Forget leotards and tights. In his new work, “This Space For Rent,” choreographer Shane Donohue costumes his dancers in advertisements.
“I’m selling ads within the music, set and costumes to pay my dancers’ minimum wages,” Donohue says. A veteran performer in Seattle’s contemporary dance scene, Donohue is using his first professional choreographic opportunity to address the rapid and unsustainable rise in the cost of living for Seattle artists.
“I’m confronting this system that doesn’t work and finding a balance,” he says, “but it’s still very capitalist.”
Donohue’s piece is one of five new works by up-and-coming local choreographers premiering Dec. 12-15 in “Next Fest 2019 — Ritual and Rebellion” at Capitol Hill’s Velocity Dance Center.
Curated by a team including Velocity’s new artistic director Erin Johnson, “Next Fest” is a result of Velocity’s work supporting emerging artists with rehearsal space and creative guidance.
This year, Johnson’s curatorial team encouraged the emerging choreographers to address the topics in arts culture that felt urgent to the artists’ creative survival.
The themes in “Ritual and Rebellion” echo Velocity’s current publicity about its lack of stability in the Seattle arts scene. An Oct. 1 Facebook post for Velocity’s “Save Our Studio” campaign issued an urgent appeal to its supporters, stating: “Like many arts organizations in the city, Velocity is facing the possibility of closing its doors if we are not able to stabilize our finances in the next four months.”
As of Nov. 21, said Velocity Executive Director Catherine Nueva España, “We have raised enough funds so far that we can stay in our space and we are not closing Jan. 1. We’re halfway through the fundraiser now but if we don’t raise the $120,000 [by Dec. 31], 2020 is looking really dicey for us,” she says.
The problem isn’t that they wouldn’t be able to afford the rent on their physical studios but that they would run out of funds to fulfill Velocity’s overall mission: to support choreographers through the creative process that involves subsidizing rehearsal space, mentoring, and paying artists a living wage while they create work.
“We need more philanthropic support that isn’t focused on the shiny piece of a production,” says Nueva España.
Since Velocity’s 1996 founding by longtime Seattle dancemakers KT Niehoff and Michele Miller (originally located in the historic Oddfellows Hall on East Pine Street), the center has served as a safe space for artists seeking to create work out of the mainstream classical ballet or university dance settings. “Dance is such a challenging area to produce in,” says Miller. “We’re constantly having to ask people for money.”
Next Fest’s 2019 lineup shows how Velocity’s mission has nurtured the creation of unusual works.
Former Spectrum Dance Theater company member Marco Farroni’s work explores how ideas of home are shaped by time instead of geography. Farroni’s journey from his birthplace in the Dominican Republic to a professional creative life in Seattle inspired his creation of a “drop-in” world where audiences can wander onstage through his immersive solo performance.
In “Utopia 1,” Vladimir Kremenovic uses images and concepts of Brutalist architecture from his Bosnian roots to examine micro societies and socialism.
Expressive arts therapist and emerging choreographer Lucie Baker’s work presents her spin on Eastern European rituals of the Rusalki — feminine spirits associated with ecological and biological fertility.
And for her piece “Filter Bubble,” Hannah Rae rebels against current economic barriers to dance performance by inviting her dancers to rehearse only as it fits into their day jobs.
“As performers, we’re raised with this hierarchy of maintaining uniqueness in artistry,” she said, “but I want to work in a different way that brings artists and audiences together for a different kind of experience.”
“Next Fest 2019 — Ritual and Rebellion,” Dec. 12-15; Velocity Dance Center, 1621 12th Ave., Seattle; $20-$50; velocitydancecenter.org