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REMEMBERING MARISSA QUIMBY

Photo: Ernie Sapiro.

Marissa Quimby was a beloved local dancer who touched the hearts of everyone she encountered, on and off the stage. Marissa lost her three-year battle to cancer this September. Full of grace and zest with legs that stretched forever, she was captivating in contemporary works and luminously sexy in cabaret pieces. She was a prolific performer—for a period of time in the 2010s she was in just about every show in town. I had the privilege of dancing with Marissa since 2014, and will forever be in awe of her devotion to her art, her innate glamor, her openness to adventure, and her sparkling silliness.

Growing up in New Milford, Connecticut, her mom, Diane, enrolled Marissa in dance classes at a local studio when she was five years old, telling her first teacher, “I think she needs ballet.” After one class, her teacher said, “I see what you mean!” After a few years, and at her teacher’s suggestion, she moved to the School of Performing Arts and Fineline Theatre Arts where she trained on a pre-professional level through high school. After graduating, Marissa worked the New York City audition circuit and eventually landed an apprenticeship with Donald Byrd’s Spectrum Dance Theater. In 2007, at 19 years old and knowing practically no one in Seattle, she moved across the country to begin a new life.

Coriolis in 2011. Photo Ernie Sapiro.
With Mariko Smithashima in Unfixed Arias by Coriolis. Photo by Brett Doss.

After three seasons with Spectrum, Marissa found a lasting artistic home with Coriolis Dance. In “true Marissa fashion,” she jumped into rehearsal with Coriolis literally the day after meeting Natascha Greenwalt, the company’s co-founder. With Coriolis, she found both a creative hub and deep friendship. From 2010 to 2020, Marissa was a dancer, collaborator, board member, and eventually the Executive Director of the company. She was one of four core performers for many years and left an indelible mark on every Coriolis performance. Some of my favorite memories of our time together with Coriolis are her fierce “mama swan” presence as she protected her flock in Danses des Cygnes, being silly stargazing aliens together in Unfixed Arias, and an amazing residency in Italy at Anna Conner’s La Figlia Art Retreat. We ate all the gelato we could, did weird dances on the rooftop patio, and marveled at the Italian countryside and Rome’s ancient ruins.

Since 2013, Marissa was also a member of Alana O. Rogers Dance Company. Though she was almost a foot taller than me (those legs!), we often partnered together in Alana’s work. In SIGHT, wearing blindfolds and painted head to toe, we did a duet where we danced back to back—her butt landed almost in the small of my back and my head sat in the crook of her neck.

Other contemporary companies she worked with included Rainbow Fletcher’s HYPERNOVA and Beth Terwilleger’s The Gray. She performed in Chop Shop, Seattle International Dance Festival, 12 Minutes Max, Northwest New Works, and many shows at Velocity Dance Center.

At the Can Can. Photo by Jules Doyle.

Another place where Marissa’s mark is felt deeply is in the burlesque world. She was a regular onstage at The Triple Door, performing in This Is Halloween, Land of the Sweets, and House of Thee UnHoly. In addition to working with Verlaine McCann Productions, she was a member of the elegant neo-burlesque company House of Verlaine. She also was part of a tight-knit group of dancers who premiered The Can Can’s first brunch show at Pike Place Market. Some favorite memories from The Can Can crew include them barking in the streets dressed as foods from the Market to draw in a larger audience—Marissa was the banana. In one memorable number, she was a seemingly sad mermaid. Her character perked up when Thomas Phelan came in wearing scuba gear and flippers, but, in a surprise twist, she tied a napkin around her neck, pulled out a big fork, and ate him.

Right: Mermaid with Can Can. Photo courtesy of the Can Can. Left: Verlaine & McCann’s Land of the Sweets. Photo by Angela Sterling.

Whether it was a silly mermaid skit or something serious, Marissa fully inhabited each role. Throughout her career, she embodied the howling Arctic wind, a vengeful Wili, a sexy snowflake, an elegant space vortex, a silly space alien yammering in gibberish, a glamorous flower, and a cat in a skin-tight rubber unitard that left only her eyes visible. Her commanding presence and rigorous technique were paired with incredible joy and immense commitment and dedication to her craft.

She did many other projects here and there as artists do. In 2019, she and her Can Can crew choreographed a show for Bohemia Mining Days in Cottage Grove, Oregon that packed the venue to the gills. She was in music videos and photo shoots. As a model, she was a muse for many photographers, Brett Doss and Ernie Sapiro, among them, who captured her elegance and joie de vivre.

