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Preview: Ashani Dances Debut

Written by Kristen Legg

Dancer Kelton Roth of Ashani Dances
Photo by Joseph Lambert
The wait is finally over for Iyun Ashani Harrison, and Seattle dance enthusiasts. Ashani Dances, Harrison’s newly-formed company, has its debut this weekend at the Erickson Theatre, June 1–3, 2012.

“I’m excited about this new experience in my artistic journey. I think of myself as a ‘life-long learner’. The first time I heard that phrase was from my mom. There have been several markers for me as a performer, educator, and choreographer throughout my career. This is an important one—to direct a company and be in charge of its artistic vision.”

Harrison has already had a vibrant dance career. Over the 13 years of his performing career in New York City he danced with Dance Theatre of Harlem, Ballet Hispanico, and Ailey II, to name a few. After moving to Seattle, Harrison performed locally with Seattle Dance Project. “Dancing, choreographing, and teaching make sense with my professional background, but directing is stimulating in a different way. I’m functioning in rehearsal on multiple levels that I never anticipated. Performing was always enjoyable, but it didn’t make me feel fulfilled in the same way, because I’ve always understood how to perform. Presenting an evening of my work feels invigorating and scary at the same time.”

For its debut season, Ashani Dances will present five works, two of which have not yet been seen in Seattle: Subway Stories: Dances on the ‘A, For Christine, Union, Neo-Funk Ballet, and Barren Landscape. Each work is unique in style, technique, and presentation. “I am building a repertoire for my company. Because I have worked in so many vocabularies, I have things to say in many different ways. With five pieces in this show, it has forced me to go into different parts of my dance experience, so the works don’t all look the same. My current challenge is making sure I can do this and demonstrate a cohesive aesthetic perspective.”

From an aggressive, intimate duet in Barren Landscapes to a frenzy of fabric and movement in Union, Harrison insists there will be something for everyone in this performance. “In my experience, people want to go to the theatre and feel elevated from everyday life. I want people to stay engaged; get angry at the work, be moved, laugh.”

Harrison created For Christine in honor of his mother, who recently passed away in his hometown of St. Andrew, Jamaica. “It is extremely personal. When I got back from Jamaica after my mom passed away, I didn’t want to move. This work has stillness and breath in a way I’ve never expressed through dance before. The work looks at trying to grasp something—physically and emotionally. The experience made me realize that life, like dance, is ephemeral.”

Dancers Kelton Roth and Camryn Kelly
Photo by Joseph Lambert
At the other end of the spectrum is Harrison’s new work Neo-Funk Ballet. “This is the must-see piece of the show—I’ve never made anything like this before. The dance is set to James Brown’s beautifully orchestrated music and electric voice. The work features our charismatic guest artist Markeith Wiley and combines classical jazz and breaking with modern dance and pointe work. Those new to dance will have fun with the piece. My mom would have loved it.”

“The evening will show my dancers’ eclecticism, too” says Harrison. “It’s a big part of what makes them phenomenal. They can put on pointe shoes and show off their extensive training and they can also move through space with the power of a modern dancer.”

The 17-member company is made up of current students, recent graduates, and guest artists with years of experience in ballet and modern companies. Harrisonis the first to say that they are a large part of what makes Ashani Dances what it is. “”Since I can’t afford to pay my dancers yet (and I have ever intention of changing this by our next concert), it has been crucial to collaborate with people who want to be there. They are all so committed. We’re all hustling together. Their support of my vision inspires me to continually work at a high standard. I can’t disappoint them.”

Ashani Dances’ debut season, should be the first of many seasons for the CornishCollegeof the Arts Assistant Professor. “I am still honing my work. I’ve been here for 2 years now, and I hope to make a home in Seattle.” Something Seattlehopes, as well.

The company can be seen June 1–3, 2012 at the Erickson Theatre. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets at Information on the company is available at