City Arts Fest: So You Think It’s Dance?

Douglas Ridings. 

The great Seattle dance debate continued on Saturday afternoon with the debut of Velocity Dance Center’s Speakeasy Series: an artist-curated series of panel discussions, performances and lectures. The inaugural event, ‘So You Think It’s Dance?’ brought to the stage notable Seattle artists Douglas Ridings, Jessica Jobaris and The Cherdonna and Lou Show. Each presented a piece that pushed (and at times blurred) the boundaries between dance, theatre and performance art.

Jobaris started by arranging a laundry basket and chair towards the back of the stage, then strappied on a helmet as heavy metal music blasted through the studio. She performed various pedestrian tasks (spritzing herself with a spray bottle full of water, stacking empty tin cans, writing the phrase “I THINK ABOUT YOU” on a large sheet of butcher paper attached to the wall) while changing costumes on stage (clown suit, red dress) and throwing her body into high kicks, stiff angles and even some tap dancing, albeit with only one shoe. Jobaris intermittingly spoke while she performed (mostly expletives) and ventured into the audience more than once.

Ridings, an international butoh dancer, performed to the accompaniment of a large, gong-like instrument. He entered the stage barefoot, dressed in dark pants, a pinstriped blazer and a mask made of black crow feathers. His movement was organic and seemingly influenced by the avian; he hopped and strutted around the stage while crouched in demi-pointe and pecked at the ground. His movement was very organic: a beautiful mixture of traditional Indian dance and butoh with sweeping circular arms, deep back bends and the punctuating slap of bare feet on wood.

Cherdonna and Lou performed with their usual slapstick-type routine, running out into the studio as old rock music played. When the music stopped, Cherdonna became confused, gyrating her body around and looking from side to side as Lou fell into a plank and rolled upstage. She continued to stumble around, finally asking the question that was probably in many of audience members’ heads, ‘What is happening?’

The trick was on us (or at least those in the audience who had never seen the duo before) when they showed a film by Maile Martinez, Program Manager at Reel Grrls. The Cherdonna and Lou Show: The Movie! quickly revealed that the performers at the speakeasy may have taken on the personas of Lou and Cherdonna, but they weren’t actually Jody Kuehner and Ricki Mason, the two who usually play the roles.

Post-performances, a panel assembled to discuss the question, ‘What is dance?’ Members included Brendan Kiley of The Stranger, who admitted to knowing nothing about the subject, our own Editor-in-Chief Leah Baltus, local boylesque star Waxie Moon and dance critic Sandi Kurtz. A tame discussion followed about the intersection between dance and theatre, the historical context of genre evolution and the role of comedy in performance art. Although no definitive consensus was reached (as if there could be one) Waxie Moon said it best when he concluded, “If an artist says it’s dance, then it’s dance.”