Amy O'Neal: "People's attitudes about butts say so much about their attitudes about everything else."
Zoe Scofield: "I'm really interested in an unmediated experience, and this is what just comes out of my body. I don't go into the studio and go, 'How do I be more animal? How do I be more undone?'"
Pat Graney: "People's everyday movements are pretty interesting."
The last of the Nights of Genius series at the Frye began with lots of cheering for Smirnoff—for sponsoring the series but also for not being Russian. Russia may have produced some of the most famous dancers in world history, but it also produced so many dicks. If a Russian vodka had sponsored the Genius Awards, we would have dumped them by now. But thankfully, Smirnoff is British! Up with Smirnoff, down with Russia.
Amy O'Neal is like "if Merce Cunningham and Janet Jackson had a baby," Stranger performance editor Brendan Kiley said in his introduction of her. During their onstage conversation, they talked a lot about butts. Asked how she would explain twerking to someone's grandparents, O'Neal said, "Twerking is what the twist was in the '50s. It's the twist of our generation." A recent evening-length piece of O'Neal's involved a video of her going out into public and asking people about their asses, and responses were all over the place. "I am from Turkey," one guy said, "and we tend to shake our butts." Another guy, asked about his butt, offered to go somewhere private with O'Neal and take off all his clothes. "People's attitudes about butts say so much about their attitudes about everything else," O'Neal said. She also talked about sneaking out of the house when she was a teenager to go dance in clubs she wasn't supposed to be going to, about trying and failing to inspire audience participation ("I learned early on you can't force a party on your audience"), and about drawing so heavily on hiphop music, rap culture, and booty popping. "As a white girl who likes to do that, I get questioned. As well I should be."
Zoe | Juniper, the choreography and design team of Zoe Scofield and Juniper Shuey, went next. Scofield said that the reason she used to balk when Brendan described their work as "feral ballet" is because she's from the South: "In Georgia, or in the South, a woman who's feral is a woman who is undone, or who has passed beyond all reason, put out to pasture, or gone crazy. As someone from the South, I was characterized as crazy, or undone, so that's how I hear it." Brendan clarified that he really just meant "animalistic," and Scofield said, "I think the idea of the animalistic makes sense. I'm really interested in an unmediated experience, and this is what just comes out of my body. I don't go into the studio and go, 'How do I be more animal? How do I be more undone?'" Shuey talked about the layers in his designs and "having each one be something that you wouldn't expect to happen next," and connected that idea to "the interruptions in Zoe's choreography." His intent, like the intent of those interruptions, is "to open up for the audience a wonder, so they go: What is that?"
With Pat Graney, Brendan said, "I don't know where to start"—she's been making work in Seattle since 1981. "I think in some ways my work is about women and the lives of women," Graney said. "Taking the ordinary in women's lives and eulogizing it. People's everyday movements are pretty interesting." In addition to her formal dance works, they talked about Graney's work in women's prisons. "In prison you're not allowed to dance. Or sing. Or do anything expressive. Even their physical bodies are state property," Graney said. Essentially she's going in and creating a space where all that can happen. As for prisoners' attitudes toward dance, Graney said, "You know, they don't care about modern dance. They think it's the weirdest thing they've ever seen." The year Michael Jackson died was also the first year that prisoners were allowed to wear costumes—that was Graney's 15th year of working in the prison—and Graney had them learn the dance to Thriller. "There's something about seeing performance by people who are not trained in it—it's very raw, very authentic." And then she talked about her ongoing dream of taking houses that are going to be torn down and putting them all in one place for ex-cons to live in together, and then have "residencies for artists to work with ex-cons."
It is officially too late to come listen to any Genius Award finalists talk about their work this year, but the Genius Awards party itself is still a month away. The Genius Awards is where the best artists in the city come together to dance, drink, conspire, commit adultery, and watch a big show anchored by Seattle Rock Orchestra. It takes place September 28 at the Moore Theater (which is being renovated right now and will have just opened by the time of the Genius Awards). Get your ticket now.