Bohemia Mining Days. Photo by Ernie Sapiro.
Modeling collaborations with Ernie Sapiro. Photo by Ernie Sapiro.

Of course there were gigs to make ends meet, too—she worked in the dining halls of several retirement communities, where she also helped coordinate field trips for the residents to watch her perform. This is where she met her husband, Chris Eager. Their love and care for each other was infectious. They were a total power couple, always chic and always up for a good time. Their annual “Christmas in July party” where they burn a Christmas tree and set off fireworks is legendary.

Photo by Ernie Sapiro.

Marissa was truly game for anything—for experimenting, for jumping in at the last minute, for going on an adventure in the mountains. She was constantly on the move but always grounded in art and creativity. As she once wrote for her website, she was “not afraid to make a spectacle of [herself] and dance at Pike Place Market, pose on building ledges, and climb in trees and fountains for an artistic vision”—none of that was hypothetical, she had done it all.

To know Marissa was to be her friend. She brought people in and loved generously. Her final days were surrounded by friends and family from across the country. We had a beautiful, hopeful gathering in the fading summer sun; a joyous celebration of love and life. We didn’t realize it would be our last one with her. It’s hard to believe that a light so bright is no longer with us.

Spending so much time in the studio together creates a specific kind of intimacy—I remember the smell of her shampoo, the little hip wiggle she did to keep her back warm, and the way she flipped upside down to tie her hair up. I miss it all. Marissa’s presence will long be felt by this community. It is certainly felt by me.

Friends and colleagues have contributed their stories, memories, photos, tributes, and letters to Marissa, here. A performance event celebrating her life is slated for 2024.

 

Community Contributions

Natascha and Marissa

Natascha Greenwalt

An excerpt from Natascha’s statement on behalf of Coriolis Dance:
The grief of losing Marissa is also filled with the magic pixie dust of who she was. I want it to settle into my pores that I may hold on to her in every way possible. I want the years spent sweating, holding, leaning into one another to stay sticky on my skin. I want to inhale her devotion, and inclusion and infectious laughter that I may exhale her optimism. […]

Her exceptional talent was equal to her exceptional generosity of spirit, only ever kind, and inspiring to all who were around her. Her dynamic, sinewy siren grace and soulful theatrically lit up every stage she stepped on and our hearts. Marissa will be deeply missed.

Read the full tribute here.

Natascha Greenwalt, Marissa Quimby, and Christin Call.
Photo by Ernie Sapiro.

Christin Call

Some moments of Marissa from the last 12 years:

Rolling out her calves before class with her custom-made sock filled with two tennis balls. Methodically reviewing solo work via videos on her phone in the corner of the Nest studio before rehearsal started. Saying “Tell us what you want, boss,” to Natascha when we got nitpicky about details in the rehearsal process. Taking a moment to finetune eyebrows after rehearsal before heading off to The Triple Door. Legs! Legs! Legs! Watching her sketch the rooftops and hills from the balcony of our residency stay in Fraine, Italy. Pouring so much balsamic over fresh Italian ingredients. Chowing down zestfully on burgers, pastas, salads, tacos, you name it. Coming to my art studio in Gasworks to lay face down for an hour while I stamped a damask pattern on her back until it was completely covered in black paint. Going around SoDo’s artwalk with her and Chris, who were sparkling mischievously from becoming engaged earlier that day. The look of sadness and utter grace she gave me when I showed her a very brutal unsent letter that I wanted to use to create some phrasework from. The seriousness with which she undertook the task. Her telling me, “I can’t believe how your brain works!” after coming to see my first full-length work as a dancemaker. Fluid, elegant solos at Erickson beaming outwards with earnest sincerity, watching from the wings. Showing up at Wasabi spontaneously after work where she was a server to grab some sushi and chat. Fourth of July Christmas tree effigies! Leaning back on makeshift pallets with her to watch the homemade fireworks show. Itching her back at a wedding when the heat of the room was making it hard to bear. Arriving once when she didn’t realize I was coming, and telling her she can go hide in the bedroom while I clean. Her laughing and hugging everyone and raising a plastic cup of champagne in the backyard, a toast with all her friends and family there to celebrate her life.

A still image from videographer Warren Woo.

Alana O. Rogers

Marissa,

Alana O Roger’s work. Photo by Ernie Sapiro.

