This weekend brought two lively slates, in two different media, of short, new works grounded here in the Northwest. Though completely different in history and form, both festivals share a commitment to showcasing new works, rich in their sense of place; and both execute well on that vision.
One of such shows was Velocity Dance Center’s decades-running Strictly Seattle Performances, a festival of dance shorts and dance films, which ended Saturday.
To read about the other, As If Theatre Company’s brand-new Kenmore Quickies (a locally-inspired festival of 10-minute plays), click here.
Strictly Seattle is a three weeks-long intensive held at Velocity Dance Center, in which a slate of accomplished Seattle-based choreographers teach classes to students across experience levels (from beginner to professional) from around the country. The intensive culminates in a festival of performance and short film screenings. This year’s teacher-choreographers were Alethea Alexander, Pat Graney, Mark Haim, Jaret Hughes, Maya Soto, Dani Tirrell, and Kate Wallich — whose pieces combined feature close to 70 dancers — along with premieres of eight short films directed by students in KT Niehoff’s Dance Film track.
Velocity bills the weekend as “the best place to get your finger on the pulse of the Seattle dance of tomorrow.” And with that choreographer list, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.
So how did it do?
Overall, very nicely. The mix of experience levels seemed to invite choreographers to do wholly different works, different energy levels, and different methods of claiming the stage space.
Beginners. The beginner tracks were the most energized on stage, with choreography that lit up the stage with fast movement. They also packed the stage, with the largest of all the cohorts — Dancer All Along (choreographed by Maya Soto) had 17 dancers, and Put That on My Set Mix (Jaret Hughes) had 14. Soto’s blended diverse styles, consistently engaging, that were also forgiving of some inevitable missteps. A few parts had a dancer fall a full step out or behind. It didn’t matter — the piece worked, and the dancers looked great. Hughes’s, in the beginning hip-hop track, was high-energy and badass (likely aided by good musical choices in the summer of Lizzo), and with the dancers not looking particularly “beginner” at all.
Intermediate. This may have been a constraint of the program — identify movement and skills that work well into modern dance, but that won’t stretch the dancers too far afield — that left these intermediate pieces somewhere in the twilight zone. In and then, together (Alethea Alexander) and Three Country Dancers (Mark Haim), the dancers performed well, but the choreography felt like movements seen before, fairly often, as Seattle’s many other stages (think On the Boards, Meany, Base, and Yaw). The repetitive soundtrack choices didn’t help.
Advanced. These pieces went the deepest. With six dancers each, each work engaged an identifiable theme and mood. In an excerpt from ATTIC, a work in development for later viewing in residency at On the Boards, Pat Graney choreographed an unexpected work, a loud rhythmic stomping dance; where ATTIC is about a very personal grief, this piece — with dancers adorned like a rainbow, and cautious smiles all around — felt like renewal. Excerpts from Kate Wallich’s Industrial Ballet, meanwhile, evoked harshness, cogs in a corporate industrial society, while recognizing the everyday resilience required to get through the day. And a new work from Dani Tirrell was exactly the right way to end the show: a meditation, self-care, rejuvenation delving into the reasons dancers dance.
Films. The festival included eight films, each of which ran only a few minutes long, a perfect length to get the feel of the piece. Directors were Rebecca Balcom, Emily Eagle, Lisa Kwak, Rachel Lambright, Carly Pansulla, Micaela Pirzio-Biroli, Cye Semrau, and Kiana Vaziri, all of whom were in the dance film track taught by choreographer KT Niehoff. Backdrops were key to the mood and feel of the films, and most of those settings were iconic Seattle-area scenes: from water backdrops to Gasworks Park to the pillars off Denny, with the Paramount Theatre in the background. And two others (Eagle’s and Vaziri’s) felt like mid-’90s music videos, which felt very Northwest is a wave of nostalgia, rather than physical scenery.
The depth of talent in Seattle-area dance is obvious — and Strictly Seattle is an asset, both in cultivating rising stars and in showing off that talent in an approachable format.
More Dance to Check Out
This year’s Strictly Seattle is over now, but there’s rarely a shortage of homegrown dance showing in town. Key dance venues include Base (see NWT’s write-up here), On the Boards, Studio Current, Velocity Dance Center, and Yaw Theatre. Venues focused on national and international touring dancers also include those, plus Meany Center, Seattle Theatre Group, and Tacoma Arts Live.
Next weekend, check out:
Morgan Thorson: Still Life, presented by On the Boards and Base, held at Base in Georgetown. A durational work featuring dancers from Seattle, Portland, and Minneapolis. Tickets $25; info here.
festival:festival, a two-day festival presented by Studio Current at various locations on Capitol Hill. Admission is free; info and schedule here.
Strictly Seattle Performances ran 7/26 through 7/27 at Broadway Performance Hall. Tickets $20 ($25 at the door), available here. For showtimes, visit Calendar page. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gendered and multi-stall; theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.