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A few quick news items and notable happenings from the Seattle dance scene. A reflection on Morgan Thorson’s Still Life and the beat on Allison Burke’s band No Baby. There’s some news from Men in Dance (and my thoughts on that), as well as a quick note on a few individual dance artists starting to use Patreon and why that’s cool. Also, a quick interview with Mary Ann Brehm, who’s bringing Mettler-style improvisation to Seattle next month!

Over the weekend, Base and On the Boards teamed up to present Still Life, by Minneapolis choreographer Morgan Thorson. In coordination with Seattle Art Fair, Still Life took over Base as a five-hour come-and-go performance, shown throughout the weekend, which featured a touring cast as well as locals Fox Whitney, Alyza Delpan-Monley, and Jordan MacIntosh-Hougham.

Photo by Jim Coleman.

When I first arrive the nine dancers flit through the space, each busy repeating their own dynamic phrase. Scurrying, jumping, falling to one knee—there’s an unpredictable, capricious quality to the busy room that is accented with the occasional moment of unison. It’s akin to watching some natural phenomenon, like bees in a flower bed or otters on a riverbank. The organic nature of the work is reflected in the transformation of Base, the walls of which are covered in two-story charcoal drawings of stumps and rocks and plant material.

There’s a cooperative existence and lack of tension and permeates the work. Everything is as it should be. We are here as long as we’d like, watching humans move. There is tension, like when the group collectively tries to make a human chain across the space, stretching their bodies to reach, but the tension is without conflict or angst, it’s playful but not clownish. It’s a very pleasant space to be in.

As a durational work it exists cyclically, rather than a single arc. The images do not last longer than many contemporary dance shows, but simply continue to return to similar modes of operation. The more active parts are very active—high speeds, big physicality, and rich with idiosyncratic detail. The slower moments are like a perpetually moving statue garden. The ultimate effect creates an environment where I am able to sink into the present. There is no expectation that something dramatic will happen, nor am I hung up on the tension of a single image to break. I escape the mode of mental note-taking. Of recording to compare or contextualize what came before or after. I do not feel pressure to find a narrative, the piece is simply what is happening. Suddenly, Still Life seems like a very appropriate title.

While many people I respect and admire have been involved in the Against the Grain | MEN IN DANCE festival, I admit that I have spent years rolling my eyes at the premise of its establishment, which was to rectify “the lack of opportunities for men in concert dance.” While recognizing that there are significant cultural barriers to men participating in dance, that statement is also grossly out of touch with the reality of male privilege inside the dance world. It was to my great delight, then, to learn that MEN IN DANCE is making some changes to its mission and title.

First of all, they are mercifully dropping “Against the Grain” from their title, which has long suspected to be a punny dig at the female-dominated Pat Graney Company, which was having a heyday in the 90s. (And if by some coincidence it wasn’t intended that way it makes little difference—titles should be chosen mindfully.) Secondly, the festival is adopting “changes to its mission statement and company verbiage to reflect a more welcoming and inclusive approach to its staffing, selection of artists, and its continuing focus on challenging its audience.”

The fact is that the festival has been hiring women choreographers for over 20 years, and non-binary choreographers have recently participated as well. Women also make up a significant portion of their leadership positions. I applaud the festival for formally declaring what they’ve already seemed to put into practice, and focusing on the very important work that they do—putting men on stage! Because the same system of oppression that keeps women out of leadership positions also shames men for expression. Representation on stage is important and a festival that makes men dancing more visible is fighting the good fight.

MEN IN DANCE’s 2019 Adjudicated Choreographer showcase will be presented October 4 and 5 at the Velocity Founders Theatre.

Earlier this year, local dancer/choreographer Allison Burke formed band No Baby with former Thunderpussy drummer Ruby Lucinda and Joe Oakes (of Coach Phillips and La Fille).

