Two days in Seattle’s Dance Wonderland

March 25, 2012

People in Seattle are crazy—nice crazy, back-to-earth crazy, DIY crazy. Two different couples I know are raising Wasabi. WASABI! And one colleague is raising ducks.

So it’s not surprising that the dance artists also plunge into daunting tasks. I got to see Amy O’Neal teach at Velocity Dance Center during my visit last weekend. Wow! She’s a wild woman—but also grounded. In the improv warmup, she gave funny/wise instruction. When balancing on one leg, she said, “When you feel yourself losing your balance, transform the struggle to the other side.” Transform the struggle. She taught a phrase that was a true hybrid: modern dance swoops sprinkled with ballet attitude turns and a touch of popping and locking. But more than that, it had the imprint of an original point of view. And it fit gorgeously with the music she chose—a spoken word artist from Minneapolis named Dessa. Amy’s group tinyrage is coming to NYC in October.


Photo of Amy O’Neal by Gabriel Bienczycki, courtesy O’Neal via
Dance Teacher.



Next day Amy and another local firebrand, Zoe Scofield (a 2001 “25 to Watch”), were taking class from guest artist Raja Kelly. He’s the guy who wears a huge Afro wig in David Dorfman’s Prophets of Funk. Not to mention being a black sambo figure in Christopher Williams’ dip into outrageous racial stereotypes in Mumbo Jumbo.

In this class Raja combined strength training (taking 100 breaths while settling into a deep second-position plié—aaarrrrghhhhh) with an improvisational warmup (circles in each part of the body). He kept coming back to focusing on a partner chosen earlier in the class. He breaks his Zen poise with moments of playfulness—“Lets do silly circles, silly circles” he squeals in a falsetto voice as he wriggles. He gave a long combination that had changes of direction, skitters and an erupting corkscrew leap.

It seems to me that Seattle is becoming a real center of improvisation. I know Mark Haim is a staple there, and Stephanie Skura lives nearby. And Danielle Agami, of Batsheva fame, will be giving gaga workshops regularly.

As I was leaving Velocity, people were covering things with tin foil for the weekend benefit bash honoring Andy Warhol and his silver factory. Raja Kelly was going to dress up as Warhol himself. (I’m sure he’ll look just as good in a platinum wig as he did in the Angela Davis wig.)

KT Niehoff, one of two co-founders of Velocity and the head of Lingo Dance, brought me a few blocks away to show me her new space, “10 Degrees.” It’s a small studio with a reddish wood floor. She uses it to develop her own work and also to support artists’ residencies. On the other side of the wall is—get this—a distillery, where her husband makes vodka and gin from scratch. How perfect! If you have a bad day in the studio, you can wander over and sip raw booze from a vat.


Lingo dancer Bianca Cabrera in an installation choreographed by KT Niehoff at the Seattle Art Museum. Photo by Tim Summers, Courtesy Lingo.



Peter Boal, over at Pacific Northwest Ballet, was doing a ballet version of taking crazy risks. He presented a triple bill of non-U.S. choreographers, none of them a big name. It was a really interesting program that I reviewed here. The company has great dancers and they’ve got the audience in the palm of their hands.


PNB’s Rachel Foster and Lucien Postlewaite in
Mating Theory by Victor Quijada. Photo © Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.



I watched company class the next morning, taught by ballet master Otto Neubert. The dancers were able to horse around just before barre, which is nice cuz it means they’re relaxed. It’s a treat to see a great ballerina like Carla Körbes take class. But there was also Jonathan Porretta, Lucien Postlewaite, Maria Chapman, Kylee Kitchens, Jerome TisserandMargaret Mullin, and Rachel Foster (our cover girl in January 2009).

After class, a group of dancers rehearsed the beginning of Cylindrical Shadows, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s haunting new work. (Coincidentally, Annabelle graces our April cover.) It’s really a beautiful sequence. Wish I could see the whole piece again.

In one weekend, I was able to touch only two bases of the Seattle dance scene, but I came away with a sense of its vitality—and I got my first ride in a smart car, courtesy Tonya Lockyer, the choreographer who is now director of Velocity. If you want to know more about Seattle dance, check out our feature story on Seattle from last year.