All the women in Zoe Scofield's family share a rare genetic condition called dentinogenesis imperfecta. Their teeth don't form dentin and aren't white: They're an opalescent blue. That opalescence has, she says, "been a huge point of contention all my life," starting in Gainesville, Georgia (population: 32,000; nickname: "poultry capital of the world"), where teachers assumed she was malnourished and called Child Protective Services. Family members said she should dye them so she'd feel better about herself. Dance instructors said nobody would want to look at her.

At first, Scofield couldn't afford to dye them. Now she refuses to. "Not having white teeth is not a problem," she says emphatically. Scofield and her creative and romantic partner, Juniper Shuey, recently published a book of photographs of their company titled White Teeth.

Scofield is the kind of artist who kicks back.

Like many modern choreographers, she fell in love with ballet as a kid, entranced by its insistence on symmetry, rigor, and perfection. And, like many modern choreographers, she devoted her youth to rigorous training, then suffered a traumatic breakup with the form. (She half dumped it, it half dumped her.) But her choreography remains haunted by the specter of ballet. Her dances have a balletic feel of striving and precision, and a recurring obsession with lines and verticality. While her peers and predecessors, especially in Seattle, choreograph in undulations, Scofield choreographs in angles. They work with kinetic continuity, gestures curving and sweeping into one another like a roller coaster. She works with interruptions and controlled explosions. They make waves and hills. She makes lightning and spiders.

Scofield's taste in costumes and makeup is equally severe. Her dancers cover themselves in white powder and red paint. They wear simple strips of fabric that look like medical bandages or colorful bustles, cloth breastplates, furry hot pants. The effect is a collision between primitivist kabuki and a cotillion on Mars.

Scofield is 29, but her career as a choreographer only took off three years ago. At 14, she moved from Georgia to an arts boarding school in Massachusetts and entered the Boston Ballet's apprenticeship program, where one of the teachers took her aside and told her to drop ballet. He said she was too expressive, too different to be a ballerina. "Let me save you years of heartache," she recalls him telling her. "You can't stay in line. You don't look like everybody else."

She got a few years of heartache anyway. She graduated from Walnut Hill with a serious alcohol and drug problem. Unable to afford college, she returned to Georgia and took a job in an intensive-care unit at a hospital. She saw Pentecostal families holding revivals over dead bodies, trying to raise them, and a parade of failed suicides—seven to nine a week, almost all women, almost always by pills and alcohol. She asked one of the doctors why there weren't more men. He told her men were more violent and more successful.

Back in Boston, one of her old dance teachers was talking Scofield into a dance scholarship at the Boston Conservatory. Scofield moved back north, where she studied ballet, modern, and choreography and compounded her drug problems with anorexia. She was hospitalized several times and asked to leave school. "That all sounds so angsty and dramatic," she says, smiling in the afternoon sunshine on some concrete steps in Lower Queen Anne. "But you could say the physicality of what I do is born of this sort of gnawing—a physical, internal gnawing of doing something you don't want to be doing but doing it anyway. And surviving despite it all."

Scofield began dancing with modern companies: first with Prometheus in Boston, then for Bill James in Toronto. "Bill James was out-there stuff," she says. "Making astral sounds, dancing in the woods in pools of water with blocks of ice, and lots of nudity—Canadians are big into nudity." Eventually, Scofield cleaned up and stopped dancing. "I couldn't deal with myself. And when you dance you have to put yourself in this position where you have to be so honest with yourself." She wouldn't dance again for another four years.

Scofield moved to Seattle with a friend she met in rehab and idled for a few years, until Bumbershoot 2003, where she met Juniper Shuey, a video artist who had an installation at that year's festival. She fell in love with him. He brought her back to dance. Scofield decided to make a duet for the Under Construction series at Velocity and invited Shuey to a rehearsal where, she says, he "ripped me a new asshole."

"The movement was all half-assed," Shuey explains. "I said 'I don't believe you. Make me believe you.'" Scofield was afraid of returning to dance and afraid of failing. But she went for it. She began making dance like she meant it.

In 2005, she applied to the Northwest New Works Festival at On the Boards. She had an image in her mind—women in long, black Japanese-schoolgirl wigs and white wedding dresses, each with a red stripe beginning on her forehead and running all the way down her back—and not much else. "Juniper made it happen," Scofield says. "He told me how to fill out the application, everything."

The resulting piece, There ain't no easy way out, launched Scofield and Shuey's careers. After Northwest New Works, On the Boards invited them to perform in a dance doubleheader with Monster Squad from Portland.

Then the cavalcade of success: an invitation to the National Dance Project's choreographer's lab; shows in San Francisco, Minneapolis, and the Jacob's Pillow Inside/Out festival in Massachusetts; commissions by Spectrum Dance Theater, PICA in Portland, and the Frye Art Museum; a grant from the National Dance Project; an award from Wesleyan University. Last September, she choreographed and appeared in a music video for Dave Matthews Band. The video is pure Scofield—paint, powder, snow. Matthews, who is sitting in a barber chair, gets creamed with mud.

"It all feels like a coup," she says. "Because who the hell are we? It's like we're in the game of fake it till you make it."

There's nothing fake about it. Scofield is a comet.

Her newest work, the devil you know is better than the devil you don't, is a cocommission from the Time-Based Art Festival in Portland and On the Boards. It is a beastly ballet, both harrowing and gorgeous. At a rehearsal last week, her dancers stalked around on their toes, hands splayed behind their heads like antlers. They bent at the waist, hands behind their backs, studying the ground like robins looking for worms. They swiped at the air, arms hooked like scythes. The music, by Morgan Henderson—of the defunct experimental hardcore band the Blood Brothers—veers between complex percussion, low woodwinds, and an army of flutes.

Toward the end, a man and a woman almost hugged, but at the last minute gripped each other by the back of the neck. Then he fell and she slowly walked offstage, pulling him along by the neck with her feet. He rolled behind her, caught, like a dead thing in her wake. recommended