Establishing New (Dance) Roots

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Producing a show is no simple feat. There are a million small tasks involved from fundraising to finding a venue, from coordinating a technical crew to marketing and promotion—all this in addition to the actual artistic output of crafting choreography. It’s a daunting process, and emerging choreographers often decide to begin showing work in festivals instead of tackling producing independently. Angelica DeLashmette, however, is a relatively new Seattle choreographer who has boldly decided to side-step the local festival circuit and put on her own show. Never having self-produced, DeLashmette rounded up eight other emerging choreographers to share the bill and to distribute the work of making the show happen. The fruits of their labors will be on display this coming weekend (November 21-22) at Velocity Dance Center in the showcase enROOT.

enROOT choreographer Corina Dalzell Photo by Ranliegh Starling
enROOT choreographer Corina Dalzell
Photo by Ranliegh Starling

“There aren’t that many opportunities to get your work seen professionally if you’re new to Seattle, or if you’re new to making work,” says DeLashmette in a recent interview with SeattleDances. “So the idea just popped in my head: ‘I’m just going to produce a show,’” she recalls blithely. With the momentum and clarity such big ideas often inspire, she called Velocity that same day to inquire about space. Though it was only May, there was only one weekend in November still available for the rest of 2014—DeLashmette booked it, paid the deposit, and thought, “Now what?”

 

Knowing she wasn’t ready to fill a show with her own work, DeLashmette decided on a festival format and began accepting applications from choreographers. In curating the show, she was looking for well written proposals, clear thought processes, and interesting inspirations, rather than specific aesthetics. In fact, she didn’t even ask for choreographic samples, and still hasn’t seen all the pieces herself. Though a somewhat risky idea, this freed DeLashmette from her own subjective movement biases, and also allowed each choreographer to create work that is completely individual. enROOT has no unifying theme, but that’s part of what makes it so unique, says DeLashmette. “We’re all individual choreographers. We come from different backgrounds, different trainings. We have our own different aesthetics. I don’t think you’ll see anything similar in the show.”

 

This open format was also liberating for the applicants. enROOT choreographer Corina Dalzell, noted that one of the most challenging things about wanting to make work but being new to the Seattle community (and a recent college-grad to boot), was that she had a lot of ideas but none were fleshed out or recorded enough to be presentable to an application committee. With this process, “I could just talk about what I wanted to make,” she said. “And then I had my own parameters to work within, and a timeline that I got to decide.” For Dalzell, who will be presenting a solo work based on the Academy Award speeches of Meryl Streep, this is a great opportunity to get her aesthetic out there without having to cater to a festival’s specifications.

 

As a result of this selection process, the show will be a grab bag of styles and aesthetics with everything from solo work to large ensemble pieces. The pieces deal with subject matter as diverse as Frida Kahlo (Kathryn Hightower), contact improv (Ktisk Contemporary Dance), and the fight-or-flight response (Kimberly Holloway). Other choreographers include Althea Fantast, Alyza DelPan-Monley, Dana Stream, and Kori Martodam. Since many of these artists are new to the area or to showing work, DeLashmette acknowledges that audiences might be surprised by what they see, and hopes that viewers come with an open mind.

 

Beyond giving developing artists a platform to show their work, DeLashmette has also fostered a community to help these choreographers (herself included) find their footing in Seattle. Both she and Dalzell cite a lack of opportunities for new choreographers to show their work on a professional level and a somewhat restrictive Seattle aesthetic that neither felt their work belonged to. DeLashmette was looking for a way to experiment and grow as a choreographer and had a hunch that others new to the community would be hungry for a similar opportunity. “The show was my idea,” she says, “but I wanted it to be more of a community thing.” Once she had selected choreographers, DeLashmette organized production meetings to divide up the tasks of producing the show, and to have the choreographers work with each other to give feedback on their pieces. “I’m kind of shy,” says Dalzell, “so having enROOT as a structure where it’s expected that I will be asking for feedback is nice. We have this collective atmosphere, and it’s very much about developing things together. It’s a good connection point.”

 

In addition to helping its members grow artistically, the collective format has distributed the production work-load, giving each of them a deeper investment than is typical for festival-style shows. Since none are fully established choreographers yet, they all have to make the effort to get audiences to the show, instead of relying on the strength of one name or the reputation of the festival itself. Each choreographer took the lead on a different aspect of the show—marketing, PR, etc.—so they’ve each been able to take more ownership in the endeavor. Both DeLashmette and Dalzell note that everyone has brought different skills to the project and, as a result, they’ve all gained a lot of knowledge from everyone’s different experiences. “Angelica has done an excellent job delegating,” Dalzell affirms. “It’s a record number of collaborators to actually give everybody that responsibility and to hold them accountable, but also empower them to really be invested in the production as a whole.”

 

Talking with DeLashmette and Dalzell brings to mind a grassroots movement. This is even reflected in the production’s name, which DeLashmette picked to embody the idea of setting down roots in a place, but also to evoke growth and maturation. enROOT is an example of the little guys banding together to fill a need they see in the community, and to make space for their own ideas. Instead of waiting for institutional support to present their choreography, they’ve built their own platform to launch themselves into the Seattle dance scene. Though they’ve supported each other through the process to make the show happen, they’ll need community support for it to be successful. There’s a plethora of dance to see in Seattle this weekend, but to truly see community in action, stop by Velocity Dance Center on Friday or Saturday night. It’s hard to say how deep these roots will extend, but it takes a lot gumption to strike out on one’s own in a new place, and that same spirit will surely help them to flourish as DeLashmette and the other enROOT choreographers continue to grow.

enROOT will be presented at Velocity Dance Center this Friday and Saturday, November 21-22, at 8 PM. Tickets are available here.