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Preview: Phrasings in Word + Dance

Written by Mariko Nagashima
Dancers Gabrielle Nomura and Kai Berkedal perform in “Hiatus”
choreographed by Kate Wallich and Markeith WIley in Bellingham
Repertory Dance’s November 2011 show, “Construct.”
 Photo by Wayne 
Though slightly removed from the dance hubbub that is the city of Seattle, Bellingham, Washington, has its own thriving dance community. Bellingham Repertory Dance is the main professional contemporary dance company in the area, and their latest show, Phrasings in Words + Dance, will be performed April 27–29, 2012, at the Firehouse Performing Arts Center. Seen both this year and last in ChopShop, this company has a fierceness all its own. SeattleDances had the opportunity to interview Ella Mahler, a Bellingham native in her second season with BRD, about the company and their upcoming show.

SD: First off, tell us a bit about Bellingham Repertory Dance.

EM: Bellingham Repertory Dance was founded in 2005, built upon the mission of bringing fresh, contemporary dance to Bellingham. The company formed out of a group of established dancers who were hungry for challenge and were interested in nourishing the need for more professional dance in the area. Now wrapping up our sixth season, this nonprofit collective has since grown to be an active company in the Bellingham and Seattle areas. We have been so fortunate to work with regional and national choreographers, as well as create our own work, and present shows in our performance home, the Firehouse Performing Arts Center.

SD: Tell us about your upcoming show Phrasings in Word + Dance. What can the audience expect to see?

EM: Phrasings is our spring concert, which is always a collaboration between writers and dancers. We have teamed up with the Chuckanut Sandstone Writers Theater, a group of writers who have collected submissions of poetry of all kinds. Choreographers (from BRD and often a few guest choreographers) then choose a piece of writing, and make a new piece inspired by the text in some form. What is unique about this year’s process is that choreographers had the option of choosing a finished piece of writing to work from, or to work with a writer to each create something new together. How the choreographer and writer collaborate is up to them. The audience can expect a very diverse spread of new works. No piece is alike. From journalists to hip-hop artists, to live music, physical theater, a dance film, and many styles of performance—this is a show that is worth the drive up to Bellingham. The evening also includes a live improvisation by the company, where poets and willing audience members write a poem in response to the movement onstage. These poems are shared at the end of the night. This kind of variety is exciting, and telling about the range of ways that BRD works. We are a company of dancers of different ages, experiences, and perspectives who each contribute something unique to each show (and to the company).

SD: How did you come up with the premise for this show and the collaboration between writers and dancers?

EM: The idea was prompted simply from the fact that the Chuckanut Sandstone Writers Theater and BRD shared the same space. Chuckanut Sandstone Writers Theater often met at the Firehouse PAC for group meetings and discussions, and BRD was always in the next room rehearsing. Conversation arose, and the idea was sparked by Matt Christman, a founder of the Firehouse PAC. Several seasons later, two Bellingham artist groups have now found a unique way of creating something new.

SD: What has the rehearsal process been like for this show?

EM: The process varies from choreographer to choreographer. Some come to rehearsal with material ready to give to the dancers, others ask the dancers to generate material for the choreographer to guide/direct. Some poets are very involved in the process, others are not as much—it depends on how the collaborators choose to approach the work. For example, I worked with Casey Gainor, a spoken word and hip-hop artist of the band The Bad Tenants to make a new piece together (he makes a new poem, I make a new dance). We decided to each create something based on conversations we had together. From there, we went to work on our own, then came together periodically to put the elements together.

SD: What do you hope the audience will take away from the performance?

EM: I hope the audience experiences some new and exciting ways of seeing collaboration between artists. The conversations between different mediums can provoke ideas in ways that one medium may not find alone, or just not in the same way. It will also be a chance to see the spread of artists all working in Bellingham! Dance, theater, music, writing…there is quite the community in this show. I hope that it invites more conversation and interest in the art that is made in Bellingham and can bring more support for the future.

Though it may be off the beaten path from Seattleproper, BRD has crafted a show that would make the trek to Bellingham more than worthwhile. Phrasings in Word + Dance opens Friday, April 27, 2012 and runs through Sunday, April 29. For more info on the company visit, and to purchase tickets for the upcoming show see