Weekend dance festival - sans mistletoe

While the rest of the theatrical world is launching Christmas spectaculars this week, Velocity Dance decided to do something different. The company has taken its NEXT program of new works and turned it into a one-weekend dance festival.

"For years, the dance community has been talking about creating a festival that was totally devoted to contemporary dance-based work," said Tonya Lockyer, the NEXT program manager. "This festival celebrates such work in all of its forms."

NEXT Fest NW, which runs Dec. 1 and 2 at Velocity, features choreography by Paige Barnes, Jessica Jobaris and Selfick Ng-Simancas as well as performance installations by Jochelle Elise Pereña and Violette Tucker and dance films by Gaelen Hanson, Christiana Axelson, Carla Barragan, Jeffrey Braverman, Stacey Horton, Karn Junkinsmith, Amelia Reeber, Renee Rhodes, Maureen Whiting and Ying Zhou.

"It was very important to create a program that brought together dancers who are at all stages of their careers," said Lockyer. "Also, we asked dancers what was exciting them about dance - who did they want to see or work with." Unlike many previous festivals featuring dance, Lockyer decided not to use the standard "three-minute" excerpt to judge potential entries. "We asked to see the whole pieces, which was very different but also better for the overall quality.

Everyone invited to participate was given rehearsal space and time to work out their pieces, to have some dialogue.  We wanted to do what we could to support the artists," she explained.

As with all festivals, the hardest part of the job was selecting which of the 58 applications would be used during the two-day NEXT Fest.  "We saw work that was experimental and challenging and also very sublime and moving," said Lockyer, who is already looking for ways to expand next year's festival to include even more entries.

Many of this year's applicants were cut simply because there wasn't enough time to show everything or some pieces "felt too similar and we wanted to have a mix in the festival."

Lockyer was particularly struck by the rehearsals of choreographer Paige Barnes' "Stenophobia."  In this work, Barnes and dancer Dustin Haug work with animator Stefan Gruber and musician Jeff Huston. As Barnes and Haug dance, Gruber draws his animation, replaying the dance from his own visual perspective. "The whole piece is really magical," said Lockyer.

Lockyer worked with guest curator Gaelen Hanson to select the dance films that will be shown in the festival. Again, Lockyer was not interested in a particular theme, other than "what excites dancers about dance."

Among the works selected was Hanson's own "Your Lights Are Out Or Burning Badly," which features a solo performed by Hanson to the music of Seattle band KINSKI. The film received a Certificate of Distinction for Original Choreography from American Dance Festival 2006.

Renee Rhodes's video installation "Machines (Inertia I & II, Entropy I)" turned an elaborately structured cycle of humans in motion into a pinball machine of dance while Canadian director Stacey Horton's "Self Storage" placed a woman alone in an old warehouse, where movement defines how the woman "stores" herself.

"I really respect Gaelen and her work," said Lockyer, who added that she appreciated having someone like Hanson involved because it helped expand her own contacts with the film and dance community.  "Planning this festival actually has been slightly less work than I expected, because we did receive such an outstanding response from the dance community and so many offers of help from the beginning."

Besides widespread support within the Seattle dance community, Lockyer noted that the submissions for the festival "truly came from the entire Pacific Northwest-Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia."

Although competition for audiences is fierce this time of year, Lockyer is not worried about the response to NEXT Fest NW. "We have a particular audience - they are not the people who go to "The Nutcracker" or "Christmas Carol."  They want to see something different and this is our holiday gift to them," she said.

NEXT Fest NW takes place Dec. 1 and 2, with two shows per night (live performances start at 8 p.m. and dance films start at 10:30 p.m.).  All performances take place at Velocity MainSpace Theater, 915 E. Pine (second floor) on Capitol Hill.

Tickets are $15 for a live performance or  $10 for dance films.  For more information, see www.brownpapertickets.com or call (206) 325-8773 x 2.

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