DANCECRUSH SPOTLIGHT: NOELLE PRICE

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Noelle Price? More like Noelle Priceless. With her generous warmth, poignant intention, and deep love for community, Price is quite obviously invaluable to Seattle dance. And bad puns aside, what struck me the most about her was the thin line Price successfully walks between two extremes, taking the best of both worlds: humble and hard on herself yet very aware of her strengths, driven by her own voice while excitedly receiving new experiences and directions. Within an hour of meeting her, it’s easy to see why she’s so crushable. 

Price first made waves in Seattle with Remember Me Young, an exploration of mental illness and her own personal journey with grief after a young man Price worked with in Detroit, named Jonah, took his life. The piece, performed at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center in October 2018 and co-produced by the Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas, won Price a DanceCrush award for increasing mental health awareness—but that’s only part of Price’s work and vision. Extending beyond her dance company, Never Ending Works (N.E.W.), Price has created a multi-disciplinary art company, PRICEarts, to grow her profound commitment to engaging communities in art and dance and exploring topics that are important to them. Our conversation at theNEST covered stigmas around mental illness, Black dance communities in Seattle, giving all of yourself in dance classes, and PRICEarts upcoming gala performance.

Photo by M. LIang-Aguirre.

[Risa:] What is Remember Me Young for people who don’t know? And what inspired you to focus on mental health?

[Noelle:] Remember Me Young is a PRICE Arts, Art for Change initiative. It doesn’t just exist with a dance performance, it is an active ongoing mission to do outreach in schools and make sure that students who need an expressive outlet can see themselves in works as well as know that they have places they can dance and express. I do believe that movement has a component of healing when it is paired with the right other help. 

I started it because back in Michigan, I used to be a Director of Operations for a health and wellness camp. There was a young man I met when he was 15, his name was Jonah, and he was a great human. We worked with him for 2 years, and we he turned 17 he took his life. I remember not being able to mourn with his family or my family in Michigan so I started writing poetry about it. The poetry made me want to move through the words that I’ve chosen. I had seen a rise in suicide, specifically in Detroit. I learned more about it, and I felt that I would be able to grieve and create change out of this horrible thing.  

Do you feel like Remember Me Young helped you accomplish those things, to grieve and create change?

I do think that it helped me grieve a lot. I often wonder what is my place in continuing this conversation and how can I find more communities that need this, so I can press in further. And then if it is a mission that I, that Noelle, should be continuing, then how do I honor it in an honest way. How do I make sure that it reaches the people I said it was supposed to change and effect?

Have you heard any feedback from friends or community on the effect of your work?

I remember standing on stage after the work – it was at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center – and there were waves of people coming down to hug and just say their experience with it. There were tears in everyone’s eyes. And one of the things that they said was that they felt seen. So that was really impactful and encouraging to me, that we did something that was able to resonate. 

And about something that, even now, is still so stigmatized.

It is so stigmatized. Specifically, in the Black community, I didn’t know depression could affect someone the way that it does or even that it’s as real as it is. I think one thing that happens when you don’t deal with depression or you don’t deal with anxiety or you’ve never been on the spectrum for anything, you don’t know how to respond. There is no understanding. And in Black communities, it’s typically said, well let’s pray about it. Which is good. I believe in prayer. Absolutely. But I also believe in prayer and action. So if you’re not finding those tools, and if we don’t even have the language in our communities to talk about what’s happening, if we can’t name the thing that’s happening, we won’t find freedom in it, through it, with it. 

And I feel like the words that most commonly get used if you have friends or family that are mentally ill, are “lazy” or “sad” or “down” and those just don’t encapsulate what depression is. It just makes it worse, if anything. It really is a failure of our language.

I would agree with that. Not knowing how to talk about it or having spaces to talk about it, or having the language is really really important because we lose so many kids because our generation didn’t know how to deal with it.

So I think of my brother, and how he’s an almost 30 year old man, and I’ve noticed anger that has followed him into adulthood, and it’s just so interesting because so many of our youth have anger but we don’t know that it could be depression or anxiety.

