‘Merce 100’ celebrates past and future at Velocity Dance as director says goodbye

Merce Cunningham (Image: Merce Cunningham Trust)

Ella Mahler is lying on her back on the marley floor, stock-still, like a bear has been chasing her and playing dead is her last resort. But then, suddenly, she gets up and scurries across the vinyl floors of the back studio of Capitol Hill’s Velocity Dance Center. In hurried movements, she lifts her knees up, combat-style, only to later duck and then balance gracefully on one leg, outsmarting an invisible assailer purely with poise.

Mahler, a Seattle-based dancer, choreographer and Velocity’s 2019 Made in Seattle Artist, is running through the movements of her solo choreography Absolute. Less than two weeks to go before showtime, December 14th. Mahler is one of the nine dancers performing newly created choreographies for MERCE 100: Seattle Artists Respond to Merce, a four-day long, Capitol Hill-centered celebration of and response to the centennial of world-famous dancer and Washington native Merce Cunningham (1919 – 2009), running December 13th through 16th.

Cunningham, who was born in Centralia and studied at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, became one of the most influential artists of the 20th century thanks to his radical, innovative approach to dance, for example by using dice and other chance-based processes to decide how his dancers would move. Continue reading

Exit Interview: Velocity Dance’s Tonya Lockyer on 16 years in the arts on Capitol Hill

Tonya Lockyer (Image: Bettina Hansen with permission to CHS)

Tonya Lockyer began as a touring artist and educator, eventually finding her roots in Seattle after joining Velocity Dance Center as an artist and completing graduate school at the University of Washington. She went on to be Velocity’s programs and communications manager, and eventually its executive director.

In June, Lockyer announced she will be stepping down from her post this fall after 16 years with the organization.

Entering Velocity in a time of instability, debt, and amid an emergency capital campaign, Lockyer implemented operational and artistic direction and, in just two years, had Velocity operating in the black.

With accolades like the Mayor’s Artz Award, Tonya’s tenure has brought national visibility to the dance center and its residents, acting as the “portal to Seattle dance,” and a destination for touring choreographers. Her leadership influenced exceptional growth in audiences and artist residencies, with consistently sold-out community events and classes.

CHS spoke with Lockyer about how she got involved with Velocity and Seattle’s dance scene, her proudest moments as Artistic Executive Director, the importance of dance for our community, and what’s next for her.

How did you get involved with Velocity?: When I first moved to Seattle, I was teaching and I ran into a Seattle choreographer and said that I was moving to Seattle. She said, “Seattle is great, and my friend KT Niehoff needs someone to stay in her house!” So the very first place I ever lived was in the home of the co-founder of Velocity, KT Niehoff. Continue reading

Dance Underground, an open space for Capitol Hill dance communities

In an underground dance studio on 15th Ave E, you can find Ilana Rubin — hair wisped and face flush — running around or behind her desk fresh out of one workout or another, her office strewn with Halloween decorations.

Rubin runs Dance Underground, a 14-year business running a 45-year-old dance studio. The studio was first opened by Shirley Jenkins when it was called Strong Winds Wild Horses. In fact, it’s the very place Rubin met her partner more than two decades ago doing Argentine tango. Rubin herself has been a dancer all her life, harking back to her roots in Israel.

The space itself contains two spacious studios with christmas lights lining the wall-length mirrors. It certainly has a homey, lived-in feel to it through the walls and the ceiling but it’s welcoming.

“To me it’s just a part of that old Seattle that we keep talking about that’s disappearing,” said Barb Duff who uses the space for BaDi dance and exercise. “From what we do for a living, you’re just not going to find a 2,000-square-foot, unobstructed studio with a hard sprung wood floor anywhere with these cookie-cutter Ikea showrooms.”

Duff and her BaDi coworker Dina Love came to Seattle from the East Coast a while back. For them, the studio is reminiscent of New York’s “gritty dance studios” because of its ambiance. Continue reading

Century Ballroom dances through 20 years on Capitol Hill

Many things have changed around the Century Ballroom since it first opened in 1997 in Capitol Hill’s Odd Fellows Building, but the vision Hallie Kuperman had 20 years ago remains.

“I wanted to mix the worlds of people who partner dance,” she said, adding that she aimed to create a LGBTQ safe environment where people could dine, dance, and drink.

When Century first opened, Kuperman was very focused on queer only classes. She has broadened Century’s community in the decades since but said, “It’s still important to me to have the gay community find this place.”

