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ao/tr: amy o’neal’s new company


March 25–27, at the Northwest Film Forum
“too” (photo by Gordon Wilson, from the TBA Festival 2009)
review by Brittany Schank • links to reviews/previews • a letter from Amy O’Neal

REVIEW (posted April 3, 2010)


at Northwest Film Forum

on March 27, 2010

By Brittany Schank

Seattle dance enthusiasts have a new reason to rave over dancer and choreographer Amy O’Neal of locust. With her new project AmyO/tinyrage, O’Neal has a new vein of ideas to explore. Last weekend at the Northwest Film Forum, Amyo/tinyrage premiered too, a spell-driven, hypnotic connection between film and dance. 

“too” (both photos by Kenneth Aaron, from the TBA Festival 2009)

In duet with dancer Ellie Sandstrom, too reveals a distinct partnership. The NWFF has a small performance area with an exposed stage allowing the audience in on the secret of the behind-the-scenes. The dancers hug, probably whisper an inside joke, and the show begins. From the get-go, you know this show is going to be visually intriguing. A dance is projected on screen and just as you become enthralled with the movement, O’Neal and Sandstrom take the stage mimicking what we first saw. At first, you’re not sure where to focus, on the projection or the live performance. A brief moment of chaos emerges until it becomes apparent how well the media blend. Instead of two separate duets, an entire ensemble covers the stage.

The first half of too features music from Ivory Smith. Her music accompanies seamless film splices and changing scenes. We’re taken through graffiti-covered retaining walls, rooftops, and alleyways. O’Neal’s style is heavy and grounded. One moment punches are thrown through the air as if a kickboxing bag was suspended in front of her. At other times she is snake-like, fluid, and downright funky. After intermission, too takes us to a completely new level with sounds from Ollie Glatzer. We are now amidst the Japanese karaoke culture as schoolgirl-clad O’Neal and Sandstrom reappear. O’Neal’s deadpan expression fills the screen as she rotates on a circular bed. Her nonchalance in this scene pokes fun at porn stars and you almost expect to see Hello Kitty appear. The music is percussive and mesmerizing, driving the dancers as if electric currents initiate their every movement.

AmyO/tinyrage is an unexpected gift.  As O’Neal’s first endeavor for her new project, too is one of those performances you wish to see repeatedly, finding something new each time.

“too” (photo by Gordon Wilson, from the TBA Festival 2009)
AmyO/tinyrage: Amy O’Neal’s New Company
I came across the website for AmyO/tinyrage about a month [now two months] ago; I scratched my little bun-head. Was this the same Amy O’Neal from locust? Did everybody else already know about this new company? O’Neal wrote me a great e-mail explaining what’s up. I’d like to share it. Enjoy! – Rosie
By Amy O’Neal
I have been working with Zeke Keeble as locust for the past decade. We know each other really well. We have great thing going and want to continue to explore and celebrate what we do. I came to a point in my life where I needed to be testing some things without Zeke. I have been questioning what has become comfortable and safe for me. AmyO/tinyrage is a place for me to ask those questions in a context that is not always related to the same people. I am such a collaborator and I wanted to question what my defaults are and what do I really love about collaborating by challenging myself to work with other people and to work alone.

“too” (the project happening at the Northwest Film Forum March 25–27) started as a project while I was traveling a lot in 2007–2008. I am pretty shy with people I don’t know well and while on the road, I started asking people to dance with me on camera. I had also been wanting to make an evening length duet for Ellie Sandstrom and I and to work with some composers I had never worked with before. The process of “too” very foreign to me
and it was good to do it with someone I had been dancing with for 10 years so that when it came time to put a show together, I knew it would happen. I worked with an editor to sift through several hours of Ellie or me dancing with 35 other people in different locations in the US and Japan. The choreography was created by the cutting and pasting of this material and thinking how we would interact with it live. The piece is in 2 separate parts, with very different moods and different composers, Ivory Smith and Ollie Glatzer. While we perform, we have to watch a video monitor of what is being projected so we know what is going on. It’s kind of like dance karaoke. We have to keep up with what is on the screen. 
[Here’s a video excerpt of “too” from O’Neal’s website]
With locust projects, the process is different with each project, but choreographically, it always starts from a phrase of movement I have made that I teach to the dancers, then we play around with that and sometimes make things together.  In “too,” there is one phrase I made, but the rest of it is appropriating these experiences that I may or may have not been involved in. It’s a strange mimicry of memory that feels very physically removed. It prompted me to think about how this is how we are choosing more and more to interact with humans, via screens. I am emailing this to you right now and we have never met. It is equally awesome and strange.

I will also be premiering another piece with AmyO/tinyrage in the Northwest New Works Festival at On the Boards June 5-6. It is a solo called “In the Fray.” I am challenging myself to see how much I can do on my own—the sound, the lights, costume, ect. It is a practice in self sufficiency. More details about that will be up on the tinyrage site soon.

[Editor’s note: I asked O’Neal about how the names of these two companies she is involved in.] AmyO/tinyrage is one of those moments you have with a really good friend that no one else would get. This moment turned into said friend and I both getting the words “tiny rage” tattooed on our feet. Since then, it has been a reminder to own my anger and do something good with it—especially as a southern woman who was not taught to express anger in any healthy way. This doesn’t mean that all the work I make under this name will be related to the subject. I like the two words together and as artists, we are in the business of rearranging and re-contextualizing to give new perspective to how we see ourselves and the world around us.

locust came about when Zeke and I were visiting his family in Spokane in 2000. We had a discussion about grasshoppers vs. locusts and how when they are singular, they are grasshoppers, but in a swarm, locusts. Then Zeke said, that would be a cool name for what we are doing, locust. Zeke ends it there, but I got to thinking about the duality of the creature and I liked that. I could relate as a human and how dual our own existences can be. We have made many pieces about how humans cope with anxieties, how we are alone vs. in the public light.