Performers from Pacific Northwest Ballet, Spectrum Dance Theater, Whim W’him, and PNB School will appear at Olympic Sculpture Park on Aug. 11, 2016.

Share story

On a beautiful Seattle summer evening, why not dance outdoors?

On Thursday (Aug. 11), some of our city’s finest dancers will be doing just that in “Sculptured Dance,” an evening of five new choreographic works performed at Olympic Sculpture Park. Each piece is inspired by a sculpture and performed in, on and around it by dancers from Pacific Northwest Ballet, Spectrum Dance Theater, Whim W’him, and PNB School.

The idea, said PNB artistic director Peter Boal, has been floating around for a while. At the opening of the park in 2006, he said, then-Seattle Art Museum Director Mimi Gates “made a point of coming over to me, and she talked about how dance would be so well suited to the sculpture park.” With help from an initiative received from the Wallace Foundation, “Sculptured Dance” — a free public event copresented by SAM and PNB — became a reality, a decade later.

Dance preview

‘Sculptured Dance’

6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 11, Olympic Sculpture Park, 2901 Western Ave., Seattle; free. (pnb.org/pnb-presents).

It’s a unique setting for a unique event: Unlike a typical dance concert, each piece won’t be performed just once, but two or three times; audience members can wander the park, catching short performances (each work is 15 minutes or less) at will. Admission is free, and Boal likes the idea of random park visitors spontaneously becoming a dance audience. In a rehearsal at the park last month, he said, “People riding their bikes stopped to look. They stuck with us and followed us.”

The all-local group of choreographers — Donald Byrd, Kiyon Gaines, Ezra Thomson, Kate Wallich, Olivier Wevers — were given the opportunity to choose their sculptures. Each brought its own idiosyncrasies. With the exception of Roy McMakin’s “Untitled” (a grouping of a bench, box and chair), on which Byrd’s work will be set, the works of art cannot be touched. Some are on flat ground, some on a slope; ground may be wet or dry. The sound of a passing train may drown out recorded or live music. And Seattle’s summer weather is, of course, famously unpredictable. “There are,” admitted Boal, “a lot of curve balls.”

But the choreographers seem to be embracing the challenges. Thomson’s work is set at Tony Smith’s sculpture “Stinger,” an enclosure surrounded by wood chips — with which the dancers will play as part of the choreography. “They’re kind of sticky — they get all over the costumes,” Thomson said. “It creates an interesting effect, a little more cohesive with the outdoors.”

Wallich’s “Little Bunnies” is set at Roxy Paine’s “Split,” a treelike steel sculpture “planted” in a grassy area on a hillside. Like Thomson, she’s using the environment to give texture to the work.

“The dancers will be wearing all white or ivory tones, and my intention is that they will get dustier and dirtier as they repeat the piece.” Over the course of rehearsals, she’s been watching the hillside changing; once green and lush, it’s becoming more brown and dry.

And they’re excited to create dance in a setting unlike a traditional theater. “I tried to think about it so people could see different parts of it from different angles,” said Thomson of his work. Wallich said the 360-degree perspective was what drew her to choose “Split” — “the idea of making a piece for Whim W’him with seven dancers, using the meadow in conversation with the piece and in conversation with the sculpture, that was exciting to me.”

While everyone involved crosses their fingers for a dry evening, note that “Sculptured Dances” will take place in any weather (short of a truly dangerous lightning storm). Rain or shine, Boal is excited by the possibilities of outdoor dance, and hopes to try this model in other Seattle parks or public places soon. It is, he says, an intriguing experiment: “Just plop dance in an unexpected location, and see what comes of it.”