Yes! I remember reading that often boys and men will express depression through anger, which then leads to it being undiagnosed.

He struggles. 

Has he seen Remember Me Young?

He hasn’t seen it yet! But we’re taking it to Detroit! So the community that it’s inspired by can have it and they can see it. 

Wow! Are you excited, nervous, what are you feeling around that?

I want it to be there. I want my arts community, particularly dance in Detroit, to remember they can achieve anything they want. And I want to go spend time in my community. So we’re going to go into Detroit, we’re going to work with my old high school, Detroit School of the Arts, and we’re going to use their dance workshop class on stage with the company members, and I want to be so present in that. 

What was it like dancing in Detroit growing up? What’s the Detroit dance scene like? 

Dancing in Detroit was amazing! It was AH-mazing!! There is a lot of African dance there. I think it’s one of the things that influences my movement now. So one of the beautiful things about Detroit that I didn’t get to explore when I was young is the arts scene, because I was just in high school. So I recently went back and there are several African dance classes that are available, there are Modern dance classes that are available, and they are just around the city. There are a lot of studio spaces that are popping up for people to rent out spaces and teach their own classes. I just think it is so vibrant right now, and I specifically mean the Black community in Detroit, is so vibrant. And the connective threads that I was able to make and see there—I’m going to use the word rejoiced—it rejoiced me! And I got to sit with the National Conference of Artists Michigan Chapter, and I was like YES. Just a lot of goodness and openness in the Black arts community in Detroit, that I wasn’t aware of when I was young. I’m happy! I’m ready to go home! I want to be there!

So did you move to Seattle for more dance opportunities?

I think Seattle is the safest place to fail. I love Seattle. You can come here and try anything and if you just enter the city the stakes aren’t so high that you feel like your career is ending. It is the place I wanted to be to explore. And I’m so grateful for the ways it really welcomed me, and even more than it welcoming me, I feel as though I saw some pathways that weren’t necessarily being used. So I was like I’m going to try this! And I’m going to try this! And I’m going to try this! In addition to learning about Seattle and coming alongside artists that are in Seattle, I do see PRICEarts specifically making a little bit of space and grabbing some of those opportunities that weren’t yet available. 

Price teaching at theNEST. Photo courtesy of a community supporter.

Do you think you can name some of those pathways? Or maybe the need you see PRICEarts fulfilling?

I love our young arts engagement. I love our family-centered world. I love that at this point we get to be anything we want to be. So my joke is that PRICEarts—which is the multidisciplinary arts head—is the company that I’m growing into. PRICEarts gets to exist for those who support it, however our community designs it right now.

A lot of the Seattle dance scene is very white. I know that you are involved with the Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas and Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, and I was wondering if you could talk about your place in the Seattle Black dance community?

Recently I got to dance with Dani Tirrell and The Congregation and being in that space, with a lot of Black dancers, and also Brown dancers, changed my world and what I know Seattle to be. So I used to say, “There ain’t no Black dancers here.” But we all know that’s not true. Because there’s Spectrum, which has a lot of Black dancers, and Dani Tirrell, which curates Dani’s work with Black humans. And what I find is that it’s a place that I want to be. I want to press more into the Black community in Seattle. 

I was in rehearsal with Dani Tirrell, and Dani does a lot of movement and improvisation to warm up, so we were all just taking turns in a circle, much like hip hop cyphers and the way that Dani called people into the space made me remember home. It made me remember why I dance. It made me remember that I am powerful. It made me remember that I have something to say, and it made me remember how important it is to recover and be rejuvenated by like-minded and like-bodied people. I was really grateful for that. 

How long have you been in Seattle again?

So August I moved here, 2015. I’m in my 5th year. 

Where do you live in Seattle and where do you dance?

I live North. I dance at the lovely eXit SPACE. I’m very grateful to be invited to the eXit SPACE community. PRICEarts specifically has been given an artist in residence here, and it was one of the reasons why I believe that we’re thriving. I like to say that if a company knows that it has a home, it doesn’t have to push so hard and it doesn’t have to be so fearful. I think that’s something I’m looking forward to: learning more about our creative heads here in Seattle. I’m also looking forward to chatting with them and creating a structural shift in how we operate. I want to do that.

