With a September chock full of dance performance, I’m bringing back this casual round up-style article to share things I’ve been thinking about in the past month of performance. Also included are a couple news items.
To my delight and relief, comedic dance seems to be having a moment. Firstly, PNB opened their Season with lighter fare in Petite Mort. My plans to see it fell through, but luckily it was covered in NWTheater.org, SeattleTimes, The Stranger, and on Marcie Sillman’s substack And Another Thing. (Also, if you didn’t read Sillman’s piece in Crosscut on diversity at PNB, you should.)
Back to dance I did attend, Whim W’him’s annual Fall show (known in previous years as Choreographic Shindig) kicked off the season with laughs—or at least one piece did. The dancers choose the choreographers (love this) for the three new works produced, resulting in an excellent overall program, but it was Hannah Garner’s work Welcome Suite that truly won me over. The unabashedly quirky piece kept us guessing right from the beginning as it ricochetted between physical gaffs, existential ponderings, and genuine connection. And of course a lot of gorgeous dancing. Garner’s choreography showcased the dancers individual strengths and because of this I will forever be a fan of Nell Josephine. In an unforgettable section, men of the company stand passive as Josephine flits between them, animated as a Disney character as she takes utter delight in their bodies, patting their cheeks, playing peekaboo, and squealing with adoration. I know the premise sounds dumb, but Garner and Josephine’s approach is so committed and winsome that I’d watch Josephine add to her man collection all day. Adding to the hilarity was Jacob Beasley trying to keep a straight face amidst the antics and Joesphine’s improvised solution—slapping a hand over his face until he could get it together.
Another section of the same work had me thinking about how often in more abstract, technical dancing, the dancers bodies become a representation of a person, like a mythic trope in a story. This can be used to great effect, but can come at the cost of intimacy with the individual. A duet between Andrew McShea and Kyle Sangil fully transcended the mythic, until I felt the delicate and personal negotiations of two people asking will you love me? Bookended by a diagonal sprint of one towards the other, the stakes of being caught are ever-present as the two catch, release, and slip off one another in a duet both acrobatic and tender.
Gardner’s company, 2nd Best Dance, is based out of NYC and performed in Seattle last November, which I missed, so here’s hoping they come back to Seattle.
Notably different vibes from Whim W’him, but a place dance and comedy has overlapped for a long time is the drag/burlesque shows of Seattle. In case you’re late to the party, there’s a ton of great dance happening in that scene, which in itself is as broad and stylistically diverse as the dance scene is. But today I want to put a spotlight on TUSH, the monthly drag and burlesque show out of Clock Out Lounge in Beacon Hill, which has developed an incredible following and for good reason. The lineup is a combination of regular performers with special guests, that often include dance scene favs like Cherdonna and Drama Tops (not to mention DJ Dark Wiley aka Keyes Wiley on music). But even the acts that aren’t notably dance-y are very choreographic—comedic timing, interpretation of music, the embodiment of character, storytelling—it’s mostly non-verbal and all choreographic chops. At September’s TUSH, guest artist from Chicago Dusty Bahls made me laugh-cry as he played his pants zipper precisely to the jazzy music. In his second act, he took us all on a journey of a slimy dude anti-hero taking drugs at a rave. All with impeccably timed movements. Drama Tops did a parody of the sister act from White Christmas, “Brothers” that was as clever as it was subversive. TUSH feels like a place for experimentation, where works can veer avant garde performance art and incorporate social commentary. And the costumes and makeup are of course artwork in themselves.
I want to take a second here to wax poetic about one TUSH regular in particular, Moscato Sky. Now, I would not describe Ms. Sky as one of the funnier artists, but the same skills required to make something funny—understanding timing, subverting expectations, ingenuity—Moscato has in spades. She comes from a dance background (Cornish grad) but now is full-time burlesque, where she’s received international accolades. Moscato Sky is the full package—her lines exquisite, her execution pristine, and her choreographic mind understands just how and when to draw you into the details before mesmerizing with something big and showy. It’s like watching magic tricks if the magician were also dazzlingly glamorous, sultry, and an accomplished dancer. This past weekend Moscato also did a bubblegum punk number to Paramore, which is outside her normal high-elegance wheelhouse, but which she pulled off with similar aplomb. At $15 for all this goodness, TUSH usually sells out, so get next month’s tickets in advance. And lest we forget, great swaths of this country are trying to make this art ILLEGAL and queer performers are continuing to show up in this increasingly fascist country, so you should show up too and that means (among other things) tip generously.
Another dance/drag crossover moment occurred this past weekend at ReSET—the program through Washington Ensemble Theatre that commissions dance works on their theater sets. Angel Aguayo (drag name Angel Baby Kill Kill Kill) presented Forgetting on the stripped back framework of a house (set designed by Bella Rivera). Dressed as a harlequin with sagging balloon, Aguayo enters tentatively, their slow and apprehensive movements stretching out into a gorgeous tension that sustains through most of the work. In contrast there’s a propulsive, operatic score and quick shifting lights that create an atmosphere of constant movement. It has me thinking again about timing. The suspense and the reveal. Their contained action creates stakes so that every movement reads as significant. And the magic trick quality is there again. Aguayo pulls red strings seemingly out of nowhere that stretch in long diagonals across the scene. A projection suddenly pops up, fitted perfectly to the house’s gable, that highlights lyrics from the song we’ve been listening to, repeated words I hadn’t been hearing before. Aguayo establishes the world of the piece, and then breaks what we understood it to be. The final breaking is the end, when Aguayo drops their character suddenly and completely, and talks frankly and organically to the audience about creating the piece and about ghosts—which backfills context into their beautifully haunting creation.
Remembering Marissa Quimby
In a tragic loss for our community, dancer Marissa Quimby passed this month after three years battling cancer. An article dedicated to Quimby’s prolific career is forthcoming, and we are collecting written contributions from those who worked with her or saw her dancing to include in the memorial article. Please email contributions to firstname.lastname@example.org by Oct 12. Please help spread the word.
New Studio: Seattle Movement Arts Center
A new dance studio has opened in Central Seattle. After two decades of teaching in the PNW, including running Cornish Prep, Steve Casteel has opened Seattle Movement Arts Center. In a phone call Casteel told me about his vision to create a community space for all kinds of dance and for all kinds of dancers—no previous training required. There’s a huge number of classes offered, many open to beginners, including Erotic Floor Work, Choreography classes, Middle Eastern Dance Sampler, and Barefoot Ballet Chair for ages 55+. Casteel says the curriculum is all about collaborating with the teachers they hire to support the programing they want to teach. Seattle Movement Arts Center is there to create the infrastructure.
The space is a new build on Cherry Street directly across from Seattle U. It has two studios (one big and one smaller) with marley and plenty of natural light from the floor-to-ceiling street-facing windows (frosted so you don’t have to worry about looky-loos.)There’s also several spacious gender-neutral bathrooms, showers, and drinking fountains tucked privately behind the welcoming front desk. Another feature that is hard to come by—the studio is wired for video conferencing with state of the art equipment, which enables traveling artists to rehearse dancers here, or dance collaborations across state lines or wherever there’s an internet connection.
Classes are affordable, space is available to rent, and they are also hiring teachers, so check out Seattle Movement Arts Center.
As for October, it’s just as rife with shows to attend as September, so get your affairs in order and let our calendar be your guide. Go see dance!
Correction: This article originally misidentified Moscato Sky’s music as Olivia Rodrigo, when it was, in fact, Paramore.