Usually in collaborations between a choreographer and a visual artist, the choreographer calls the shots.
But in Seattle’s zoe | juniper, dancer-choreographer Zoe Scofield and her husband, video artist Juniper Shuey, are equal partners.
The blending of their talents has produced some of the most impressive dance/visual spectacles to come out of Seattle in recent years. Their last full-length show at On the Boards, “A Crack in Everything,” was a beautiful, fragmented, mysterious affair for five dancers that, thanks to its technical ingenuity, made it nearly impossible to distinguish real presences from masterfully projected illusions.
The pair’s new show at OtB, “BeginAgain,” will again mix video, dance and music in ways that play with perceptions of space and time. On the dance front, it may be a more streamlined affair than “Crack,” focusing on only two performers (“and some surprises,” Scofield says).
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But with all its theatrical trappings, including a set by Seattle paper artist Celeste Cooning and music by Morgan Henderson (Blood Brothers, Fleet Foxes) and audio engineer Julian Martlew, it should offer intricate, otherworldly pleasures. Certainly Scofield has found herself a potent dance partner in Ariel Freedman, a veteran of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company and Crystal Pite’s Kidd Pivot.
On stage, Scofield is both severe and fragile, embodying a sort of refined ferocity. Offstage, she’s goofier — although when she shoots you a look to warn you not to reveal any of the unexpected turns in “BeginAgain,” her eyes have formidable firepower.
Given the way she brings serious ballet chops to zoe | juniper’s fever-dreams, it’s not surprising to learn Scofield has won two prestigious Princess Grace Foundation honors — a choreography fellowship in 2011 and Special Project Award in 2013 — or that zoe | juniper has held residencies at the MacDowell Colony and Jacob’s Pillow (where “A Crack in Everything” premiered in 2011).
In an interview last week, the couple recalled meeting at Bumbershoot in 2003, where Shuey had a three-part video installation in a group show.
“All three of those videos were of myself being projected in these different environments,” Shuey says, “using the human form as part of the projection system, creating spatial relations. It makes sense that those were the three pieces that Zoe saw. We talked all day. It started our intimate relationship, and then obviously we realized we probably had a similar aesthetic.”
“I feel like that’s what I was really drawn to,” Scofield agrees. “I was really interested in his work and how he talked about it.”
It wasn’t long before she was asking for his advice on a duet she was creating with a friend.
Although he’d shifted entirely into visual art at that point, Shuey had actually done some dance in college (“a series of improvs that became a piece,” he says modestly).
Scofield, adopting a newscaster’s voice, chimes in: “Little known fact: Juniper Shuey is an amazing dancer. Juniper Shuey’s problem with dance is that he will not remember anything that he does — ever.”
If Scofield drew Shuey back into the dance world, Shuey was just a key in urging Scofield to return seriously to dance after some setbacks had discouraged her. Growing up in Georgia, she started ballet lessons young and, at age 14, entered Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Massachusetts, where she graduated in 1997. She then danced with companies in Boston and Toronto before moving to Seattle “on a whim” in 2002.
“I didn’t set out to be a choreographer,” she says. “Honestly, I always wanted the validation of dancing in a company. I tried to work with a bunch of different choreographers here. They didn’t have positions or weren’t interested. … I think my training didn’t match their aesthetic.”
As she told Dance Teacher Magazine last year, “I had so much Balanchine training in my body, but I didn’t feel like a ballet dancer anymore. And on the other hand, I couldn’t find a modern-dance style that felt right.”
She also had some health issues that made her think she’d never dance again. But meeting Shuey changed all that.
“Juniper was like: ‘No, you can do this.’ ”
While Scofield is the choreographer and Shuey is the visual wizard behind zoe ǀ juniper’s productions, the lines between them, as far as creative input, aren’t hard and fast. In rehearsal, Shuey will offer comments on the choreography, while Scofield is meticulous in how she composes dancers in space and time (“I have very clear visual ideas”).
She and Shuey, she says, are “always in conversation.” That dialogue may not go on 24/7, but it’s pretty constant.
“I think we just have a shared understanding,” she explains. “That does not mean that we always agree on anything at all, by far. But I also think that that would be so boring, that that wouldn’t help us at all.”
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com