It’s been about 6 weeks since we said goodbye. What they say is true, grief really does come in waves. You pretty much shocked us flat on our feet like an atomic bomb when you left. We were floored. The way you gave us that glimmer of hope that we had more time, hosted that amazing garden party, hugged us each, then departed quietly without a word, felt like somehow you knew the whole time that it was goodbye. I remember you saying to me as I left your house that night, “are you sure you have to go?” If only I had known. Carpe diem. Hindsight 20/20. Yeah.

And then you know, I had this show thing, that one you were so excited about, and I had no choice but to fling my whole body back into it, my mind, my spirit, my soul. You knew the passion of it all. You lived that passion. So I did that, just as you would want me to do. The show was great, let me tell you, the dancers were fierce and they embodied everything I had imagined and more. It was everything. The only thing missing, was you.

I talked to the audience about you on the last night, in a microphone (!!), can you believe it? I made everyone cry. I bet you were watching. Afterwards, people shared their joy around the choreography and shared their condolences of our loss of you. It was like this crazy marriage of all of the corners of my heart, all in one place.

And then the show was over. And as you know, as a performer, you wait for that wave of loss that comes when a show-run ends. It’s the next-level Mondays. But this time, my wave of loss was all Marissa. As the days went on, your being gone sunk in deeper and deeper, the cuts were opened back up wide, burning. I found myself swiping uncontrollably through photos of you in rehearsal and on stage, watching videos just to be closer to you and your smile. Your strength. Your artistry. Those are the ways I will remember you. Not the version of hell you lived through. Not what it took away. None of us wanted to admit that you were sick. I still don’t.

Several days later, maybe longer, I came back over the last photos I had taken of you in the hospital. After days of soaking myself in all the rosy images of you in health, it really sunk in, just how far cancer had taken your body, how much it had stolen. In that moment of overwhelming shock, I also felt the strangest thing, the tiniest speck of elation.

You. Were. Free. From. Cancer.

All that you had fought against, you had finally smothered out. Maybe death is the ultimate fuck-you to cancer a person can give.

No more pain.
No more pills. No more infusions.
No more dashed hope. No more limbo.
No more fatigue.
No more nostalgia for what was.
No more itching.

No more watching your loved ones hurt.

No regrets.
No more.

Of course, it is hard for us to see that side of this. We miss you. I am trying.
I am so grateful to have known you. I am so grateful to have shared so much with you. We got to share sacred space in the studio. We CREATED together. We got to share the stage and the lights. We shared lipstick. We shared meals. I got to meet Chris. I got to meet your family and friends. I got to be present at your big events. We got to laugh together and giggle uncontrollably. We got to cry. We got to embrace. We got to sit in awe at art and life and love.

This list is longer than I can write here. It is immense. I am so grateful. Thank you for making such an indelible mark on us all.

Thank you.

Promo photo for Alana O Rogers Company. Witty Pixel Photography.

Jana Kincl

Marissa and I were never super close but I felt our spirits always side by side. I thought of her often and always wanted to be more in her life. Could I do it by osmosis? I tried. I danced next to her, around her, I followed her around in rehearsal. I hoped that her joy, movement and beautiful energy would transfer to me as long as I stayed in close proximity.

I strive to live life because hers was cut short. I hike to tall places because I can. I appreciate the magic of the universe. Her shortened life is only over if we let it. Physically she has dissipated into the magic and beauty of this crazy planet. I will enjoy life, push myself, experience new things and feel everything. That is what she wants or my interpretation and my way to grieve the harsh reality. I am so lucky to have shared space in our lifetimes together, to have met and danced with Marissa. I am honored.

Marissa,
Your presence is absorbed into the light.
The moments of the day that glow.
Your physical absence sadly made the beauty grow.
It is the first touch of the sun.
The alpine light that makes the mountains blush and run.
Clouds that create all the layers and moods away.
It is the fall colors on a crisp sunny day.
I see you in all of it.
I will continue to see you be apart of it.
You will remind me to make the most of it.

Karena Birk

I just keep thinking about how many more years of dancing I’ve had than her (I think I’m about 12 years older now than she was at diagnosis), and how unfair it is – she should have had those years too. And we should have all gotten to revel in her dancing for those years. She was the person who seemingly had everything – incandescent talent, intelligence, humor, kindness, generosity, model looks, and a love story that would be unbelievable if you didn’t know it was real. And she should have had it for decades to come. And I’m angry that she didn’t. It’s just not right.

Marissa Quimby in Victoria McConnell’s work for Abbey Grown.
Film still by Brad Curran.

