is a reminder of his outburst.

Later Rioux inserts himself in between Sarah Mitchell and Anna Normann, who briefly nestle together. Normann and Law show us how quickly a touch to a partner’s face can turn from intimate to aggressive. At the end the dancers strip down to their underwear before departing the stage, leaving behind their clothes.

Corby, always a thoughtful dance maker, admits in the program notes that she needed a respite from head topics she’s tackled in the past. These include genocide, emotional contagion and life cycles. Digging is indeed a departure but still is clearly hers. It is a new favorite for me and is lusher, sexier and more "dancey" than much of her previous work.

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