Inside the dancer's studio

Madrona's Spectrum Dance Theater has one very firm mission statement: "To make dance accessible, without limitations, to the community."

Since 1982, it has satisfied this commitment through the contemporary dance performances at its theater and high-quality dance training.

Starting Feb. 24, Spectrum will bring members of the community closer than ever before into the world of dance with the presentation of its Studio Series.

Spectrum Dance Theater is taking a break from the high-budget production and extensive preparation that came along with its recent production of "Sleeping Beauty Notebook," which received critical praise in New York and Seattle. Instead, Spectrum is inviting the Seattle community into its studios for a firsthand look into the sometimes inaccessible art of dance.

"The purpose of the series is to foster local choreographers and to give them a chance to showcase their work," said Anne Derieux, Spec-trum's managing director.

Creating new works

The Studio Series will feature 10-minute original dance compositions by five local choreographers: Amy O'Neal, Gaelen Hanson, Cyrus Khambatta, Daniel Wilkins and KT Niehoff, as well as a new piece by acclaimed Spectrum artistic director Donald Byrd.

Working with a total of 11 dancers from Spectrum's professional company, each short piece will feature the contemporary work of solos, duos and trios.

"Some of the choreographers are just emerging, and some are experienced," Derieux said. "The theme is really creating new works."

Although referred to as "five of the most talented choreographers in the Northwest" by Spectrum, not all of these five have had the opportunity to showcase their work for an audience, due to budget constraints and affiliations with smaller companies. This is where the Studio Series comes in.

"It will be interesting for dance audiences, because they might discover new choreographers," Derieux said. "Seattle has a lot of choreographers who are working with low budgets, and by giving them more attention, their work can be noticed by audiences and press. We want to attract those people who might be interested."

Byrd feels that the benefits will be mutual, with the choreographers garnering attention, as well as showcasing Spectrum's overall talent.

"The Studio Series fosters talented, emerging choreographers whose work will enhance Spectrum's repertory of contemporary dance," said Byrd in a press release.

Intimate, accessible experience

The Studio Series, however, is not just for dance aficionados. In fact, one of the main purposes is to present Seattleites with a relaxed dance experience that cannot be found in the theater.

"This is the first time we are doing something like this," Derieux said. "But we have been thinking about doing performances in our studios, because we wanted to do something intimate, affordable, accessible.

"Most times, when you go out to the theater, you know you have to go pay for parking, you have to sit up in the stands.... Here, you are very close up to the dancers. You are in the studio with them," she explained.

With a maximum of 100 people in the audience, the Studio Series allows a viewer a personal experience, and the feeling that they are a part of something more than a typical theater audience.

"In studio with the dancers, you witness a world premiere," Derieux said. "It is new, and the pieces are abstract. The choreographers choose their music, and some of it is original. Choreographers collaborate with musicians to create compositions to accompany their pieces."

It's a very different focus than the costly "Sleeping Beauty Notebook. The Studio Series is much lower key, with very minimal costumes and no sets. In a sense, it is more approachable.

"People who have no dance background whatsoever can enjoy the short pieces. Even if you don't like it, you might like the next one. There is something for everyone," Derieux said.

Also unlike traditional theater, audience involvement is encouraged.

"We want to have a discussion with choreographers and the audience - a Q & A session," she said. "We can discuss what it was like to choreograph with Spectrum, with the dancers."

In a situation like this, Derieux hopes to reach out to the community, and perhaps introduce more people to dance in a welcoming manner.

Being up close

Along with the theater, Spectrum is well known for its classes.

"Spectrum offers affordable, accessible classes to non-professional and professional dancers in the community," Derieux said. "We have classes for children age 1 all the way to senior classes. Some people have been coming for the whole 23 years we have been here."

Classes include ballet, modern, jazz, salsa, yoga, Cuban, tap and Pilates. Most of these classes are taught by local people, but sometimes classes are taught by Spectrum's professional dancers, who come from all around the country.

But classes are not the only way to learn, as Derieux has discovered.

Presenting the opportunity to witness studio performances, as the Studio Series seeks to do, will show the audience the hard work that is put in by the dancers and choreographers.

"We think that dance audiences don't realize the work and what it takes to perform, to dance," said Derieux, herself a former dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet. "Being up close, you can see what it really is.

"As a former dancer, I've heard so many times that being in the studio is such a fulfilling experience," Derieux said. "To be so up close, they can learn so much."

Spectrum Dance Theater will have a fund-raising gala on March 11 at Fisher Plaza, near Seattle Center. For more information about this event or the Studio Series, call 325-4161.

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