What type of structural shift would you want to see?

More homes for companies. I think the models that I traditionally see is that everyone hops around. We’re rehearsing here today and then we’re rehearsing here and then here. And I think a shift would take commitment from organizational heads but also finances from resources we don’t already have yet. They exist! We’re just not connected with them yet. 

You mean, just like the general hyper-concentrations of wealth in Seattle? 

[Laughter] Yeah Seattle’s wealthy! I just think that art is SO good. And it’s not valued in the way that it should be by those who can create a financial shift for us, with us. I learned so many of our tech industries have these resources that me, as a young director didn’t know that I could have, and didn’t know that I could find those resources. So my question is how can we further expand our audience to be in community with more tech companies and how can we create connections and bonds within those where we both benefit from them. I don’t think that it’s one sided. I don’t just think that people should be throwing money at us, but the issue is that we are working, you know? We’re working. 

I’ve had the privilege of kind of stepping back this year with NEW. We brought in a guest choreographer, Ethan Rome, and the dancers created a work of their own, which you’ll see October 11th and 12th at HATCH. I had this opportunity to sit back and watch them work. These humans that I called into this team—Tessa Bañales, Elijah Kirk, Ivana Lin, Melissa Krienke, Kelli Carnes, Kevin Lam, and Robert Moore—they’re working, and each one of them adds so much value to the space that we get to cultivate and create within our little home. They are more than I could have ever asked for. They are the reason why them I’m able to go and find donors. They’re the reason I’m able to talk passionately about the work that I do because they are safe, and they’re secure, and they’re working.

PRICEarts N.E.W. Company Members. Photo by Devin Muñoz.

Something that I’m always interested in, partly because I’m seeing a lot of dance works through SeattleDances, is how artists prioritize the audience. And I think there’s this large range in Seattle where there’s groups that are all for the process, all for the artist. Then on the other side, there’s audience-first, pure entertainment. I’m curious where you find yourself on that spectrum?

Ooh! That’s exciting. I value both. I value the experience the artists are having on stage. I value the experience the creator is having when they’re creating. And I value what that audience is seeing and what they’re receiving. 

I believe that you should be able to get fed what you are craving or what you need. So I can sit in the audience and I can go “I’m looking for a burger” and so that burger has nutritional value but it’s also incredibly fun, so I’m going to sit their and I’m going to enjoy that burger. And sometimes I really need some meat, some potatoes, and I need some greens. And maybe I didn’t know that I needed greens. Maybe I didn’t know that I needed nutritional value from those greens. But when I sat in that audience and that artistic director or that creator or that group of dancers goes “this is what they need right now, this what our communities need right now” and I sit their and I digest those greens and I say “Whoa I needed that.”

So I value all of it. I want to be yes and. I want to be both and. I want to be able to pay my dancers a healthy wage and I also want to be able to make affordable tickets for our audience. 

I have started this thing – a pay it forward ticket. And people always ask me what do you get when you pay it forward. And I was like …. well to be honest, if we have an abundance of something, isn’t it ok that we give our spill over freely? So think of a cup, you’re pouring this water, and it starts to pour out. You’re not going to put it back in the cup, it’s already spilling out. So…

Get another cup!

Get another cup! Hand it out to someone. Nobody is required to do a pay it forward if they cannot pay it forward. Get yourself a $10 artist ticket. Get yourself a $20 general admission ticket. But if your cup is overflowing, if you have the ability to, then seriously pay it forward, so that money drops down to help fund the cost of the artist ticket.

What have been your biggest joys dancing in Seattle? 

My biggest joys are the humans that I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with and spend time with and get to know not on a surface level, but I know their hearts. And the way the community, the way Seattle has responded to PRICEarts. That’s a big joy for me. 

What advice would you give to young dancers trying to make it?

Learn with your peers. Look towards those who have already succeeded. That’s what I think. 

Who are those people for you?