A still from the BREECH video

 “I have always dreamed of being able to turn my poetry into music, and take dance to the music venue,” Says Burke, “I have always tried to work through the reality that music is more accessible to people…As a dancer, it’s something that I want to challenge, because movement is my language. When I realized that I – and my community – but I as Allison, a dancer with no musical training, could facilitate and participate in expressing ideas through music, it opened up a world of opportunity in my creative process. And for me, it has been a way clearer form of expressing socio political ideas.”

Earlier this week, No Baby released BREECH, their first single and accompanying music video, choreographed by Burke and filmed in one long continuous take by filmmaker Cheryl Ediss. The film features a host of familiar faces from the art and dance community, bopping and goofing to the catchy rock tune. About the song, No Baby says, “It’s a fantasy of having children and rejecting and reclaiming the narrative of heternormative, capitalist society. A gay fantasy of having a nuclear family. It can be heard as totally ironic, as an anthem for abortion. It can be heard as literally as you want it to be. The song is celebratory.”

No Baby is taking the summer off from performing to write and record their first album, in the meantime, enjoy BREECH.

This September 22, the Creative Dance Center is bringing veteran teacher Mary Ann Brehm to Seattle for a special one-day workshop. Brehm brings her expertise in the improvisation methods of the Modern dance innovator Barbara Mettler. A bit of a history lesson—Mettler (1907-2002) studied with Mary Wigman during the emergence of German expressionism prior to World War II, and then returned to the U.S. to develop and research somatic and improvisational methods for sixty years, sharing her knowledge through Mettler Studios. Brehm, who was a member of the Barbara Mettler Dance Company and Mettler’s teaching assistant, brings that legacy to her upcoming workshop Feeling to Form. The Mettler approach to improvisation is not a laid-in-stone methodology, but an adaptable set of guiding principals that focus on “improvisation as a means for tapping into individual and group creative resources—a means to bringing forth the creativity of the dancer,” says Brehm. The workshop uses a series of creative studies to first wake up the kinesthetic sense, and then not just warm up, but tune up the body to be an expressive instrument. Mettler’s method works with organic movement generation, sensing the body, paying attention to the “infinitesimal pause between one movement and the next—the creative pause—out of that, the next movement forms,” says Brehm. Mettler’s approach is most noted for its group strategies, which have long been used to cultivate ensembles with a “high degree of sensing and craftsmanship…developing group scenes that emerge spontaneously. Instant choreography.”

There’s no dance experience required, and the workshop is well adapted to accommodate different experience levels, high school age to adult. Brehm notes that the workshop would be particularly valuable for teachers of any kind—be that movement teachers, or educators looking to learn how to incorporate movement into their curriculum.

For more information and to sign up for the workshop, click HERE. There’s a $20 discount if you register by Sept 2.

Moonyeka. Photo by Jen Frish-Wang.

For the better part of the last decade, project-based crowd-funding campaigns have been a crucial stop-gap in getting dance pieces off the ground, artists paid, and theaters rented. But what about in between projects? Or sustaining the individual artist during the research process? Even aside from the daily work it takes to put something on stage, for many artists education and community building is as much a part of the job as making shows. Perhaps in answer to that, a few dance artists have recently created Patreon pages, where donors subscribe to giving a certain amount each month. The first I became aware of was Neve Mazique-Bianco’s Patreon, and more recently Moonyeka (Angel Alviar-Langley) started a Patreon as well. (P.S. these are both awesome artists so check them out ASAP.)

The Patreon model has been hugely successful for creators of online media, like web comics, and can have a more transactional than donation feel—paying for exclusive access to content. While both Mazique-Bianco and Moonyeka offer tiered access to blog posts or works in progress, the main appeal seems to be so much more than pay-to-play. It asserts the value that artists are valuable part of the world we want to live in, and that as a collective society we have an imperative to sponsor them, not just their projects. It puts forward that the work that artists do, all the kinds of work that they do, is not just valuable conceptually, but in the way we express value in a capitalist society: a monthly paycheck.

UPDATES: I’ve also learned that Cameo and zoe | juniper also have Patreons! Keep ’em coming…