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House of Thee UnHoly: A “Rocklesque” Extravaganza

House of Thee UnHoly, a ‘70s epic rock-burlesque-theater spectacle that defies categorization, will see its sixth incarnation this March 11-15 at the Triple Door. Produced by PaulaNow, the show features a star-studded cast, including Waxie Moon, Indigo Blue, Tory Tiara, and many other accomplished local dancers, actors, and musicians. SeattleDances caught up with dancer/actor/choreographer Douglas Ridings to discuss his featured role as the Butoh soloist. Lily Verlaine joined us by phone to talk about her collaboration with Ridings. Together, they have created a quintet featuring Verlaine as a desert goddess apparition surrounded by her acolytes, with choreography influenced by Ridings’ ten years of experience in the classical Indian dance form, Odissi.

Michael Doucett 09
House of Thee UnHoly
Photo by Michael Doucett

Along with a live band covering hits from the era, the performers will utilize not only the venue’s small stage, but rove throughout the space, frequently amid lively hoots and shouts from an enthusiastic audience seated at cocktail tables. Each year, Ridings says, the show changes slightly, but remains close to the original structure, as conceived of by producer PaulaNow in collaboration with the other artists. Performer and choreographic contributor, Waxie Moon has helped deepen the work and guide the rehearsal process, since he joined the cast in 2008. Verlaine says that Moon “works abstractly. He really opened my eyes to a new way of making dance.” In this, a different kind of choreographer-performer relationship for Verlaine, Moon sets dancers small creative tasks, and then everyone collaborates on the final product together. The show comes together with only a few full cast run-throughs and a dress rehearsal with the band in the final week before the performance. All of the performers are highly accomplished professionals, Ridings and Verlaine agree, and most have performed in the show before. Although many of the artists play divas on stage, behind the scenes, Moon and PaulaNow run the rehearsals deftly, and the experienced cast works together in harmony.

Douglas Ridings in House of Thee UnHoly Photo by Michael Doucett
Douglas Ridings in House of Thee UnHoly
Photo by Michael Doucett

While he did not originate the role, Ridings has danced as the Butoh soloist four years out of the show’s six, drawing in yet another stylistic influence to this production that already blends together many disparate elements. At age 23, Ridings says, “I thought I was too old to be a dancer.”  But, after seeing 86 year-old Kazuo Ohno perform at the Moore Theatre, Ridings was inspired to cross over from acting into the world of dance, so he began to study Butoh with Joan Laage. In House of Thee UnHoly, Ridings breaks tradition by wearing yellow body paint instead of the conventional white. When asked about the toll of this dance form that puts “the body in crisis,” Ridings says, “I ascribe to Wolfe’s Law. Bone and tissue shape themselves in response to stress.” His preconceptions about dancing into his 30s and beyond have been replaced with a freeing sense of strength and vitality. Ridings’ solo works in conjunction with the other different works to capture the essence of the ‘70s era—its spirituality, decadence, outrageousness, and experimentalism. Although the root of the word “burlesque” is burlar, meaning “to mock,” says Verlaine, instead of mocking the era, House of Thee UnHoly strives to elevate and revere it.

Ridings clarifies that working with Verlaine on Odissi-influenced choreography does not amount to expecting that a ballet-trained dancer such as Verlaine can be fully versed in the classical Indian form in a matter of months. Rather, Ridings taught Verlaine and her dancers a number of mudras, or hand positions, in order to create shapes and poses that, in Odissi, help to further the narrative arc. Each year, Verlaine’s understanding of her goddess character in the Kashmir act develops further. As a result of deepening her engagement in meditation practice, sometimes for up to three hours per day, Verlaine has created a profoundly spiritual relationship to her character. In a particularly challenging section, Verlaine holds her leg in attitude à la seconde for as long as possible, while the lighting shifts and fabric moves in front of her eyes. Verlaine says, “by engaging in a mindful, meditative state during this balance, I can hold it much longer. Somewhere between 30 seconds and two and a half minutes, depending on the night.”

Lily Verlaine in House of Thee UnHoly
Photo by Heather Schofner.

“The show takes many twists and turns; it’s like a banquet of accomplished artists coming from many different schools,” Verlaine says, “All of the performers bring so much love to the performance. A kind of Zen.” “A true mingling of cross-genre performance art,” Ridings adds, this show remains “accessible to dance novices and aficionados” alike. So, bring an open mind, and prepare for raucous fun at this not-to-be-missed performance by many of Seattle’s award-winning, interdisciplinary talents.

House of Thee UnHoly runs March 11-15 at the Triple Door. More information and tickets can be found HERE.