“Project One”: A PNB Spin-Off Debuts

Project One: A PNB Spin-Off Debuts

Seattle is a city of spin-offs and startup businesses, so it’s perhaps no surprise to see the Seattle Dance Project, a new ensemble with some very experienced performers looking to explore fresh work after a career spent following someone else’s dreams.

Julie Tobiason and Timothy Lynch met at the Pacific Northwest Ballet, where she’d been dancing contemporary roles with roots in modern dance techniques, and he’d danced a bit of everything as a member of the corps de ballet. (His Carabosse, the wicked fairy in Sleeping Beauty, was as nasty as they come.) Working for a large, union company provided security—regular contracts and rehearsal schedules—but “you get limited input into what happens,” says Tobiason. The safety net can sometimes hold you by the ankles.

Both Tobiason and Lynch retired from PNB, but not before they’d sounded out some of their colleagues about joining a small, flexible ensemble. Most of their recruits were ballet-trained but curious about other options—which matched the hybrid nature of the repertory Tobiason and Lynch were considering.

For their debut program, “Project One,” the pair drew first from their own experience, commissioning work from artists they knew through PNB. The choreography of Olivier Wevers, still a dancer with the company, has been consistently musical, often whimsical, and always kinetically rich—the movement makes a real connection to the audience. He’s making a set of solos to a score by contemporary composer Arvo Pärt for this program, and in rehearsal they seem to fit each dancer like a set of eccentric gloves.

Donald Byrd is also familiar territory for the PNB alums, as well as being almost ubiquitous for local audiences lately. He revels in the combination of strength and flexibility when he works with ballet-trained dancers, and his work to Art Tatum will take advantage of those high-tech qualities.

Molissa Fenley, who’s making an ensemble piece, is less-well known in Seattle, but her State of Darkness, a solo to Stravinsky’s notorious Rite of Spring, was a critical hit at PNB last season. New York–based choreographer Pat Catterson is the other wild-card artist, bringing a more postmodern approach to dance making, where movement is often taken apart and reassembled, accumulated rather than invented.