This weekend's Strictly Seattle performances at Broadway Performance Hall feature some of Seattle's most innovative choreographers, a cast of gorgeous dancers, and some of the sexiest gams I've seen in a long time. (And I've been watching dance—and dancers' gams—for 20 years.)
Strictly Seattle is an annual three-week workshop at Velocity Dance Center with classes in ballet, contemporary, modern, and hiphop taught by prominent dance artists. It culminates in a showcase of pieces developed and rehearsed during the workshop by local artists Zoe Scofield, Mary Sheldon Scott, Kate Wallich, Amy O'Neal, Tonya Lockyer, and Kristin Hapke. These range, according to Lockyer (also Velocity's executive director), from "an evocation of a primordial ooze of midnight birds" to a daring reach "into new heights of obsessive, ultraspecific repetition."
While many summer dance workshops across the country are audition-based, Strictly Seattle is open to the public on a class-by-class basis and attended this year by more than 80 dancers from 12 states. One of the primary missions of Velocity is to bring all types of dancers—professionals, preprofessionals, postprofessionals, students, and those new to the scene—into its airy Capitol Hill studios to experience the freedom of creative movement.
The mix means that the process is "inclusionary and has excellence at the same time," Lockyer said. "We coexist and learn from each other, reminding us of why we do this. It's clean dancing, exciting dancing."
I spoke with teacher and choreographer O'Neal over prerehearsal snacks last week and asked how she developed her work in such a short period of time. Did she bring prepared choreography into the studio, or was it more off the cuff?
"Well," she laughed, "I had something planned but then I tossed it. We've been talking a lot about what it means to be watched, why do you want to be watched, what do you want out of this. I wanted to empower these dancers to be fierce, to own what they're doing."
O'Neal's piece, set to music by local hip-hop artist Katie Kate, is large and dramatic, with big sounds, sudden silences, and intense changes in the pace and inflection of movements. It's fascinating in its unpredictability, more like observing a party crowd than watching a live performance. The 10-ish women and men in O'Neal's piece have diverse training, some exhibiting the fluid motions of classical dancers, here and there showing the hip and shoulder pops of the seasoned hiphop dancer, all with strong bodies and devoted, sometimes blissful energy. It's not a put-on, it's the very real effect of what O'Neal aims to lead her dancers toward: fierceness, ownership, conviction.