When Richard Campbell started writing about dance at the Seattle P-I in the early 1970s, the community was a very different place than it is today. Sitting in what radio personality Sandy Bradley used to call “the upper left hand corner of the map,” Seattle felt quite far away from the center of the dance world in New York City. But changes in national funding programs and media attention, combined with the energy of the Baby Boom generation, would spark the phenomenal growth spurt that we call the Dance Boom. The momentum that began here with the 1962 World’s Fair developed into a cultural community that would be an ongoing challenge for an arts writer trying to cover the scene. Campbell watched and wrote as the institutions we work with on a daily basis were founded and a roll call of artists developed their individual voices, combining them to make the Seattle dance community a locus of national attention and eventually a destination for multiple waves of newcomers.
Arts writers are like historians, cataloging the basic information about who was there, and what they did. In Seattle, Campbell saw the founding of several institutions that are still with us, like Pacific Northwest Ballet, On the Boards, Seattle Theater Group, Meany Center for the Performing Arts, and Velocity Dance Center, as well as many that offered a home to the art form for a time, and then finished their life spans. And his reviews, features, and profiles are full of the artists that brought those organizations to life – some of them for just a short time, and some for the long haul.
The P-I’s online archives only reach back to the early 2000s, but they still have a wide variety of Campbell’s work, a collection of views into our local dance roots. He covered Pacific Northwest Ballet thoroughly, paying special attention to their orchestra, bringing his extensive musical expertise to the task. Alongside his commentary on their performances, he wrote features and profiles that gave the P-I’s general readership an inside view of a dancer’s life. His coverage of the transition between the previous artistic directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell and their replacement Peter Boal was particularly detailed. If he wrote a preview of a company or a profile of an artist keyed to a specific performance, he always tried to get back after the show and write a review as well, to see “how it came out.” This attention to detail was a part of how Campbell operated, and it was his good fortune to be working at a paper that supported that kind of analysis.
He could be acerbic, but he also had great respect for the difficulties that artists face as they pursue a kind of perfection they will likely never achieve. He took young artists and new groups seriously and respected people who stuck with their work. And while he dug into substantial choreography with relish, he also could write about much more trivial events quite deftly.
After the P-I closed its doors in 2009, Campbell did some reviewing for the Gathering Note website, but his biggest project was a profile of Allied Arts, a multidisciplinary group that had a finger in most art pies from the 1950s-1990s. After being a witness to many of the projects that the group had instigated, he wanted to get that history down on paper – the result, Stirring Up Seattle: Allied Arts in the Civic Landscape, is a great introduction to the community, and an excellent review of local history for old-timers and newcomers alike. When Campbell died earlier this winter, he took with him a long career’s worth of knowledge, but he left some of it behind for us to see a bit of what he saw.