I saw the Seattle Dance Project's (SDP) inaugural performance last night (Friday 1/25). What a superb treat. Congratulations to all involved.....and especially to one of my all time favorite dancers: Julie Tobiason.
The SDP is the brain-child of Julie Tobiason and Timothy Lynch: both retirees from the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB). The new company consists of 9 dancers -- all professionally trained as classical dancers. Most have been associated with PNB where they were dancers (most principals or soloists) or attended the PNB school at some point in their careers. The beauty of this new company is that it does contemporary works, has a modern dance outlook, but whose dancers are all classically trained with years of big stage experience. They had retired due to either age or injury, but wanted to dance before an audience again, and to have the freedom to call their own shots as to who they danced with and as to what they danced.
The company consists of: Julie Tobiason (PNB), Timothy Lynch (PNB), Michelle Curtis (Connecticut Ballet), Alexandra Dickson (PNB), Oleg Gorboulev (PNB), Dana Hanson (NYCB), Linnette Hitchin (PNB), Kory Perigo (Dance Works Rotterdam), Melanie Skinner (PNB). The compnay was originally 8, but unfortunately Dana Hanson broke her foot not long before these performances, and Julie Tobiason pressed Linnette Hitchin into extraordinary service on a compressed learning schedule (Linnette's career at PNB as Principal was cut short by injury in the 90s).
The program, appropriately titled "Project One", consisted of 4 World Premieres (cool!): "Still One" by PNB's Olivier Wevers to music by Arvo Part; "Castor" by Molissa Fenley, music by Harry Partch; "Tatum Dance #2" by Donald Byrd, music Art Tatum; "The Intimacy of Strife" by Pat Catterson, music Quentin Chiappetta.
I thought the company, the program, and the idea were a complete success. I don't know how many small companies there are out there that dance contemporary works based on a fusion of modern and classical dance where the dancers are primarily classically trained professionals retired from major ballet companies. There can't be many! I simply loved the freedom of the choreography, danced by such highly trained and competent dancers, all with gifted "standard" ballet bodies. I'd never seen anything like it.
I loved all the pieces with the exception of Catterson's "The Intimacy of Strife" which strayed too far from my prejudicial ballet tastes. There were just too many "organic" convulsive movements for my narrow tastes. The remaining 3 pieces were a tie, but rather than ducking the issue, I can say that my favorite was the Byrd piece. It was set to Art Tatum on piano and done with a ballroom dancing style which told a story of quarreling lovers. Julie Tobiason was terrific as she so often was at PNB in sultry roles. The Fenley piece has to come second with me. I had never seen a Fenley work until seeing "State of Darkness" several times at PNB last season. I loved that piece for its energy and emotional power. This new piece grabbed me the same way. Interestingly, Fenley choreographed this new work on the SDP dancers last year in a week while she was in Seattle staging "State of Darkness" for PNB. Next was Wevers "Still One". This is the piece that most haunts me. In the Q&A after the performance Wevers said he was inspired by those moments in life when all is still. He said he crafted the ballet by picking a particular aspect of each of the dancers to focus on -- each part was customized specifically to that dancer (which made an even bigger challenge for Hitchin when she had to substitute for Hanson at nearly the last moment -- Olivier said he and Linnette were changing things to suit her style just the day before). His "story line" for the ballet was to present many of the injuries that dancers have to deal with; both the movement and the simple costumes highlighted different parts of the body and how injury there can affect the dancer. I am going back to see the program again tomorrow (it only plays Fri, Sat, Sun(m) at the wonderfully intimate ACT Falls Theater) to enjoy this unique dancing again. It is Wevers "Still One" I am most interested to see again. Clearly his choreography can not be as mature as that of Byrd or Fenley, but there is a raw power of imagination in Wevers work that I'd like to see again. The work might be a bit rough but there are gems of brilliance sprinkled all through it -- gems I want to see again.
In the end, the credit must go to Julie Tobiason and Timothy Lynch. They are the ones who stuck their necks out to become the Artist Directors of this brand new company. Julie in particular has the presence and commitment that has kept this enterprise from crashing on no doubt dozens of shoals over the last year (between each piece excellent video interviews were shown with most of the dancers chronicling their labor of love). My admiration to the entire company for having the guts to not take "impossible" for an answer. Once again I am thrilled to live in Seattle where dance is such a happening thing.
P.S. Credit must also go to Seattle biotech magnate Glenn Kawasaki who provided the significant seed money without which a venture like this would never have seen the light of day. You "gave back" to me Glenn.....thanks!
Seattle Dance Project(a new company in Seattle)
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