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Preview: Seattle Dance Project’s Project 5

Written by Mariko Nagashima

(Photo: SDP dancers in Edwaard Liang’s To Converse Too
Photo by Zebravisual)

Seattle Dance Project will be rounding out their fifth season with Project 5 at ACT’s In the Falls Theater starting this Friday, January 20th. What makes this company so unique is their cast of seasoned dancers (most have retired from illustrious performing careers), and their constant push for collaboration with a wide variety of artists. This show is no exception: it features several new partnerships and welcomes three new distinguished dancers to the SDP roster (Gavin Larsen, formerly of Oregon Ballet Theater; Iyun Harrison, director of the newly formed Ashani Dances and professor at Cornish College of the Arts; and Ezra Dickinson, performer and choreographer of the Offshore Project among many others).  

(New SDP dancer Ezra Dickinson in rehearsal for
Brahms Afoot. Photo by Brian Smale)
Of particular note is SDP’s partnership with The Inverse Opera, an innovative Seattle music group, and Penny Hutchinson, a founding member of Mark Morris Dance Group, in the lush new creation, Brahms Afoot, set to “Liebeslieder Waltzes.” The collaboration came about when the Inverse Opera approached Artistic Director Timothy Lynch about a year ago. “They said they’d always wanted to work with dancers on this piece of music,” says Lynch, who jumped at the opportunity. Lynch saw the Inverse Opera as a kindred spirit of sorts, “a group of professionals who wanted to go out on their own, and weren’t doing traditional things.” Such rich symphonic music necessitated an experienced choreographer who could match the level of artistry in the music. Hutchinson was uniquely suited for the job with her extensive choreographic background and an intimate familiarity with the music having performed to it in Mark Morris’ New Love Song Waltzes (1982). In rehearsal last week, the experienced roster of dancers lent the work a level of sophistication and graciousness unparalleled in the rest of Seattle’s dance scene. The synergistic effort from these three entities has resulted in a work suffused with elegance, and sure to delight audiences.

In a very different vein, SDP has also collaborated with Jason Ohlberg (formerly of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago) to create Departure from 5th. The piece probes each dancer’s relationship with dance and uses voice recordings of their interviews on the subject as part of the score. “I’ve always wanted to do a piece where you get to know the dancers and who they really are by watching it,” said Ohlberg. Departure surely achieves this goal; the dancers’ candid discussions about their mental and physical struggles with dance provide an intimate peek into each one’s psyche. With this particular group of dancers, Ohlberg also wanted to explore their motivations for continuing to dance. To this end, themes of fate and its inescapability emerge. “There’s also this idea of impermanence, they’ve decided to leave their careers, but as they still continue to dance you don’t know for how long.” The dancers’ interviews feel almost cathartic, but “it’s really horrifying to dance to your own voice,” says dancer Alexandra Dickson with a bit of a laugh. “It’s difficult to have that kind of honesty out there in front of people.” As difficult as it is, the raw honesty is exactly what makes Ohlberg’s work so compelling.

(Dancers Michele Curtis and Oleg Gorboulev in
To Converse Too. Photo by Zebravisual) 

Three works from previous seasons round out the program: Molissa Fenley’s Planes in Air, Edwaard Liang’s To Converse Too, and Kent Stowell’s B6. To see SDP’s two latest works and these past crowd-favorites, head to Project 5 this weekend and next at In the Falls Theater. Tickets are available at