“What I hear over and over is the asset that Century is to the community,” she said. “I believe dance as being healing for people — in the bigger picture I feel we’re creating a safe place.” Continue reading

Velocity Dance marks 20 years in motion on Capitol Hill

Velocity Dance Center has fueled the careers of dancers and artists and provided a space and classes on Capitol Hill for anyone with an inspiration to move their bodies.

“It would be very detrimental to the entire city if it wasn’t here,” Kate Wallich, a dancer, choreographer, director, and teacher in Velocity’s community told CHS.

The dance center’s entire 2016 season has been celebrating Velocity. The Fall Kick-Off offers audiences a way to relive the season and experience a taste of the upcoming 2017 season. Performances are at 7:30 PM Sept. 23-25 at wthe Velocity Founders Theater, 1621 12th Ave.

About ten years ago, Velocity’s longevity was tested, but the community’s support gave the center a breath of new life. The center hit some rocky ground financially in 2007 when the Odd Fellows Hall at 10th and Pine, its home since 1996, was sold and the nonprofit’s rent was hiked. Continue reading

Play set in Mexico and Seattle debuts in Xalapa, ready to stage on Capitol Hill

unnamed (6)A “physical theater” play set to open on Capitol Hill next week already had a bit of a warm-up run — in Xalapa, Mexico.

The RipCity Dance premiere of Seattle hits the stage here on April 29th, and 30th. The play takes place in both Mexico and Seattle — and is being toured through both.

“The play’s climax happens in Seattle, and its story is told through a time period when Seattle had an important place in the counterculture and in art and music, expressing messages about how to do things differently in the world,” Steven Ripley, the founder of RipCity Dance, tells CHS. “We use music from Seattle bands – Nirvana and Pearl Jam.”

Ripley’s vision for his one-year-old company comes from producing plays, workshops, and dance classes.

“We’ve used hip-hop, breakdance, groovy modern improv, gigong — the intention is to break the usual mold of what a dance class is, and to create a new type of community experience for families to share,” Ripley said.

Written by Adrian Vazquez of Los Tristes Tigres, and in partnership with Ethnofit Studio of Mexico City, Seattle is performed by Nancy Lopez Luna and Elia Mrak.

Each performance will be accompanied by an after-show discussion.

“Adrian’s play tells an astonishing story about the spontaneity of life and the creation of what we call destiny,” Ripley tells CHS. “Our lives are chaotic, with earthquakes and hurricanes and family traumas.  We don’t often have a grand sense of things.”

Tickets are on sale for the Friday, April 29th and Saturday, April 30th, performances at the Erickson Theater on Capitol Hill.

V2’s promising start as Value Village art space could be a blueprint for other empty buildings

Resident Kate Wallich holds a rehearsal for Industrial Ballet inside V2. (Image: Kate Wallich via Instagram)

Resident Kate Wallich holds a rehearsal for Industrial Ballet inside V2. (Image: Kate Wallich via Instagram)

It’s only been a month since Velocity Dance Center officially opened the V2 “temporary arts space” in the old Value Village building on 11th Ave, and the new residents have already churned out an impressive display of creativity.

“It’s exciting what’s already happened,” said Tonya Lockyer, Velocity’s artistic director and former executive director. “And only more is in store.”

Since Value Village departed from the auto row-era Kelly-Springfield Motor Truck Company building on 11th and E Pine last year, Legacy Commercial’s plans for a mixed-use development on the site have been significantly slowed due to a landmark protections decision. While the project gets sorted out, the 12th Ave dance studio signed a six-month, below market-rate lease with Legacy in February and opened V2 in early March.

V1 of the V2 space when it was still Macklemore's thrift shop. (Image: CHS)

V1 of the V2 space when it was still Macklemore’s thrift shop. (Image: CHS)

Initiated by the Capitol Hill Arts District, and propped up by a $20,000 grant from the city’s Office of Arts and Culture, the 30,000-square-foot space is being put to use for dance performance, offices, rental studios, and storage. It is also home to the event company One Reel, which will be staging its Bumbershoot operations out of V2 this year.

Lockyer says it’s been a “fast turn around” to get V2 up and running and there is still a lot of work to be done, including painting the walls and getting city permits for public events. Even so, Velocity has already hosted visual artists, dancers, and choreographers through their in-house residency program, which allows residents to work out of V2 for free or at highly subsidized rents.

Residents have included local dance choreographer Kate Wallich, who recently sold-out Seattle’s Moore Theatre with her one-time show Industrial Ballet — Velocity’s largest production to date. Dance choreographer Alice Gostia worked in the space as she gears up for of a large production at the Seattle waterfront this summer and Seattle-based drag queen and dancer Cherdonna Shinatra collaborated with local street artist 179 to do a mural in V2. Continue reading

Pike/Pine’s Rhino Room planning second-level expansion

Capitol Hill’s dance club scene looks to be strong enough to warrant a doubling-down at the Rhino Room.

