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Preview: Ate9’s Sally meets Stu

Written by Mariko Nagashima

Ate9 company dancers in rehearsal
Photo by Danielle Agami
Danielle Agami knows how to follow her instincts, a trait that appears both in her definitive choreographic choices and life decisions. A former dancer and rehearsal director with Ohad Naharin’s Batsheva Dance Company in Israel, Agami made a go-with-the-gut move to Seattleand is now forging her own creative path through her company, Ate9. When asked why she chose Seattle, Agami replied, “It’s an instinct. There’s something here, there’s room for creation.” These instincts seem to be paying off as the company prepares for its world premiere, Sally meets Stu,this Friday, August 31, 2012 at the Century Ballroom. From watching one of several open rehearsals Agami held over the last month, Sally feels decidedly different than anything else in Seattle at the moment. Not only does it feature a larger ensemble of dancers than most companies around town, it has a singular quality and structure of movement. Combined with the opulence of the Century Ballroom, this one-night-only event is something any dance fan will want to see.

Agami’s transition to Seattlehappened fairly quickly. After teaching a Gaga master class at VelocityDanceCenterlast fall, she returned in the winter to teach a longer intensive. From that, she selected several local dancers (Kate Wallich, Erica Badgeley, and Matt Drews among them), and confirmed a residency at Velocity for the summer through their Guest Artist Series Program. Her residency has included teaching daily Gaga classes, as a warm-up for the company but also opened to advanced dancers, as well as developing Sally. Gaga, the movement language developed by Naharin, coaxes a particular kinetic awareness out of dancers, and this is clearly evidenced in Agami’s group, an assemblage of talented, largely post-collegiate dancers from across the country. Even during rehearsal, each movement felt precise and yet filled with infinite possibility, with fluidity and constant alertness working hand in hand.

One of the biggest challenges Agami faces is balancing her need to choreograph with her need to dance. At the age of 27, she is a relatively young choreographer and said there’s still a temptation to simply return to Israeland dance with Batsheva. But after being with the company for 10 years, she felt the need to leave “to be able to start my own journey,” and to find the space to do so. “I don’t feel like I have any where to dance [outside of Israel] so I am making dance.” Because dance is transmitted physically from the body of the teacher to the body of the student, Agami also noted that her dancers are becoming “part of a chain,” linking them to the tradition Naharin established in Israel. Of course, her time at Batsheva was hugely influential on Agami as an artist. “Naharin is [in my work] in levels that can be even scary,” she conceded. “I take my experience wherever I go.”
Ate9 Company dancers
Photo by Danielle Agami
Another salient point of Agami’s work is her relationship with music, or lack thereof. Her use of silence is pointed and prominent: “I have a problem with music and dance,” she explained. “I find it rare that they don’t clash. Sometimes you actually turn up the volume when you take the music out.” As for her process, spontaneity is a key ingredient. “We make movement on the spot together,” she says, referring to the dancers. “We dialogue, and I take stuff from the room a lot.” Indeed, individual sections seem tailored to the dancer, both drawing out their natural strengths and pushing them past their limitations. At the same time, Agami noted that the steps are only the beginning, and encouraged her dancers to feel comfortable with the movement. “Just because we know the steps doesn’t mean we know how to dance them. I want the dancers to feel at home when they go onstage…and just have fun in the moment.”

Agami is less concerned about the audience’s comfort level; she simply hopes they’re engaged in the work. It’s not about liking or disliking, she says. “It’s all about dialogue. I’d like people to find it interesting, to feel something, to think about things.” Even from small samples of the work, it appears that Sally will provide many ideas to contemplate. Dense with intricate movements and patterns, but leavened with wit and beauty, it brings a new dynamic to the Seattle dance scene. Sally meets Stu is a one-night-only event, with performances at 7:30 and 9:30 at the Century Ballroom on August 31. Tickets are sure to sell out quickly.

For more information on Danielle Agami and Ate9 see their website and creative process blog: Tickets are available at