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Shirley Jenkins Always Ends on a Happy Note

Late on a weeknight, seven dancers gathered downstairs at Historic Washington Hall for the final rehearsals leading to performance. Led by Artistic Director Shirley Jenkins, this all-female cast will perform an evening of modern dance titled Women…Gotta Luv ‘Em this upcoming weekend, January 24-26, at Cornish Playhouse on the Seattle Center campus. Women…Gotta Luv ‘Em marks the first showing from Jenkins since December 2011. As the dancers continued to warm up their bodies, Jenkins explained the purpose behind creating her company, DanceJENKINSDance.

Dancers of DanceJENKINSDance
Photo by Jerome Shiels of Frank Jenkins’ Vista Estate Imaging

After graduating from the University of Utah, Jenkins performed as a founding member of Bill Evans Dance Company, but the grueling touring schedule exacted a toll on her health. During a performance in 1994, she ruptured a disc in her spine. The injury required surgery and presented a bleak prognosis: doctors told her she would never be able to dance again. The path to recuperating from this injury—and subsequently proving her doctors wrong—took fourteen years which included additional healing from two types of cancer and a hip replacement. DanceJENKINSDance is the product of Jenkins’ relentless striving toward recovery, a personal and public exhortation never to give up on one’s dreams.

Jenkins’ tenacious spirit pervades both her conversation and her choreography. Women…Gotta Luv ‘Em showcases four works by Jenkins, including two world premieres and two restaged works. Dear William and Soliloquy for a Soul, both restaged for this performance, display the wide range within Jenkins’s choreography. Dear William (a tongue-in-cheek reference to her former boss, Bill Evans) follows Jenkins’s recovery from back surgery, complete with a walking cane soft shoe section and a solo with a walker. Rather than focusing on the hardship of the subject matter, Jenkins uses satire and humor to illustrate the resilience of the human body and spirit.  Soliloquy represents Jenkins first foray into choreographing post-surgery and explores a swath of human emotion from grief, loss, and loneliness to yearning, passion, and joy. Again, rather than indulging in the dark moments of life, Jenkins chooses to look ever forward toward hope and acceptance.

Dancers of DanceJENKINSDance
Photo by Frank Jenkins’ Vista Estate Imaging

The two world premieres, Pink Diary (chapter one) and Diario Rosado (capitulo dos), confront Jenkins’s battle with breast cancer and chemotherapy. Watch for some exceptional soloist work by dancers Taylor Augustine and Belle Wolf. Jenkins’ solo in Diario Rosado, which is dedicated to a dancer friend who recently died of cancer, resonates with mature authenticity.

Women…Gotta Luv ‘Em wholly articulates Jenkins’ “desire to express deep emotions from [her] life’s experiences.” This expression makes the works vulnerable, yet they always end on what Jenkins calls “a happy note.” Overall, Jenkins creates dances where the technical feats never outweigh the emotional content. Playful and fun, her works speak to who she is as an artist and provide a lesson for all: no matter what life hands you, you can get back up and dance.

Performances of Women…Gotta Luv ‘Em run January 24-26, with shows at 8:00 PM Friday and Saturday, and at 3:00 PM on Sunday. Running time is approximately one and half hours. Tickets cost $25 for general seating ($27 at the door), and student and senior tickets cost $20 ($22 at the door). For more information and to purchase advance tickets, visit