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Originally published Saturday, October 29, 2011 at 10:31 AM

Dance review

Velocity Dance: A mix of rap, Cyndi Lauper, daring — and a need for tightening

Seattle's Amy O'Neal and San Francisco's Kathleen Hermesdorf split a bill at Seattle's Velocity Dance Center.

Seattle Times arts writer

ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCES

Kathleen Hermesdorf and Amy O'Neal

8 p.m. Saturday, Velocity Dance Center, 1621 12th Ave., Seattle; $12-$18 (206-325-8773 or velocitydancecenter.org).
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Sometimes you encounter a dancer who's a master isolationist, able to play every inch of her physique as if it were its own individual piano key.

Still, I'm not sure I've ever seen two buttocks pop such independent moves as Amy O'Neal's did, in a fleeting passage at Velocity Dance Center Friday night.

One audience member asked out loud, "How'd she do that?"

Good question.

O'Neal was splitting the bill with San Francisco dancer/choreographer Kathleen Hermesdorf in an evening featuring solo performances by both women, followed by the world premiere of a duet they just completed together.

On Hermesdorf's solo and the duet, hypnotic electro-rhythmic support came from Hermesdorf's longtime collaborator Albert Mathias on his "Zendrum": a wireless MIDI controller played by tapping finger-pads that produce any sound you want. Amiya Brown's lighting, shaping the space around the dancers in striking ways, was also key.

But solo dance work is only as good as the soloist. O'Neal and Hermesdorf both had their woolly moments, when they hung onto ideas for too long or lost focus. Still, they were crazed and energetic enough to make their rogue aesthetic work.

O'Neal was first up with "The Most Innovative, Daring, and Original Piece of Dance Performance You Will See This Decade," described as "a nonverbal lecture demonstration/dance experience." It's the work of a dancer with a dozen incongruous cultural strains — opera, hip-hop, martial arts, ballet — jangling in her head.

The first section was the strongest, as O'Neal used a mashup of choruses from "Aida" and some raucous rap by Big Boi to comment on a sampling-saturated musical idiom. She followed it with an over-the-top parody of Ciara's video for her hit "Ride" (itself a kind of parody — and the raison-d'être for that dancing-buttocks move which the pop star also has down pat, perhaps explaining her video's 31-million-plus YouTube viewership).

More ragged were O'Neal's cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Money Changes Everything," which she sang to a fractured electronic backing track, and her seemingly free-form break-dance finale, unfolding in front of a screen where the names of her cultural heroes flashed by. Throughout "Most Innovative," O'Neal suggested, with humor, how she's both entranced with and irked by high culture and pop-schlock alike.

Hermesdorf's "Tyger, Tyger," an excerpt from a work-in-progress inspired by William Blake's verse, was a more jittery affair. Hermesdorf, a gaunt dancer who makes maximum dramatic use of the blonde shank of hair that covers half her face, opened "Tyger" as a woman erratically channeling feline ferocity. Upon donning a tiger mask, she became, oddly, more human, crossing her legs and reclining into lounging poses.

In Hermesdorf's hands, ordinary movement is distorted into a kind of prowess. Twitches, mood reversals and vernacular gestures twist out of her at crazed velocity. There's no doubting her stage presence. But "Tyger" needs some editing, especially if it's going to be rolled into a longer work.

O'Neal and Hermesdorf's duet, "What Goes Around Comes Around," played a blend of mind game and visual game. It opened with a hula-hoop film-sequence that could easily be dropped. Real interest arose as a second film-front opened up on another wall, and the action started leaking back and forth between video and live stage-work.

Again the piece needs tightening, but there's real fun in the way the women, in a passage halfway through, wield ballet vocabulary as if they want to hurt you with it. The piece seems almost to be a study of mirrored worlds — one on film, the other in the flesh — with mirrored performers each bringing their own approach to shared dance phrases.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

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