Three big projection screens stand behind dancer/choreographer Amy O'Neal as she performs her big new solo show at Velocity. Words and pictures materialize on the screens. She wrote the words—satisfyingly open-ended narrations about the dancing she's doing—and she either shot the movies or lifted the pictures and videos from YouTube. Googling "stripper ballerina," for instance, turned out to be productive and provocative. So did talking to people on Seattle streets and beaches about booty dance.
The show originates from a series of contradictions that might be boiled down to these: O'Neal is a white woman who loves hiphop and teaches it almost exclusively to white Seattleites. She's a trained and degreed contemporary dancer whose body feels at home in the street tradition of hiphop. She's a woman who feels empowered when doing sexy moves she knows are made for men to gawk at (and worse, for men to believe are plausible situations in which a typical woman might orgasm, which they most certainly are not). She is an originator, an imitator, an inheritor. She's a dancer who wants to talk, too. And sing a little.
The result is a series of "exhibits"—Exhibit A, Exhibit B, and so on. They include: an imitation of Ciara's "Ride" video. A cover-of-a-cover karaoke version of Cyndi Lauper's "Money Changes Everything." A group booty dance throwdown preceded by a charming and racially/sexually charged documentary. A dark stripper-pole/ballerina/Queen Mum dance that ends in a Dorothy-in-Oz moment where O'Neal sits on a small red-lit stage like an exhausted rag doll clicking her shoes together. They're transparent stilettos, and they flash red and orange lights when they're tapped.
There's also a chair dance with an audience volunteer. On Friday, the volunteer was a slightly nervous, tall, attractive man; on Saturday, the volunteer was a reassuring, attractive woman. The dynamics within the "duet" were wildly different though the volunteers were mostly still. Both times, it was intense.
Cockily (pun intended: O'Neal's moves are intentional) the show is titled The Most Innovative, Daring, and Original Piece of Dance/Performance You Will See This Decade. She also calls it a "physical essay"—The Most Innovative is an embodied live thing and an intellectual map. It's vulnerable and a manifesto. It's cocky, feminist, and questioning. O'Neal's hit a stage when she's strong enough to be personal and topical and aesthetic and even entertaining, all at the same time. Now go already.