In summertime, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s (PNB) dancers tend to scatter like the wind; some to far-flung performances and workshops around the world, some on vacation travel, some home tending to injuries and awaiting fall’s return. But this summer, a handful of them are trying something new: Seattle Dance Collective (SDC), a new company founded by PNB principal dancers Noelani Pantastico and James Yoichi Moore. Its first program, featuring six short works, will be July 12-14 at Vashon Center for the Arts.
On a recent Thursday, the 10-member SDC company (made up of eight PNB dancers and two from the local contemporary dance company Whim W’Him) rehearsed at PNB’s Francia Russell Center in Bellevue. In one studio, Moore was teaching his trademark solo “Mopey,” choreographed by Marco Goecke, to PNB soloist Ezra Thomson; you sensed, in Moore’s careful corrections and meticulous attention to detail, the passing of a beloved torch. In another, choreographer Penny Saunders worked with the company on “Sur le Fil (By a Hair’s Breadth),” a work for four couples, complete with slouchy fedoras. There was a buzz in the air, the sense of something being born.
On a break, Pantastico and Moore sat down at a conference table to explain how SDC began. Both had, individually, been thinking for some time about doing some kind of independent local show, or maybe forming a small company. Through bits of conversation in PNB hallways, “we realized we had similar ideas when it comes to putting a group together,” said Moore.
The two, both veterans of PNB — they have a combined 30 years with the company — joined forces, and planning began in earnest last October. The first step: the selection of a theater. Pantastico and Moore liked the idea of something on an island for a summer festival, and visited Vashon on a recommendation. Upon entering the 3-year-old Katherine L. White Hall at Vashon Center for the Arts, “our jaws were on the floor,” said Moore.” It seemed tailor-made for them: 300 seats, a sprung floor (preferred by dancers), and a staff eager to present more dance to the community.
“On the ferry back,” Pantastico said, “it was like, ‘I think we should do this.’”
The size of the company — at least, for this initial performance — was dictated by the programming; a company wants to have enough dancers to fully cast its largest piece, with a couple of extras in case of injury. Pantastico and Moore selected six dances by five choreographers, choosing dancemakers and works to which they felt a connection. Some, like Saunders and Bruno Roque, are rising stars; some are familiar names, like David Dawson (whose “A Million Kisses to My Skin” and “Empire Noir” have been performed at PNB).
And some will be as-yet undiscovered treasure for local dance audiences. “Shogun,” by the Brazilian-Japanese choreographer Ivonice Satie, was a work Moore grew up watching at San Francisco Ballet. Satie died in 2008 and the work — a depiction of a father or grandfather, Moore said, passing down Japanese cultural heritage to the next generation — hasn’t been performed in the U.S. for many years. After tracking down the choreographer’s daughter, SDC was able to get permission to present the duet from “Shogun,” an excerpt from the larger piece.
Once the works were in place, the company came together, with Moore and Pantastico inviting colleagues to join them — and encouraged by their high level of interest. At one point SDC was a company of 12, but has now settled at 10; a few dancers had to withdraw to nurse injuries over the summer. The final roster for Performance One: PNB dancers Angelica Generosa, Elle Macy, Moore, Elizabeth Murphy, Pantastico, Miles Pertl, Thomson and Dylan Wald, along with Whim W’Him company members Liane Aung and Jim Kent.
After the July program — which will also include a dance immersion workshop open to any interested students — the two new artistic directors have big dreams for SDC: live music, commissioning new work, bringing in different groups of artists, performing in multiple locations, master classes, maybe someday establishing a permanent resident company. While Pantastico acknowledges that “it’s all pretty fluid right now,” both are eager to see what the future brings.
Though the current program is mostly contemporary work (only the Dawson work is on pointe), Pantastico hopes to include more pointe-shoe work in the future. “I don’t want to necessarily be pegged as the new contemporary company, because we’re not that,” she said. “We can be a lot of things.”
Both are eager to bring dance to new audiences, to find ways to connect with community. “We need to survive as an art form in the 21st century — we need to be relevant,” said Moore. “We want to do our part in advancing dance in the public interest, the public eye.” And back they went, into the studios, building a dream.
Seattle Dance Collective, Program One, July 12-14, Vashon Center for the Arts, 19600 Vashon Highway S., Vashon Island; $45-$75 evening/Sunday matinee, $25 ($10 students) Saturday matinee; 206-259-3007 or seattledancecollective.org. (Shuttle service is available for $10 to take walk-on ferry passengers to and from the center; see vashoncenterforthearts.org/vashon.)
Correction: A photo caption has been updated to correct the spelling of Miles Pertl’s last name.