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The Chair Spectacle Lives Up to Its Name

Written by Mariko Nagashima
The Next 50 is a 6-month-long series of events and celebrations honoring the 1962 World’s Fair at the Seattle Center. Reflecting on the impact of the World’s Fair on the city, and looking ahead to a (hopefully) bright future for the Seattle Center, the celebration kicked off last Saturday, April 21, 2012. Firmly-established local choreographer Pat Graney and architectural designers Batt and Lear Design/Build, helped start the affair on the right foot with The Chair Spectacle, a site-specific dance involving several hundred people, several hundred folding chairs, and several hundred sets of all white clothing.
With participants ranging in age from 8 to 80, the performers began by walking briskly but calmly into position, their chairs tucked under their arms, only occasionally acknowledging the flocks of curious spectators. Set to sounds actually recorded at the 1962 World’s Fair, the performers moved in unison and canon, radiating out from the SeattleCenter’s International Fountain on the spiraling cement plaza. With sound clips extolling the virtues of calling for bellboys, explaining what to do if you get a busy signal on the telephone, and proclaiming, “Next stop: Science Unlimited!” the soundscape evoked the collective naïveté of a simpler era, poised and excited for change. The all-white outfits seemed to mirror this innocence, especially the ones that included poufy wedding dresses, elaborate feathery hair bows, and frilly tutus.
Performers in The Chair Spectacle
Photo by Paul Swortz
The movement, too, captured this essence of combined nostalgia and excitement. The performers tapped their feet in jittery anticipation, mimed matter-of-fact chatter with each other, and easily lounged in their chairs with their hands behind their head (a pose all-too-appropriate for the brilliantly sunny day). Though sometimes the movement patterns were muddled by the large distances between groupings, the unison portions were the most effective and pleasing to the eye. After a final arm circle passed from performer to performer, winding its way through the plaza like a final farewell, the movers simply stood and walked in a single file promenade around the fountain and away from the crowd, leaving their empty chairs in their places.
Though female performers outnumbered male, the age diversity acknowledged the broad sense of community the World’s Fair imported and what the SeattleCenter hopes to reignite with The Next Fifty. Seeing old and young performing with both seriousness and delight in the “spectacle” they were creating was refreshing and perfectly fitting. The Chair Spectacle can be seen again at the closing ceremony for The Next Fifty in October.