Man versus nature; animal energy set loose on OtB stage

"Kingdom," the concluding segment of the series, premieres May 22 to May 24 at On the Boards in lower Queen Anne. Natura Abolita" (2001) and "Praying Mantis" (2002) are the other pieces in the series.
The subject this trilogy sinks its teeth into has grown increasingly pronounced in Scott and Powell's work since they formed their dance company in 1994.
"I've always had 'animal' in my movement," explains the group's choreographer, Scott, but she says the connection between man and nature didn't develop until her collaboration with composer Jarred Powell.
"It was the journey we found to be most interesting together," Scott reflects.
The further the pair delves into the issue, the more complex their creations become. "Natura Abolita" is an introductory exploration into the modern-day detachment of man from nature. The second piece in the series, "Praying Mantis," looks inwardly at the division within man's own soul, the title and the movement toying with the words "prey" and "pray," simultaneously conveying a sense of sorrow and hope.
As a finale, "Kingdom" goes beyond the human landscape into the multitude of environments its namesake evokes: the animal kingdom, the spiritual realm and the mythical world.
Unlike most artistic creations, Scott recalls, the title of this piece preceded all of its physical material.
"It's a heavy word," emphasizes Scott. "The word is so portentous. It has a resonance." Through purposive choreography, Scott strives to capture the complexity of everything the title suggests. She hopes the audience will experience a visceral response to the message rather than simply watching images on stage. Throughout the creative process Scott challenges herself by asking, "How do you make the marrow speak and not just the exterior?"
Aesthetically, "Kingdom" is similar to Scott's previous work, displaying her signature style of animalistic movement - tautly extended legs whipping through space, tendril-like arms slicing the air, and undulating torsos bursting with emotions.
Her choreographic style compels the viewer to notice the energy rather than the movement. Instead of focusing on the dancers, the viewer's attention is drawn to the space the bodies are intently dissecting. The effect, according to Scott, is like watching autumn leaves propelled by a blustering wind. The magical element is not the leaves themselves, but the leaves allowing you to "see" the otherwise invisible wind.
Scott's dancers, impressively athletic and controlled, extend agile limbs from contorted and precariously contrived postures. Like Scott's analogy of the autumn leaves, their bodies move across the stage as if pushed by an outward force, creating hypnotic patterns of unrestrained energy.
Both literally and figuratively, "Kingdom" mimics the natural ebb and flow of nature's energy - letting calmness follow chaos, illustrating a series of new beginnings from each abrupt ending. Even when the music rages, the dancers are able to create a palpable silence with their stillness.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, Scott's choreography conspicuously lacks the element of surprise. Considering the ensemble of proficient performers, the piece ignores the dancers' technical ability to execute explosive and dynamic shifts in movement. Even the most furious phrases become predictable in their design.
Despite these shortcomings, Scott and Powell's work possesses notable maturity in thematic development not often seen in local artists. Their collaborative efforts to blend original music and movement produce an alternate reality where preconceptions can easily be suspended, where humans can become animals, the stage a jungle, and the concrete outside can seem miles away.

Mary Sheldon Scott/Jarred Powell Performance will perform "Kingdom" at On the Boards, Behnke Center for Contemporary Performance, 100 W. Roy St., from Thursday, May 22-Saturday, May 24 at 8 p.m. Prices: $12-$16. Tickets/information: 217-9888.

Freelance writer Claire Whitley is a Seattle resident.

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