The two-year-old club’s ownership declined to comment about a possible expansion but plans on file with the city indicate Rhino Room is sizing up another level for dancing in the night spot’s 3,000 square-foot basement.

The new plans went into motion after the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board voted to extend protections to the auto row-era building the club and Capitol Hill media group The Stranger call home. CHS reported on the decision from the building’s longtime owner to drop plans for a redevelopment of the property in the wake of the decision. Meanwhile, 11th Ave’s Value Village building that was slated to be part of the development remains shuttered after the thrift store’s late 2015 closure. So far, there has been no sign of a new retail tenant moving into the space.

The Rhino Room opened in the former bike store space at 11th and Pine in spring 2014 and has since grown into a popular Pike/Pine venue on the weekends, joining the scene’s longtime gay clubs like Neighbours and R Place and big-time newcomer Q in maintaining Capitol Hill’s dance scene. 11th Ave’s spot in the scene also includes the action above Grim’s where The Woods also lines up clubbers looking to get down and get funky after paying a nominal $10 to $25 cover for the privilege. Grim’s was acquired in 2014 by an ownership group behind the Comet Tavern and Lost Lake.

While the Rhino ownership is remaining quiet on the possible downward expansion, it wouldn’t be the first time the group kept its cards close to its chest. As word first spread about the 11th and Pine project in 2013, they described the coming club in the most modest of terms:

So the idea was simply to open a bar. Everything has gotten overconceptualized these days… The only thing that we want to do is have fun at what we do.

“We will, from time to time, have a DJ or do something wacky, or throw a fun party, but the foundation of the concept is to host a good time for all every day—which isn’t a concept at all,” the message about the new venture read.

Next generation of great dancers may not be able to call Hill home — but Velocity’s Bridge Project will help some get their start here

IMG_0181 IMG_0191 IMG_0207 IMG_0221 IMG_0242 IMG_0995 IMG_1010Tonya Lockyer, artistic director of Capitol Hill’s Velocity Dance Center and co-chair of the Capitol Hill Arts District, is trying to help keep Capitol Hill as a focus of arts energy, though it is getting increasingly difficult. She said that in a survey of the district’s artistic community, many dancers and performers want to live on the Hill to be a part of the performer community, but the cost of living here is making it ever more difficult.

One way to try and rise above that is to give emerging performers an opportunity to show their stuff. That’s what Velocity does through its annual Bridge Project. The 2016 edition takes place next week at the 12th Ave studio.

The Bridge Project started in 2006, Lockyer said, though at the time it had a different model. When she arrived in 2011, it transitioned to its current state, giving four choreographers who are either new to Seattle, or have been working here for fewer than three years, a chance to produce a show.

Lockyer says Seattle is on the rise in the dance world.

“We’re drawing people to Seattle from around the country because we’re the new hotbed for dance,” she said.

Lockyer credits this to the city having two organizations, Velocity and On the Boards, dedicated to creating a community for dancers.

“(Velocity) was founded to create a Seattle dance scene, and that’s what it’s done over the past 20 years.” Lockyer said.

For the Bridge Project, the center gives each of the budding choreographers 45 hours of rehearsal time with a group of auditioned dancers over about a month. This allows the artists to rehearse five days a week, which Lockyer said is a rare opportunity in these days of limited funding.

It also gives the dancers technical and administrative support. At the end of the show, Lockyer said, the audience members get feedback cards, so they can tell the artists what they thought.

“This is like a big, beautiful gift for everyone,” said Stephanie Liapis, one of this year’s choreographers. “This feels like a really big opportunity to try some new things.”

Liapis, who studied at the UW before moving to New York, just relocated back to Seattle in August. All that moving got her thinking about displacement; the voluntary sort of displacement — moving to a new place and the freedom, and lack of freedom it can give a person.

“It’s my experience right now, and I’m really interested in it, so I’m trying to figure it out,” she said.

In her work, she said she gave the dancers some early ideas, but much of the work will be contributed from them, with her acting as more of an editor or curator. Continue reading

What the Float ‘floating dance party’ hits Capitol Hill

(Image: What the Float)

(Image: What the Float)

Capitol Hill Block Party has come and gone but an event planned for the streets of Capitol Hill Friday night will give you another excuse to boogie down on E Pike.

The What the Float “floating dance party” is bringing its NYC-born concept to Pike/Pine.

“It’s all about the music and the landscape,” Wesley Fruge of Forward Flux Productions tells CHS. “A lot of thought went into the route.” Continue reading