So I think that starts with defining success. For me success is noticing longevity in a career. So people that I have learned with this year, I would say Alex Ung, the Forthun and Rome Company, Alicia Mulikin, and Amy J. I’ve learned from Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas, and I think I look towards Dani Tirell and Karin Stevens. And I’m learning a lot from Velocity right now because they have amazing directors in there right now. I’m very grateful for them. Oh! I’ve learned from Marlo Martin. I’ve learned from Marlo! 

Work by Price. Photo by Jazzy Photo.

What made you decide to build your own company?

Oh that was always the vision. My father passed when I was 10. My dad wanted to start a family business, and then he passed, and that never came to fruition. 

So, I would do all of my school projects about this arts community center. It was hilarious. In 2014, I created an event at the Black arts and cultural center of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the Executive Director at the time, Yolonda Lavender, said “You can do your event with us, but we will not put our name first.” And that’s when PRICEarts was born. Then we did the event in 2014, and by the time I got here I just continued things. And then N.E.W. was created in 2017.

I think the multidisciplinary arts organization was supposed to happen. So I don’t believe that it’s of me, I believe that it is for my family and for our communities that we can impact. 

Was your dad an artist?

My dad was a musician, he played the guitar. He was a singer. And my father was a photographer. Chester Price. My dad. 

So what’s next on the horizon?

I write poetry books that will one day be published, but that’s just me personally. 

PRICEarts got the James Ray Residency through the SIDF [Seattle International Dance Festival] and I am ecstatic! I’m excited to workshop our next full length work through that. 

How would you describe your particular dance aesthetic at the moment, and maybe where it’s been?

Where it has been is trying to conform. Where it is now is re-inviting old rhythms. And where it’s going? Let’s see! I want people to join me and let’s see.

Watching your family class, it seems like you have a knack for teaching. How does that fit into your work in Seattle and how you further PRICEarts mission, creating a mini-community for a couple hours in a dance studio?

That’s weird to talk about—something that you didn’t have to learn. 

So it felt natural?

I didn’t have to learn how to engage people. I think my mother taught me that in the way that she behaved in communities and the way that she existed in the world, the way my father did that, the way that people in my hometown, the way that people in Detroit do that, I didn’t have to learn how to engage communities. I think that was a gift that was given to me. And I try not to take it for granted. I don’t always recognize it, usually someone else calls it out in me. But I feel good when I teach. I feel powerful when I can see the light bulb go off in people’s brains. And I feel celebrated with hugs at the end of class. And people are like “That was good,” and I’m like “I HAD A GOOD TIME TOO!” I love what I get to do. I love every aspect of what I get to do. 

What about you as a dance performer? I actually first saw you performing at Tint, in Alicia Mulikin’s piece. 

I don’t know what to say about performing. I love it. I am good at it. And I think people respond well when I’m on stage. I’m still finding that part of myself again. And what the balance is between choosing to run a company and still getting on stage to perform. And does that mean I always have to be a dance performer or can I utilize that poetry, can I utilize that acting, can I utilize that comedy, can I utilize these other things that are within me. But dance specifically is so close to me that sometimes it’s hard to focus on being a performer while being an artistic director. 

Is dance the closest thing to you because you’ve done it the longest?

Yeah, I think it’s my primary medium. There’s something about being on stage, risking your body falling apart in front of an audience. You can’t necessarily gauge what your body will and won’t do on stage. Muscle memory is a real thing but if your body chooses—if that relevé ain’t holding, it ain’t holding! And I’m sure that’s true for other art forms as well.

Definitely in a more extreme way for dance, I think.

No, I think it’s true for all artists. You just have to know which arts form lights you in that way. I believe that in every art form there’s that moment where you’re standing on stage and you know have the audience in your hands, and you’re like, Fine, you want it, I’m going to give you more and it’s incredible. It feels good for you, it feels good for them, it’s call and response, you’re receiving, you’re communicating. Right? And I believe that’s true for all art forms and that’s why PRICEarts is multidisciplinary, not just one. Me, I think it happens the most when I tap into dance.

Catch Noelle Price and PRICEarts at HATCH, a NEW Gala dance performance, October 11th and 12th, 2019. Tickets can be found here.

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