This Tuesday, dance company The Gray premieres new work by Beth Terwilleger. Meanwhile, new works from both The Gray and the Alana O. Rogers Dance Company take shape to premiere this spring, each a part of the James Ray Residency Project at Seattle International Dance Festival.
Update 6/9/2022: The works described will perform 6/14-15 at the Seattle International Dance Festival. Ticketing links now available; see below.
New dance works are sprouting up around Seattle. After two long years of online dance classes, rehearsing in sweaty n95 masks, and showing work via Zoom meetings, local companies are finally popping up onstage. I caught up with two local choreographers, Beth Terwilleger of The Gray, and Alana O. Rogers of Alana O. Rogers Dance Company, to talk about and view their latest productions.
Terwilleger’s finished piece, the patient, premieres at Broadway Performance Hall on Tuesday, March 8. This new work, created under Terwilleger’s 2020 James Ray Residency from the Seattle International Dance festival, reflects on Terwilleger’s personal challenges that left her body incapable of dancing during the first months of the pandemic. “I wanted to peel off my skin,” said Terwilleger, “and so we explored what that might feel like and look like through movement.”
Through a series of open workshops, Terwilleger casted and developed the work in conjunction with her company, The Gray. With an impressive cast (Jane Cracovaner, Stephan Bourgond, Maia Durfee, Ivana Lin, Andrew McShea, Alicia Pugh, Katherine Sprudzs, Karl Watson) Terwilleger’s choreography has a knack for building on the classical ballet roots of her dancers while pushing their contemporary artistry to its full potential.
Later this spring, Terwilleger and Rogers will both present new work as part of the Seattle International Dance Festival.
Rogers’ work, It’s All a Circus, is loud and energetic with a heavy oompa, oompa, oompa beat that bounces around the studio and through the audience’s metal seats. Company dancers Karena Birk, Kim Holloway, Rhea Keller, Jana Kincl, Thomas Phelan, and Alicia Pugh skip around the room in pairs, eyes locked together and arms entwined. Although moving mostly in unison through a series of heavily aerobic dances, each performer has a singularly unique movement style that tells its own story within the piece. This is a hard thing to accomplish without looking messy, yet Rogers captures her dancers’ individualism while maintaining tight control on her choreography.
“These pieces are meant to be light, full of energy and not dark,” she says. “It’s all about spectacle.”
Like circus culture itself, Rogers’ new work highlights both airy and dark themes of human nature. That dichotomy isn’t a new theme of dance choreography, but new art created during a time of increased global trauma may be affected purely by the circumstances of the era. While the music in It’s All a Circus is jaunty and playful, the choreography is wistful and slightly apprehensive. Swooping turns and tight, unexpected changes in direction of the dancers create a tension that pairs nicely with the circus music.
The deep emotional connection between dancers is also visible in choreographer Beth Terwilleger’s in-progress work, but developing that bond is extra challenging when taking adequate covid precautions.
“Human connection is very different with a mask on,” says Terwilleger in the Q & A after the studio showing. The trust and bond between dancers that informs their physical interdependence has to bloom without the ability to see facial expressions. Yet untitled, the new piece is a series of duets centering on the animalistic sides of human nature. The movements are intricate and unexpected, but the dancers confidently maneuver each other with the confidence of seasoned partners. Dancers Maia Durfee, Tess Neill, Audrey Rachelle, and Valerie Grabill slink across the floor like ghostly jaguars, cautious but not afraid. Kind of like all of us at this moment in time, approaching our old habits with renewed caution and reverence.
Beth Terwilleger & The Gray: ‘the patient’ performs on 3/8 at Broadway Performance Hall in Seattle (Capitol Hill). Admission is free, RSVP and show info here.
Beth Terwilleger & The Gray: ‘untitled’ performs on 6/14 as part of the Seattle International Dance Festival. Tickets and festival info here.
Melody Datz Hansen is a freelance dance writer in Seattle. Her work is published in The Seattle Times, The Stranger, City Arts, and on her blog at melodydatz.com.