Victoria McConnell

I think I was a little bit intimidated when I first encountered Marissa Quimby, probably in ballet class with Coriolis. Her famous legs, dancing ability, and looks would stop anyone in their tracks. But all that potential angst immediately flies out the window — she is so generous, open and quick to laugh. I am so grateful I had the chance to dance alongside her, watch her perform, get to know her, and that she even danced in my own choreography once. I remember she was so patient and present in rehearsals for Arc and Arrow, as I was developing her particular dance character, while trying to find my own artistic voice in the process. When we were filming some scenes outside in grey, cold Discovery Park, she was a hero. Dancing barefoot on sand, repeating takes for the camera, she brought the vision to life. It was always fun working alongside her performing for Alana O Rogers, whether partnering or getting painted head to toe and blindly dancing our butts off. Of course there were ups and downs, but I remember her as a committed artist and mover, living life as fully as possible. Marissa is a truly sparkling human, loved and full of love.

Robbi Moore

Marissa is somebody I wish I had the chance to get to know better. I think that we would have really clicked if we had had that chance to get to know each other more. I didn’t meet Marissa until 2019, in Danses des Cygnes with Coriolis. I remember the challenges of that process as a dancer, wanting to match the energy of the piece, because it had already been created and I knew I was coming into a close knit group of people. So I’m wanting to do my best and am nervous, and I appreciated Marissa’s kindness when working through partnering. It was an honor to dance with her, for sure. Her fierce Amazon goddess energy in that piece as mama swan was unforgettable.

Robbi and Marissa

She was very humble, and such a gorgeous mover. She had no ego, was not afraid to admit when she didn’t understand something. She was just from her heart.

In 2019, I met her husband and friends, and was invited to the July party—they immediately welcomed me into the crew. That felt really special to experience that, basically the last one before what would inevitably happen. I knew her to be a good person—who lived her life with kindness and generosity. She had such an impact on me, and I saw our relationship as still being in its beginnings.

Kaitlin McCarthy

Marissa Quimby never failed to leave an impression. The height, the technique, the legs-for-days. Watching Marissa dance was watching her fully embody and embrace her power. The kind of quiet ferocity that lights a small flame of terror in the gut. Or she’d turn on the charm and use her powers to delight and scintillate. Her athleticism always at hand, she seemed equally at home in the elegance of House of Verlaine as the strangeness of Coriolis’ more avant garde work. Her artistry always commanding a real ownership of the stage.
Off-stage, Marissa seemed impossibly glamorous. She was so elegant, fashionable, and self-possessed, I always felt like an awkward teenager looking at a “real adult,” even though we were similar in age. My social intimidation was quickly eased, however, when we were briefly in the same Alana O. Rogers work and I got to see Marissa in the rehearsal room—down to earth, playful, and welcoming. A hard worker and team player who was clearly a trusted and beloved collaborator. She will be greatly missed in the Seattle dance scene.

Modeling collaborations with Ernie Sapiro

Ernie Sapiro

I met Marissa on a model website and she mentioned dance and that was it. Marissa basically opened the door for me. I shot Marissa more than anybody. Sometimes she would just call me or I would call her and say hey what are you doing? Let’s go take pictures. And so we would. She was always down for it. One time I called her and said hey, meet me at the Pike Place market at 6 o’clock on Sunday morning and let’s go take pictures and she did. So many stories, so many pictures. It’s hard to believe that she’s not here anymore.

In work for House of Verlaine. Photo by Isobella Bloom.

Lily Verlaine

why you are so beloved
is not at all a mystery
to me; the nuances of you
that touch us all
in different ways, are, and must be
deeply precious
to every one of us,
as you are
the best parts of us all; brought
to life.

Statement from Verlaine McCann Productions:
In Loving Memory of Marissa Quimby

We are heartbroken at the passing of Marissa Quimby, an impeccable artist who graced our lives and our work. To call her kind, self-possessed, gorgeous, hard-working, and generous would merely be scratching the surface of who she was, both onstage and off. She was also a true friend, ally, and partner-in-crime, always willing to help and always ready for an adventure. Her rare, subtle grace charmed everyone who met her, and her enthusiasm for art and dance was overflowing. Her high-kicks were monumental, always accompanied by her glorious grin.

Marissa was a glowing standout on our stages from 2015 until her brave battle with cancer commenced in 2020. Even after her diagnosis, she worked her magic behind the scenes. We are certain that her spirit will continue to inspire generations to come.

Verlaine & McCann Land of the Sweets. Photo by Angela Sterling.

We love you, Marissa, with all our hearts. Your light sparkled so brightly and went out before its time. We are infinitely grateful for all the gifts you gave us: your artistry, your kindness, and most of all your friendship and love. Our thoughts are with your family and your wonderful husband, Chris. We’ll miss you always.

