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DANCE REVIEW - OCT. 2015

Sometimes I get so enthused a dance performance that, even though I have no outlet wanting to publish it, I wind up writing about it anyway. That was the case here.

 

A STUNNER OF A DANCER IN A STUNNER OF A PIECE

“Made in Seattle”

8 p.m. Oct. 9-11, 2015

Velocity Dance Center, 1621 12th Ave., Seattle; $15-$25 (206-325-8773 or www.velocitydancecenter.org)

 

Anna Conner first registered on my radar in July with her piece, “Pigeon,” performed at Velocity Dance Center’s summer showcase, “Strictly Seattle.” It showed great flair for creating curious carvings of space and contrasts of speed onstage, involving continually changing sets and subsets of dancers.

              But “Pigeon” didn’t prepare me for the hypnotic endorphin rush of her new work in Velocity’s “Made in Seattle.”

              It has a clunky title: “Exercises for the unrested: The kingmaker.” But it features a stunning performance by Patrick Kilbane (formerly with NW Dance Project in Portland, Oregon), backed with dramatic rigor by Alexander Pham, Hannah Simmons, Calie Swedberg and Cait Wyler.

              Kilbane has a taffy-smooth gift for slow-motion phrasing and he serves it up to mesmerizing effect in the opening of “Exercises.” His action is sometimes isolated from his fellow dancers and sometimes connects with them (especially in a blade-sharp duo with Pham).

              But even when he’s stock still, he holds your eye, as if he’s weighing an ominous move that could tip the whole balance of the stage. Both he and his fellow dancers can summon powerful impact from the smallest, strangest gesture or contraction.

              The dance, on its surface, is as abstract as it is urgent in feel. If there’s any story to be extracted from it, it has to do with Kilbane’s sometimes swift, sometimes sidewinding glide toward power and his final attainment of it in a closing image that’s regal, grounded, commanding, serene.

              The sound design (by ONE and Moped Genius) and lighting design (Thorn Michaels) are part and parcel of the spell that “Exercises” casts.

               The first half of “Made in Seattle” – “separated from the womb we became lions” by Babette DeLafayette + John Marc Powell – isn’t quite on the same level. But it’s still an atmospheric piece, using ritualistic movement and masks to explore nervous variations on clan mentality and rogue solo instincts.

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JOHN HARTL'S TOP MOVIE PICKS FOR 2016

 

As some of you know, I live with this guy named John Hartl who was staff film critic for The Seattle Times from 1966 to 2001 and is still watching movies like crazy. Here are his top picks for 2015:

 

45 Years
Spotlight
Brooklyn
Sicario
Trumbo
Carol
Ex Machina
Bridge of Spies
Inside Out
99 Homes

 

A second 10:

The Walk

Joy

Timbuktu

Love & Mercy

Phoenix

Tab Hunter Confidential

Rosenwald

I’ll See You in My Dreams

The Big Short

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
 

Most miraculous restoration:

The Apu Trilogy

 

If you want to see what other Seattle film writers' top 2015 picks were, go to Parallax View.

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MICHAEL'S FAVORITE FICTION OF 2015

 

This can't possibly be a "best of" list, because I didn't, for various reasons, squeeze in enough reading in 2015. But it is a "whole-hearted recommendations" list. Click on titles for full-length reviews:

 

“Landfalls” by Naomi J. Williams (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Hands down, my favorite novel of the year. A fictional account of a real 18th-century French maritime expedition exploring the Pacific Ocean before meeting its doom. Sly writing and startlingly different points of view make this a shape-shifting revelation of a book.

 

“Purity” by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus & Girous). Hands down, my second-favorite novel of the year.Franzen’s fifth novel finds parallels between Internet invasiveness and totalitarianism as it takes on toxic marriages, Wikileaks-style whistle-blowing and more, in a book that’s a globe-hopping existential screwball comedy.

 

“In the Country” by Mia Alvar (Knopf). A wonderful debut collection of stories by a Filipina-American writer, set in Manila, Bahrein and the U.S.A., about Filipinos struggling to make a go of it, whether at home or overseas.

 

“Voices in the Night” by Steven Millhauser (Knopf). A generous treasure trove of a story collection by the Pulitzer Prize-winning of "Martin Dressler." Millhauser has an unerring knack for drawing the fantastical out of the quotidian.

 

“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove). Another knockout debut, this one by a Vietnamese-American writer. The choices, observations and, yes, sympathies of a covert communist agent embedded with South Vietnamese military intelligence become dizzyingly confusing when he joins the South Vietnamese exodus to the U.S., following the fall of Saigon in 1975. I wasn't able to review it, so the link is to David Takami's smart, savvy review in The Seattle Times.

 

“I Was a Revolutionary” by Andrew Malan Milward (Harper). This Kansas-set collection of linked stories, by a Kansas native who's now editor-in-chief of Mississippi Review, skips through time and points of view as it pieces together a deep history of a persistently contradictory state. Again, I didn't get the chance to review it, so the link is to a great piece that the Boston Globe ran on it.

 

“Act of God” by Jill Ciment (Pantheon). If the first line of this zany novel doesn't snag you (“The twins suspected it was alive, but they weren’t exactly sure if it was plant or animal”), its premise -- a fungal apocalypse unfolding in New York City -- surely will.

 

“The Book of Aron” by Jim Shepard (Knopf). A novel as canny as it is grim, as it sees the Nazi persecution of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto through the eyes of young delinquent boy who has his own peculiar slant on his life and his world.

 

“The Poser” by Jacob Rubin (Viking). A debut novel about a 1950s youngster who, as soon as he meets people, feels the urge to become them. His imitations are oddly poised between flattery and insult, and the fallout from them leads to the most unlikely of stage careers. A bracing, heady tale.

 

“The Harder They Come” by T.C. Boyle (Harper). Boyle's latest is a study of all-American crazies running amok in the woods of Northern California. Scary, hilarious, brilliantly assembled. 

 

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