Autumn is when the light starts to change. It’s still bright out when you go into the theater, but give it a few weeks and it’ll be dark when you walk up to the door with your ticket. It was in the deep dark of last January when Rachel Cook moved to Seattle from Houston to become the new artistic director at On the Boards. Back in Texas, she ran DiverseWorks. Back in Texas, the daylight doesn’t really shift much between seasons. Of all the changes she’s experienced since coming here, the light seems to be the most dramatic.
For more than 35 years, On the Boards has been leading Seattle’s avant-garde performance scene by staging exciting new works, but in all that time the nonprofit has had relatively little leadership turnover. Originally run by its founding committee, the organization has really only boasted two directors for most of its life. So Cook came into a decidedly stable institution. Her goal? Shaking a few things up. “The job description felt like [On the Boards] were at a transitional point,” says Cook, “where they wanted to figure out how to pivot.” Quoting one board member, she continues, “We’re in the middle of turning the page to a new chapter.”
That new chapter sounds like it comes from the Book of More. Alongside the standard variations of dance, theater, and performance come intriguing additions like lecture series and artist talks, which open OtB’s process to the audience. Additionally, a new artist-in-residence project and a series of one-on-one meetings between artists and visiting curators are designed to nurture the local community.
“It’s not that On the Boards hasn’t done this in the past, but it’s been a little bit invisible,” says Cook. “We’re making this a little more public—you’ll see more about how we commission and produce work. It’s a little more transparent.” Cook comes originally from a visual-art background, where curators take more responsibility for contextualizing artwork. “Being a gatekeeper isn’t enough—you need to explain why.”
Shaking things up also includes programming more intense festival-style events throughout the year. OtB’s annual Northwest New Works Festival will still hold its space in June, but before that we’ll see two additional projects inside the regular schedule: one focused on dance solos in October and another in January featuring sound art. Solo: A Festival of Dance will feature a packed, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it format—four different lineups over four days. Local choreographers like Wade Madsen, Robert Moore, and Alyza DelPan-Monley will share space with movement artists from across the U.S. and Canada to present 16 individual examples of the solo form.
OtB follows up on that diverse collection with two works from Andrew Schneider that live on the intersection of theater, movement, and philosophy. The artist’s YOUARENOWHERE, a performance in lecture form laced with high-intensity digital effects, is piggy-backed with AFTER, examining the multiple possibilities of death.
Across town from On the Boards, another kind of shaking up is going on at Velocity Dance Center, which is in the middle of searching for a new director. Tonya Lockyer, who has been running the organization as a combined executive and artistic director since 2010, is stepping down. She’s done significant work over the past several years, helping to erase Velocity’s debt from their move out of its old digs in the Oddfelllows building, creating several performance series including Made in Seattle, launching its online journal Stance, and developing touring contacts for local artists. Now the nonprofit’s board is taking this transition as a challenge to move the institution to a new level.
Velocity is one-stop- shopping for the local contemporary-dance community. It offers classes and rehearsal space, presents local and national artists through a variety of series throughout the year, produces two very highly regarded summer workshops that bring dancers from around the country to Seattle, and supports local choreographers through mentoring, touring, and artist representation as they develop their careers. Velocity is an integral part of the community, and people are understandably curious to know what kind of changes might be in store with a new leader.
The plan is to find a new executive director who can help shepherd the organization through a growth cycle (including negotiating a renewal of Velocity’s lease on its 12th Avenue home), while current associate producer Erin Johnson oversees programming. The timeline is tight—the hope is to fill the position by the first of the new year—and the challenge is robust. Velocity is already bursting at the seams, with classes and rehearsals filling its three studios. If its long-range goal is to do more of what it already has on the calendar, a new director may have to seek new resources to make that happen.
In the meantime, the fall season features work from established and new artists. Rainbow Fletcher founded her Hypernova company after several years choreographing and performing at the Can Can, and Bitter Suites will showcase her skills with intense movement in small spaces. Beth Terwilleger, a recent transplant from California, is staging The Midsummer, which takes off from Shakespeare’s characters to explore alternatives beyond the traditional text through movement.
But before that, Lockyer’s longtime home is raising a toast to her at its upcoming Fall Kick-Off showcase at the end of September. Lockyer’s been a conduit between Seattle and the larger dance world, and Velocity would not have the national reputation it has today without her expertise and enthusiasm. Seattle is richer for her contribution.