9” x 11” Watercolour. By Janice White.

Holly Hodson

I performed with Marissa for several years in Land of the Sweets and House of Verlaine.
My mom comes to my shows and has seen her dance many times.
Marissa was never anything but kind to me.
I told my mother this and everything else about Marissa that made me so heartbroken she was gone.
My mom was very touched by the kindness Marissa showed me and everyone else lucky enough to cross her path. She wanted to contribute to honoring her memory.

Painting contributed by Janice White

Lara Seefeldt

I put off writing something for this piece for a long time because it’s impossible for words to capture the full breadth of losing Marissa; perhaps they aren’t designed to carry that kind of weight, and sharing the memories I have with her publicly feels too personal and not personal enough. Simultaneously.
I think one of the reasons Marissa is loved by so many is because she loved so many of us. She possessed this magical ability to connect with people in a unique and genuine way that made your relationship with her feel special. I will always admire her for that. And you don’t have to reach deep within the Seattle dance community to find someone who was profoundly touched by her artistry on stage and her friendship off stage. I’m sure that those of us left behind will always save her spot at the barre.

Paris Original

My overwhelming realization/sentiment is that her presence in Seattle dance was felt in just about every corner of its existence.
I’m so grateful for her presence in my life, both personally and artistically. Everything about her was a beaming ray of sunshine that brought warmth and joy to every project she was involved with. She was so deeply embedded in the Seattle performance community that I see the imprint of her memory in everything I do. Every show I’ve worked on and company I’ve danced for this season, she was once a part of.
I feel so lucky to have been a part of so many projects with her. We danced together at Spectrum, Coriolis, and for Alana. For Can Can Productions, House of Verlaine, Verlaine and McCann Productions. Having both been tall, leggy blondes, she will forever and always be one of my dance twins.

Tory Piel

I don’t need to go on about how Marissa was lithe and grace. Like a blade of grass or an arrow mid flight. Stoic and calm even under duress, trustable to her core and loyal as fuck. I know anyone who stood in a room with her for five seconds or was lucky enough to witness her onstage would know all of that.

What they may not know is how that sunflower of a human could transform. From Miss America poise to goofy, gawky, gangly, gorgeousness, laughing at herself the whole way.

 

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A post shared by torypeil (@torypeil)

This is one of my favorite thoughts of Marissa, and I visit it often, not just because she’s gone and I miss her but because it is a memory I love. One of the souvenirs I bargain with God to keep around when I’m in the dementia ward at the old folks home.

Marissa is in the Triple Door dressing room. We are on show number twenty something of a long Burlesque Nutcracker run. We have at this point enacted Christmas cheer for thousands of people during several weeks of a Groundhog Day like schedule of 2 shows a day. The air is steamy backstage and plastic snow has taken over every nook and cranny. Marissa is topless per usual, awaiting a costume change. Her long legs drip down into her bedazzled show heels. An old, folding chair offends the beauty of the moment as it sticks to her perfect ass. But none the less she is gorgeous and pristine and could fulfill every wet dream ever had.

She is however doing this thing she always does. And specifically today, after so many hours sitting next to her in this tiny dressing room, the delirium has taken over. After so many shuffle ball changes and so many kick lines and so many cocktail olives that we steal from the bar I can finally see just how incredible an oxymoron she really is. As her graceful, long fingers quickly yet delicately rifle through her pink kit and caboodle, she transforms before my eyes.
She’s looking for a favorite Bobby pin or a runaway earring no doubt. But the way this specimen of a nearly perfect woman rummages through her make up kit like an obnoxious squirrel hiding away nuts for a long winter has me in awe. She is so transfixed at her mousy little task at hand she doesn’t even notice me watching her. A scratch here, a scratch there, on and on and on. Not really accomplishing anything, just rummaging to rummage.
Many minutes go by and I am rendered speechless. What moments before was a vintage Playboy dream of boobs and legs and skin is now a rabies filled animal you’d find at a park.
Eventually she feels my eyes on her and still mouse-like turns her head ever so slowly to look at me.
“What?” She says with a smirk because she knows this dichotomy is one of the best things about her. She is both goddess and animal.
And then we break into that big true laughter that we love. That laugh of hers, golden and warm. That laugh that I now play videos on repeat just to hear. That laugh that could encapsulate the whole universe all at once, wise and sage yet child-like and free.
How grateful I am to have spent so many hours laughing with you Marissa Quimby.