“I love Black people,” shouts Dani Tirell, a nationally renowned Seattle dance artist and the curator of the 3rd iteration of Showing Out: Contemporary Black Choreographers. Tirell opens the show with a pre-show speech full of humor, honesty, and a passion for celebrating Black artists and showcasing Black experiences. Explaining that this performance is not for the white gaze or to educate folks, Tirell makes clear that we’re here for Black choreographers to express their Black selves. “The choreographers have things they need to say,” Tirell announces. The audience hums; we are eager to listen.
Showing Out comes at a time when rapid gentrification threatens the Central District and the Black art scene. Longtime Central District inhabitants, including artists, are being pushed out of their homes, while development companies and wealthy real estate investors take advantage of the relatively low housing prices of the Central District, prices that are a result of generations of redlining and discrimination.
Historically, the Central District was the bedrock of Seattle’s Black community. Because of racially restrictive covenants, where “any person or persons of negro blood” could not buy, lease, or rent property in North Seattle, Capitol Hill, Magnolia, and other neighborhoods, the majority of Black folks in Seattle were forced into the Central District. Though this gave way for the Central District’s reputation as a flourishing center for Black artists and culture, it did not come without economic disenfranchisement and copious racism.
Showing Out directly addresses this history, performing at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in the Central District and in concert with the Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas (donate here!). Both organizations are dedicated to valuing Black artists, cultivating Black brilliance, and preserving the Central District as a hub of African American arts and culture.
Showcasing Black choreographers functions as a necessary appreciation of Black artists, powerfully resists de jure and de facto racism, exclusion, and displacement, and cherishes the Central District as Black folks know it. It is as important as it is beautiful.
The first piece of the Friday matinee, danced and choreographed by Robert Moore, recalls the uncertainty, grace, and acceptance of a higher calling, according to Tirell’s introduction. It’s unclear whether Moore’s higher calling is divine or refers to his sublime talent as a contemporary dancer; perhaps it’s both. What is clear though, is Moore’s movements exciting a journey of hope and exploration. He swirls the air in front of him, like stirring a pot of soup. There’s an introspective look to his face, as if combing through old memories, thoughts, or feelings. After these moments of contemplation, Moore reaches into the ethers, stretching his limbs far and wide, looking towards the sky and letting the stage lights brighten his eyes. Hoots and hollers bounce around the theater. Loud, animated appreciations are encouraged. “This is not the ballet,” Tirell reminds.
TAQUEET$, or Takiyah Ward, a freestyle dancer who, according to her bio, works to turn music into visual art. She perches on a stool behind a picture frame as Mona Lisa, breathing life into the woman behind the famous painting. What would Mona Lisa say? Tirell instructs us to ask. Ward, starting subtly, masterfully isolates her body, Popping and hitting to the beginning surges of music. She begins to step outside of the frame, gradually moving more, rising in her power and strength, as Jazmine Sullivan’s lyrics gush “I’m a work of art. I’m a masterpiece.” Ward intimately connects herself to the song, both musically and conceptually, while also blending the ooey-gooey of contemporary with rhythms of street dance. She finishes by Ticking to soft piano music, returning proudly to her stool behind the picture frame.
Closing the (shorter matinee) show was Noelle Price’s piece, a small taste of her upcoming show Remember Me Young, to be performed October 19th and 20th (tickets here). Inspired by a teen who suffered from bipolar disorder and later committed suicide, Price speaks openly about bringing attention to mental illness, “Silence is what kills,” she says, informing us that Remember Me Young will include youth workshops on mental health and movement. At Showing Out, Price’s piece illustrates the dualities of bipolar disorder. Dancers cloaked in bodysuits act both as barricades and assistance, lifting and blocking a soloist in intricate partner work. Three dancers rock back and forth on their knees, sliding every third rock and creating an alternating series of slides and sways. Price’s choreography is dotted with innovation like this. She mixes contemporary with dancehall, and generously uses the floor, where dancers crawl, spin, jump, rock, and lay – grounded, yet struggling.
At a time when the Central District and Black communities who have lived here for generations are undergoing rapid displacement and gentrification, it is even more important to support, celebrate, and listen to Black artists. As Tirell points out during the show, white choreographers, both male and female, dominate the Seattle dance scene. Highlighting contemporary Black choreographers through the Showing Out showcase, originally a brainchild of Seattle’s acclaimed Donald Byrd, subverts the underrepresentation by intentionally appreciating and valuing the work of Black, and particularly Black female, choreographers. Showing Out is a profoundly important show, where incredibly talented artists were able to undercut systems of oppression through beauty, strength, and dance. -Risa Nagel