Velocity Presents Next Fest NW 2015: UTOPIA–a week of performances, screenings and special Speakeasy Series events celebrating Northwest artists as inter/national innovators in contemporary dance and dance cinema. As Seattle continues to experience rapid urban development, this year’s Next Fest NW artists respond to the changes in our city with new work centered on the idea of Utopia. Looking to the future, artists interface with utopic themes like multiculturalism, gender diversity, and technology, while responding to the nostalgia and loss that change brings.


Stills from the films in Next Dance Cinema 2015

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Artistic Director Tonya Lockyer’s Curatorial Note for NFNW 2015

Welcome to Next Fest NW + Next Dance Cinema 2015, our annual winter celebration of bold experimentation in performance and dance on camera, by artists from throughout our region.

Every year I pick a theme. This year, a call went out asking choreographers to respond to ideas of Utopia. It seemed appropriate, given the clashes of vision and ideology igniting the world today, and the clashes of culture right here on Capitol Hill. In our neighborhood, with the rise of gleaming new condos, we’re seeing an increase in violence against LGBTQ residents, and visible pushback from those economically pushed out by ‘progress’.

Still from Wobbly Dance's (Yulia Arakelyan, Erik Fergusun + Grant Miller) film, "Walking the Green Sound: a dance film for the trees" (2015, Portland, OR)

Still from Wobbly Dance’s (Yulia Arakelyan, Erik Fergusun + Grant Miller) film, “Walking the Green Sound: a dance film for the trees” (2015, Portland, OR)

Our personal maps of Utopia reveal our political and spiritual priorities, and dance artists are no different. Dance has always been shaped by choreographers’ utopian ideals. Martha Graham created a strictly choreographed utopia on and off stage, dictating body-type, training, and codified behavior. During the German Weimar Republic, Rudolf Laban’s utopian communes, writings, and movement choruses sought to unite Germany through dance. Joseph Goebbels’ Ministry of Culture followed his lead mandating dance in national physical education. A utopian movement intended to uplift was exploited by evil.

Utopia means ‘no-place’ and is perhaps best an exercise of imagination—a direction, and not a destination. But where would be without the ability to imagine brave new worlds? Choreographer Elby Brosch’s “first step towards utopia” imagines a revolution of, “radical compassion (and) connection: a loss of otherness . . . my queer trans body articulating our humanity”(Brosch). Randy Ford’s powerful utopia is a world without “Femmephobia: the devaluation, hatred, and fear of anything/anyone associated with femininity.”(Ford).

Utopias can also be nostalgic. Imana Gunawan, collaborating with AU Collective, evokes “the ephemeral idea of home” and her birthplace of Jakarta, Indonesia. Utopia for Imana is where, “the past, the present, and the future collide”(Gunawan). Daniel Costa aims to embody the dynamics of Utopia: “A system that is constantly changing, breaking down, and reconstructing itself”(Costa).

“Utopian ideals are inherently scary,” for Laura Aschoff. Her performance “Before it Gets Worse” aches with dystopian grief and regret as she and her collaborators ask, “When empathy fails, how do we still show up for each other?” Julia Sloane and JuJu Kusanagi’s “Space Inside ‘No-Place’” opens the evening by embracing the possibility that dance is the embodiment of “no-place,” disappearing the moment it comes into view:“Our tool for reaching these lost utopian worlds is improvisation, a form as ephemeral as Utopia itself. This is a process, not an end all. Our ideal Utopia is constantly changing, as we are . . . Finding this feels impossible. But when has that ever been a reason to quit?”

With Next Fest NW 2015 we celebrate these brave new visions. A special thank-you to the peer panelists who assisted in this years’ artist selection: Coleman Pester, Petra Zanki, and Dylan Ward. Thank you also to Courtney Sheehan and Northwest Film Forum for their support of Next Dance Cinema with co-curators Corrie Befort, Jody Kuehner, and Velocity’s programming coordinator Erin Johnson.

-Tonya Lockyer


An essay on Utopia by Elby Brosch


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