AMANDA MORGAN, a dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet, already had launched side projects before the pandemic hit.
The only Black dancer in the company, she’s thought a lot about how to give new audiences access to the arts while making sure artists can survive financially: “I just kept thinking about how there are so many people who don’t get to experience the arts because they can’t afford it or because it’s just not made for them,” she says.
She called her idea The Seattle Project. Her first choreographed piece, a combination of live dance and film she created during a residency at Northwest Film Forum, premiered in February — just before the pandemic hit.
Since then, the lives of performing artists have been seriously disrupted. But they are finding ways to connect with audiences and with one another.
The conservation- and community-focused nonprofit Forterra hosts an annual event, Ampersand Live, showcasing local artists. It’s usually at the Moore Theatre, an impossibility now. “I don’t know how many iterations we went through, but it was many,” says Susan Grelock Yusem, Forterra’s vice president of communications and marketing.
They decided that filming artists performing in outdoor spaces would be safe and evoke Forterra’s mission of land conservation.
“That was a real upside, the intimacy that was created by the place itself,” Grelock Yusem says.
Morgan, who was one of the featured artists, agrees. She incorporated ideas of spatial and environmental justice into the flowing, lyrical piece she performed barefoot in the Morse Wildlife Preserve, which Forterra manages. “I want to feel as connected to the land as possible,” she says.
Forterra unveiled the performances during an online watch party. Members of The Degenerate Art Ensemble were among the featured artists who invited friends and family to join them in watching from home.
The ensemble creates multidisciplinary pieces incorporating dance, music and video projection. “It’s very much a live form, which obviously has come to a halt,” says co-director Joshua Kohl.
Their performance for Ampersand Live is a complex piece in which a dancer, ensemble co-director Haruko Crow Nishimura, explores deep into the woods, eventually emerging as a new kind of creature.
Since early spring, Kohl has listed resources for audiences and artists on the ensemble’s website. “We’re really trying to keep the different avenues of connection open, even though the live-performance element is sleeping.”
All kinds of artists and performance spaces have come up with creative ways to keep the connection going. Venues including Nectar Lounge have been livestreaming musical guests throughout the pandemic. The Round, a series that combines spoken word, musical and even visual artists at Fremont Abbey, went online this spring. Jazz musician Marina Albero launched the Quarantine Sessions in March, largely featuring local women artists.
Theater groups such as On the Boards have found innovative ways to present multimedia performances.
For artists including Morgan, this is also a time to be introspective, take stock and plan ahead for better times.
She’s using these quiet months to decide how to build her Seattle Project. In the meantime, she started a mentorship program for youngsters in local dance schools. “Right now, we need to serve the community as much as we can. Artists carry the community in so many ways,” she says. “Artists are so powerful in that sense, but we need our communities to support us as well.”