Velocity Dance Center’s annual festival is the research-and-development wing of Seattle’s dance scene. This year’s theme is “utopia” — and how Seattle is changing.
A decade ago, dancers, choreographers and teachers at Velocity Dance Center could afford to live in the neighborhood where they worked. Today, with studio apartments on Capitol Hill renting for $1,100, many artists associated with the Velocity community — whose presence contributes to the area’s vibrant arts culture — are being forced to migrate to more affordable corners of the city.
From Dec. 7 to 13, Velocity’s Next Fest NW brings this controversial change in Seattle’s urban landscape to the stage and screen with a weeklong festival of dance performances, film screenings and community forums on the subject of “utopia.”
Local and international dance films open the festival at Northwest Film Forum, including a new documentary about the making of Seattle choreographer Amy O’Neal’s 2014 piece “Opposing Forces” at On the Boards. O’Neal’s piece explored the roles race, gender and economics play in communities where break dancing developed.
Velocity Dance Center: Next Fest NW 2015
Dec. 7-13, Velocity Dance Center, 1621 12th Ave., and Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave., Seattle; $10-$50 (206-325-8773 or velocitydancecenter.org).
The images illustrating similar questions in this year’s Next Fest are far more abstract: A dancer breaks a raw egg on her partner’s chest; a musician plays a homemade string instrument resembling a dish rack; a man in paintball armor glides onto the stage, breathing in sync with an electric guitar.
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While most of the choreography is rooted in familiar contemporary-dance vocabulary (riffs on classical ballet, dancers folding their torsos over each other), Velocity’s artistic director Tonya Lockyer says audiences should come prepared to see artists taking serious risks. She says she chose the “utopia” theme hoping that artists would make work dealing with diversity, technology and “the nostalgia and loss that change brings.”
Julia Sloane and JuJu Kusanagi’s piece, “Space Inside ‘No-Place,’” reflects loss with its heavy, deliberate choreography and challengingly slow pace. It begins with the two standing at the front of the stage, gazing at the floor and slowly gyrating their torsos around firmly planted feet. After a few minutes, Kusanagi breaks off and performs a series of creeping and rolling movements across the floor, closely followed by Sloane.
The pace of the choreography doesn’t pick up and, at a recent rehearsal, Velocity artist-in-residence Alice Gosti advised them: “Slow progression of movements can work well, especially with a piece like this. But be careful that that stillness works up to something bigger — otherwise you lose your audience.”
Choreographer Laura Aschoff’s “Before it Gets Worse” also utilizes slow progressions, but breaks up the pace with the use of props. Two dancers — one male and one female, barefoot and dressed in tight, black tunics — stand side by side, each with an arm around the other’s waist. They move in unison across the stage in horizontal lines, haltingly arching their backs and moving their free arms in balletic arches before crumpling to the floor. Wearing hot-pink gloves that extend to the elbows, the dancers break raw eggs on one another’s chests and let the yolk drip onto the stage.
A more personal interpretation of the festival’s themes comes from Elby Brosch, a transgender artist who’s been a familiar presence in Velocity productions. Brosch says his piece, “Baby, Look Me in the Heart,” is based in his concept of utopia as a “connection, a loss of otherness.” He travels across the stage in spiraling movements, a slow-paced dervish with the graceful arms of a ballet dancer and the strong, bare upper body of an athlete. His piece reflects the past as a path to a promising future, a welcome diversion from the largely dystopian, sci-fi feel of the other Next Fest works.