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Originally published Friday, October 12, 2012 at 11:39 AM

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A vibrant look at the dance past — and a touching tribute

Seattle's Chamber Dance Company prefaces its journey through the dance archives with a tribute to local dancer-teacher-choreographer Jesse Jaramillo, co-director of Co-Motion Dance, who died at 59 in August. CDC performs Oct. 11-14, 2012.

Seattle Times arts writer

Dance review

Chamber Dance Company

7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Meany Theater, University of Washington, Seattle; $10-$20 (206-543-4880 or www.meany.org).
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The University of Washington's Chamber Dance Company looked as far back as 1906 in "On Their Own," a suite of solos by pioneering female choreographers that's the centerpiece of CDC's annual fall showcase this year.

But before the performance started, tribute was paid to a more recent dance figure, one from our local dance scene. Jesse Jaramillo, co-director of Co-Motion Dance, who died at 59 in August, was honored as "a passionate teacher, choreographer and dancer in the Northwest who inspired many to pursue dance and dance education."

A video shown in the lobby featured him and Co-Motion's other co-director, Gail Heilbron, recapping the history of their company which flourished here in the 1980s and 1990s. Talking about the work she and Jaramillo did with choreographers Bill Evans, Llory Wilson and others, Heilbron noted, "We had this sense of timing that was just uncanny."

The loss addressed by the video highlighted how valuable the work of CDC and its artistic director Hannah C. Wiley is in keeping the dance past so vibrantly alive.

"On Their Own" was an impeccably staged set of dances with live musical accompaniment. Ruth St. Denis' "The Incense" (1906) was the earliest, and dancer Ilana Goldman made something sinuous and grand out of it, endowing its faux-exoticism with genuine mystery. Goldman showed equal flair in Ethel Winter's "En Dolor" (1944), a flamenco-flavored piece that was sensual, severe and, in Goldman's hands, exquisitely controlled.

Stephanie Liapis had angular fun with "Creature on a Journey" (1943) by Jean Erdman, who (curious but pertinent fact) was married to Joseph Campbell. Liapis' "creature," moving in staccato darts, jabs and prances to a Lou Harrison percussion score, could have sprung from one of Campbell's mythological investigations — perhaps into Indonesian lore.

Mary Wigman's "Pastorale" (1929) and five excerpts from Helen Tamiris' "Negro Spirituals" (1928-1932) rounded out "On Their Own," with Natalie Desch especially captivating in the blossoming rise and fall of "Pastorale." Apart from some throat-clearing trouble that vocalist Vanessa Wells Norris had on the first spiritual, the musicianship throughout the suite was peerless.

Still, the highlight of the evening was a duet dating from 1984 that opened the show's second half: Susan Marshall's "Arms." Set to an electronic score, its lacing entanglements and power plays added up, paradoxically, to a love story. With Megan Brunsvold and Wilson Mendieta catching all its nuances and tensions so precisely, the piece's psychological acuity and technical brilliance were perfectly fused.

The evening's closer was the jazzy, hyperkinetic and decidedly fluff-brained "Escargot" (1978) by Louis Falco, the one male choreographer on the program. The piece is a nonstop cornucopia of tumbles, sprints and whirling athleticism.

It was certainly a crowd-pleaser. But "Arms," which got an equally warm response, felt like the revelation of the evening.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

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