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Reaching into Seattle's dance past for RDC's Beginnings

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The new "Beginnings" program from Relay Dance Collective includes a shout out to the past with a remount of “Momento” (1985), choreographed by SuzAnne Duckworth, co-founder of Spectrum Dance Theater. Also returning to the dance stage is Mary Kay Bisignano-Vadino’s “Surviving the Undertow” (2001).

The evening’s new works include a piece by Cheryl Delostrinos, a Chamber Dance Company performer, and Gabrielle Nomura’s “Farewell Shikata ga nai” about the World War II Japanese American experience.

Local choreographer and dancer Tess Wendel also contributed a new duet to “Beginnings." She recently discussed how a duet can ease people into a feeling of intimacy with modern dance as well as how the program overall can introduce audiences to RDC.

Why is the relationship between two dancers on stage so immediately accessible for almost any audience, whether its classical or contemporary dance?
Partner dancing is one of the few types of dancing we see commonly at social occasions like weddings or proms or night clubs. When people are put into pairs or partnerships there is a certain level of familiarity or even intimacy that is created. So it’s easy for audiences to create their own story for duets. In large group pieces or pieces with a lot of different components, audiences that are new to dance can get lost in the patterns. Often they try and create a story, but then not all the parts fit. They think that they don't "get it.” It’s much easier to create a story in your head for two dancers who can easily represent the many types of partnerships we have in our everyday lives.

What separates this work from the classical pas de deux or other forms of traditional partnering?
A classical ballet pas de deux would not be between two women nor would it use the floor the way we do. My piece also has a pretty even give-and-take between the two dancers. There is not one person designated to do all the lifting or all of one particular type of movement.

Why include Vadino's and Duckworth’s older works in “Beginnings”?
Mary Kay's piece "Surviving the Undertow" is a piece that a number of the Relay dancers connected with when we were much younger. At the time it also connected us with an older generation of dancers. The theme of persevering through hard times in the day to day is something that a lot of people can relate to and we wanted to use that again to bring in some new audiences.

And “Momento”?
Duckworth's piece is a beautiful contemporary dance, representative of a style of dance that we grew up around and were inspired by. The piece is very different from most of the work seen in the current contemporary dance scene because it uses a lot of classical ballet movesWe wanted our audience to see where we had come from and how we had been influenced and, of course, just enjoy the work as it is.

What does RDC bring to Seattle dance audience that isn’t being done by other companies?
I would say that Relay is bringing Seattle audiences a diverse set of work under one roof. It really is truly a collective where artists can come together and express themselves and their particular vision without other constraints. There is a lot of great work being produced in Seattle by other companies but I think the fact that we are collective puts us in a unique position. We have more flexibility with our work and the groups we partner with than other companies.

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“Beginnings” takes place April 11 to 13 at Theatre Puget Sound, Seattle Center. For more information, see the RDC website.

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