“That’s me being a choreographer.” Mary Sheldon Scott points to a large painting on the wall of her downtown Seattle studio, one of her original works. The deep oranges and blues blend through a textured swirl on the canvas. “I love the kinetics of working large.” she says. Natural light floods her work space in the center of the room through a large skylight. A work in progress stands on an easel, with a table full of supplies next to it.
As both a visual artist and choreographer, Scott has worked in the Seattle area for decades. Her ongoing multi-year dance project, The SOLO(s) Project, won a 2018 DanceCrush award for choreography and performance (read our review of the show here). Through seven different local artists’ bodies, Scott managed to both proclaim her own voice clearly while highlighting each unique individual in a solo. Her life partner and artistic collaborator, Jarrad Powell, composed the music for each piece, and Corrie Befort aided as visual designer. SeattleDances caught up with her to find out more about how the project came about and any future plans for the work.
“This is where it all started.” Scott says as we both watch her laptop. She shows me a video of Linsyanne Owen, filmed by Robert Campbell. Owen crawls along the floor in a warehouse-like space, the camera following her at the same crouched level. “I wanted to get away from commissions and get back to my own ideas.” Scott says. “All these people interested me in different ways, but also presented different challenges. They all had to look different – I had to make sure I wasn’t just folding into myself.”
Scott’s continual curiosity is evident: “I continue to need to learn how to make movement…it just fascinates me endlessly. I still choreograph everything, but once the performer comes in, everything has to bend. It also fascinates me how to make it come alive – half that work is the performer…but how do you find a resonance between how you work and how that other person manifests the work…how do you get the gestalt of their physicality?”
I ask about how her painting process compares to her choreographic process. “People tend to work on the same idea over and over again in visual art with no shame, and we also do as choreographers, but the pieces aren’t so thematically recognizable. I would say that my visual art has more about movement in it than the dance has about visual art. A lot of what choreographers are taught early on has to do with more architectural forms – spatial patterns, and all of that.”
Scott received her Masters in Choreography from University of Colorado Boulder, but has spent most of her professional career working in Seattle. But working in one place doesn’t hold her back from other possibilities. “I feel like I could do them (solos) forever, no matter where I am – there would always be someone interesting to work with. It’s not bound to one company, one geography, one time period. You can take it anywhere.” Next, Scott is planning on taking the solos idea to film. With Powell, who she’s been working with since ‘94, she plans to choreograph two more solos and make films in her studio. “At this point, there is just a lot of understanding about what our shared interests are,” she says of her and Powell’s partnership. “We kind of want to be a traveling band.” she says, smiling. Recent Cornish BFA graduates Nashon Marden and Sumaya Mulla-Carrillo will dance in the films. While the excitement behind her eyes about the project is apparent, Scott still voices her uncertainties. “Will it satisfy that need for me to make movement stories? Or will it be too altered? I want to see if dance can still be kinetically experienced through film.”
While she moves forward with new ideas in her choreography, Scott seems to be taking a period of inventory/maintenance on her current collection of paintings. “I’m going through everything that’s unfinished and either finishing it or throwing it away. I want to try to work smaller.” Some artists might hear the word “smaller” and feel limited. However, Scott, sitting in her own studio/gallery/film set, surrounded by her own work, speaks with calm confidence.
Stay updated on Mary Sheldon Scott and Jarrad Powell’s continuing work at www.scottpowell.org.