Courtesy Blavka Photography

K.T. Niehoff’s Exceptional ‘Before We Flew Like Birds, We Flew Like Clouds’ Lauds Exceptional Humans

The multimedia show examines what it’s like to be on the edge of extraordinary physical experience.

Choreographer KT Niehoff has spent a considerable chunk of her career making traditional theaters into untraditional performance spaces, and with her newest work, Before We Flew Like Birds, We Flew Like Clouds, she’s done it again. This time she’s transformed the main hall at 12th Avenue Arts into a kind of planetarium, scattering swivel chairs all around and filling the room with hovering balloons and projected star charts. Into this evocative landscape she’s launched an exploration of the exceptional, an examination of what it feels like to be on the edge of extraordinary physical experience.

Before We Flew is based on a series of interviews with people who’ve done things most of us never will. A speed skater, an astronaut, a para-rower, a near-death survivor—all have a first-person perspective on the extreme. Their personal stories are the foundation for the sound score and movement vocabulary, drawn out and developed by Niehoff, using most of the considerable skills in her postmodern toolkit.

Niehoff has a finger in almost every aspect of the production, from the most abstract concepts to the LED lights that shimmer down the front of her costume. In addition to choreographer, she’s composer (with Zeke Keeble), designer (with Cameron Irwin), costumer (with Fran Macavy), film producer, and performer. She positions herself as a ringleader and a commentator from the moment she and her cast (Liane Aung, Thomas House, Wade Madsen, and Alia Swersky) enter the space. She seems to glide on invisible skates during much of the performance, singing into a wireless mic with a little spotlight attached so that she’s sometimes the only thing we can see.

Most of the time, though, there is plenty to look at. The rest of the cast embodies multiple images drawn from the interview texts, both in live action and in a series of VR films that we can watch in lieu of following the real people. The live vignettes, played throughout the space, don’t always mimic the intensity of the text, but instead share our wonder at the experience, our amazement that human beings can do the things they’re describing. Michael Grady’s biomechanical analysis of his rowing style underscores a duet with Madsen and Swersky, two tall and lanky dancers who combine their wingspan in a stylized version of sculling. Grady’s description is grueling, while the dancers’ wheeling arms, as much like birds as humans, are just flat-out beautiful. Likewise, when speed skater Maurice Hall discusses the obsessive patterning that lies underneath his skating technique, Niehoff has crafted another evocative sequence, as Madsen, a longtime member of the Seattle dance community, gathers handfuls of the balloons that float around the space throughout the show. Herding them to the middle of the room and then turning with them slowly, he’s like a god keeping the universe in hand. And when, at the end of the program, Niehoff makes him her final interview, reflecting on his long dance career, it is a magical ending to an evening among the stars. Before We Flew Like Birds, We Flew Like Clouds. 12th Ave Arts, 1620 12th Ave., velocitydance center.org. $18–$50. Times vary. Ends April 1.

More in Arts & Culture

Britney Barber (center) and Samantha Demboski (left) perform in ‘Empty Orchestra.’ Photo courtesy Jet City Improv
Making It Up As They Go Along

Jet City Improv’s retributive actions towards a former player raise issues of the comedy institution’s staff culture.

‘Roma’ projects to be the big winner at the 91st Academy Awards this Sunday. Photo by Carlos Somonte
And The Winner Is: 2019 Oscars Preditions

Who will take home the awards on cinema’s biggest night?

TacocaT got you a new song for Valentine’s Day. Photo by Helen Moga
TacocaT Returns to Dance With Its Seattle Drag Pals in the “Grains of Salt” Video

The Seattle rock quartet’s new album ‘This Mess Is a Place’ comes out May 3 on Sub Pop.

After winning the Album of the Year Grammy for ‘Golden Hour,’ Kacey Musgraves yee-haws into town.
Pick List: Kacey Musgraves, Jen Kirkman, ‘The Passage’

The week’s best entertainment options.

Cherdonna Shinatra has a laugh during ‘<em>Ditch</em>.’ Photo by Jenny May Peterson
Clowning Around at the Frye with Cherdonna Shinatra’s ‘Ditch’

The colorful daily dance performance examines performative femininity and people-pleasing.

Mads Mikkelsen stars in Seattle’s current weather… I mean, ‘Arctic.’ Photo by Helen Sloan/Bleecker Street
Mads Mikkelsen Delivers a Tour de Force in ‘Arctic’

The near-silent performance makes this survival film transcend the genre.

Brandi Carlile needs more mantel space after taking winning three Grammys on Sunday night.
Seattle Cleans Up at the Grammys

Brandi Carlile, the Seattle Symphony, and Chris Cornell combine to take home six awards.

The upbeat everyman Emmet remains cheerful even in post-apocalyptic settings. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Everything’s Still Awesome

‘The Lego Movie 2’ builds on the success of the original with more humorous pop culture-drenched adventure.

Most Read