Dance-Variety Show ‘Space 50’ Warms the Soul (And the 9th Planet)

A futuristic new show from Buttcracker series creators Diana Cardiff and Sara Jinks brings dance into outer space. Space 50 ran through May 1 at the Erickson Theatre. 

 

“You’re still a planet to me, Pluto!” 

Shouts of encouragement from the audience garnered small smiles from dancer Amy J Lambert as she shuffled slowly across the stage. Lambert’s t-shirt boasted a colorful, smiling planet labeled PLUTO, a stark contrast to her puffed out lower lip, trembling as if about to break into tears. 

As Lambert approached center stage, the theatre exploded with The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry,” except with the word “Pluto” awkwardly edited in over “boys.” Lambert is dancing joyfully by this time but pauses in confusion at the interruption in lyrics. 

It’s an apt metaphor for the era we find ourselves living in, and much of the art created over the past couple of years reflects the darker parts of humanity that now take up so much of the spotlight. Yet, Diana Cardiff, Sara Jinks, and their lively crew of dancers, choreographers, musicians, and visual artists have created a magical, comforting world in the darkness: Space 50: an evening of contemporary dance, live music, and film. It ran for one weekend in late April at the Erickson Theatre Off Broadway in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. 

Famous most recently for their multi-year Buttcracker productions, the Cardiff/Jinks crew are old-school Seattle dance creators who’ve spent decades dancing with the biggest names in the local contemporary dance scene. (See NWT’s preview of ‘Space 50’ here.) 

Diana Cardiff performs ‘Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Earth’. Photo by Elizabeth Carpenter.

Space 50 is a welcome return to old Seattle fringe theatre: a collection of 14 skits, dances, films, and songs packed into two hours in the remodeled theatre that decades ago housed late-night fringe and improv productions. The show opens with a video of Cardiff’s mother, Gladys Cardiff, performing slow Tai Chi movements based on medical Qigong, an ancient Chinese exercise meant to transfer energy in and around the body. Backlit by bright spots of white light and set to the theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the elder Cardiff stares past the camera into space as we watch her body shift back and forth, inviting us into the abyss of space and time. It’s very groovy, and very comforting. 

True to the times we live in, some of the live numbers programmed for Space 50 were presented through film because the performers were “quarantined on the medical deck.” The names of these space folk will be redacted to protect their privacy. We hope they recover soon. 

In the Beginning, Woman was the Sun, a dance piece choreographed by Gabrielle Nomura Gainor and danced by Gainor and Truong Nguyen, was billed as “a yakuza reimagining of the Shinto sun and moon deities.” Gainor and Nguyen have wonderful chemistry, alternately floating across the stage in unison, then changing direction and rushing toward each other and then repelling apart, their faces gently smiling in stark contrast to the push/pull feel of the movements. 

Carl “Space Jam” Sagan, choreographed by Seattle’s uber talented and spunky Amy J Lambert, is a throwback to dance team numbers from high school, but with better dancing and less Mean Girls energy. Costumed in red turtlenecks and short brown wigs, dancers Rose Amlin, Margaret Behm, Becca Blackwell, KJ Dye, Corbin Hall, Gabrielle Nomura Gainor, and Jenny May Peterson channeled the passion and the charming smile of dear, departed astrophysicist Carl Sagan. 

In Hubble Hoop, Sara Jinks, Truong Nguyen, and Diana Cardiff shimmy and gyrate with hula hoops around their hips, necks, arms, and legs to a medley of Black Sabbath and Velvet Underground. If I had to hula hoop onstage, my face would be screwed up tight in a knot of concentration, but a consummate professional, Cardiff’s face through the routine is one of complete bliss. Likewise, while performing Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Earth (originally created and performed in 2015), Cardiff appears perfectly at home dancing on a square coffee table to music by the Carpenters, staring off into space, and kicking her legs chorus line-style while holding a lightsaber. 

Jenny May Peterson makes a welcome reappearance onstage in Hello Earth, a duet with Annie McGhee. Dressed neck to toe in white and sporting conical dog collars around glittery faces, McGhee and Peterson are aliens visiting the hellscape of a broken earth, represented by a miniature cityscape made of paper lanterns and strung along the front of the stage. As the music of Kate Bush plays in the background, the dancers take turns carrying each other piggy-back style, prancing along the cityscape and smashing the paper homes and office buildings. Some audience members gasp. It’s ok, say McGhee’s and Peterson’s silent, accusing stares at the onlookers. You won’t feel the pain for very long. 

Not all of the pieces are as dark. The short film Two Little Men in a Flying Saucer, starring beloved dancer/choreographer Wade Madsen and crooner Eric Pitsenbarger, highlights the adventures of two adorable aliens prancing about the planet to Ella Fitzgerald’s hit song of the same title. Directed by Cardiff and filmed by Sara Jinks and Rob Cunningham, the film is one of the best parts of the evening and easily a stand-alone hit on its own. See ya at SIFF, Two Little Men.

A true variety show before and after the (metaphorical) curtain dropped (there is no curtain at the Erickson Theatre), Space 50 is peppered with live lobby music from Steven Newton, a sculpture (or appetizer?) of mashed potatoes set on a pedestal, a man dressed as an ape, and additional music and dance numbers from Becca Blackwell, Robert Lawson, Eric Pitsenbarger, and Henri Wa.

The mood of Space 50 is light but its subject matter is somber: we are all just infinitesimal dancers on a single rock in space. And sometimes we can be found singing Monty Python space songs during a karaoke break in a priceless Diana Cardiff/Sara Jinks production on a cold Seattle evening.

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth;
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space,
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth!

 


Space 50 performed 4/28-5/1 at the Erickson Theatre in Seattle (Capitol Hill). Show info here

Melody Datz Hansen is a freelance dance writer in Seattle. Her work is published in The Seattle TimesThe StrangerCity Arts, and on her blog at melodydatz.com.