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SAM + PNB = Sculptured Dance

Image courtesy of Seattle Art Museum

When was the last time you felt comfortable laughing out loud at a dance performance? Or lying down and closing your eyes to concentrate on the sound of the dancers’ feet touching the ground? Doing these things might get you kicked out of a concert hall, but this month at SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park you can do as you like.

Last year, nearly 4,000 people flooded the park for the inaugural Sculptured Dance performance, a free, outdoor collaboration from Seattle Art Museum and Pacific Northwest Ballet. “People were so close to some of the dancers we had to warn them they might get kicked in the face,” laughs Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic director Peter Boal. “But they said they didn’t care!” This year’s Sculptured Dance program promises an equally compelling evening with never-before-seen collaborations between PNB’s classical ballet dancers and some of Seattle’s most fascinating contemporary dance artists. Boal says it will also be more carefully spaced, to avoid face-kicking.

As part of the three-hour performance on Aug. 31, Kate Wallich and dancers from her contemporary dance company, the YC, are performing choreography by PNB corps de ballet dancer Price Suddarth around Tony Smith’s sculpture “Wandering Rocks.” The YC performed its own choreography at last year’s Sculptured Dance and Wallich says that their altered role this year is a big step outside of their comfort zone.

“I decided right away that if Price asked me to put my leg above 90 degrees I was gonna say no,” Wallich says.

But the embrace of new artistic relationships created a whole new experience for everyone involved, according to Suddarth. He says the classical backgrounds of the YC’s dancers provided a “safety net” on which he could base his work—and then watch it grow through collaboration with the dancers and the setting around Smith’s sculpture. “The movement gives context and contrast to the stones,” he said. “The wind whips down over the train tracks and makes the audience see all the components together.” These components—sculpture, dance, and the uncontrolled environment of a public park, along with music composed by PNB principal dancer William Lin-Yee—create unique experiences for everyone in the audience; no one will witness a performance from the same perspective.

Sculptured Dance is designed to make dance accessible to anyone wandering the park or walking down Broad Street who might glimpse a performance from across the bridge. Each of the four dance pieces are eight to 10 minutes long and are performed four different times throughout the evening. Each piece is focused around a separate sculpture, and for some choreographers, the sculptures themselves provided significant inspiration. Contemporary choreographer Dani Tirrell created “Suckle,” for PNB corps de ballet dancers Amanda Morgan and Sarah Pasch, around Roxy Paine’s “Split,” a giant stainless steel sculpture of a tree that stands in a small meadow.

“As a Black choreographer,  I approach everything from my experience living in the U.S.,” Tirrell says. “A tree can bear fruit and give life but it’s also used for hanging Black people. ‘Split’ is hard and metal and shiny and has no leaves on it— I saw branches and roots and in all that, I saw family. This piece is about my grandmother and all the great fruit she bore but also the struggles she experienced.”

Contemporary choreographer Eva Stone’s piece was created for the performers of the Au Collective around Richard Serra’s massive iron sculpture, “Wake.” “Everyone in Au Collective has a connection to a diaspora [that originated from] across the water,” says dancer Imana Gunawan. Stone played on the multiple meanings of the word “wake,” combining the water aspect with reflections on the phrase “you’ll sleep like you never sinned,” which is also the title of the dance piece.

Even with large crowds, it will be possible to witness at least a part of Sculptured Dance from most perspectives in the park. In addition to the collaborative performances, Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers are set to perform work by principal dancer Noelani Pantastico in Pantastico’s first public showing of her own choreography, and local creative group the Purple Lemonade Collective is creating pop-up dances around the park.

While there is an option to RSVP to the performance, there are no reserved seats or ticket requirements and the park will remain open to the public.

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