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Seattle Dance Project

Three Choreographers to Create "Project Orpheus"

by Brady Hartley

September 2008 -- Seattle

"A good discussion increases the dimensions of everyone who takes part."
Randolph Bourne, American author (1886–1918)

A very intense Olivier Wevers is standing at the front of studio E at Pacific Northwest Ballet wearing a blue shirt that reads, ‘retired superstar.’ It’s just past noon on Wednesday, July 2 and he is very closely studying the gestures of three men on whom he is choreographing.

Wevers is one of three choreographers working on Seattle Dance Project’s new production called “Project Orpheus.” The other two local choreographers are Eva Stone and Wade Madsen. It’s part of ACT Theater’s Companion Program and will be shown in conjunction with ACT’s production of “Eurydice.”

“Lips, cry, drop, toss, turn, cry, half a heart, toss, toss,” Wevers yells. He stops the music and asks the dancers to struggle through certain movement. He then patiently shows new company member Joseph Anderson exactly how he would like him to grab and pull his lower lip. Steps away, Co-Artistic Director, Timothy Lynch and dancer Kori Perigo are trying to listen to what Wevers is saying so they can apply the correction to themselves. 

Years after Lynch’s retirement from PNB, he and Co-Artistic Director Julie Tobiason created SDP, in part, as a way expand from the pigeonhole they’d been locked into during their careers, but also as a way to continue to share their art with others. 

“I wanted to do more contemporary stuff, and I wanted to explore other things,” Lynch says. Those ‘other things’ explored turned into a collection of dancers pieced together by Tobiason and him. Much the same way they’ve collected their dancers, they’ve collected three choreographers to create “Project Orpheus.”

After SDP’s successful “Project One” performance, ACT approached them about doing this venture. From the beginning they knew they wanted to use more than just one choreographer to create the piece. 

“We decided more than three would be chaos, and we thought about two, but we thought maybe three was a good number. To even out things if there’s a discrepancy,” Tobiason says.

Once they decided on the choreographers, they had a meeting to see what things the choreographers most identified with in the story of Orpheus. Collectively they discussed which scenes each choreographer would handle. The choreographers have each chosen their own music, which will eventually be put together by a music director.

In the midst of Wevers’ rehearsal new company member Elizabeth “Betsy” Cooper quietly stretches, preparing herself for the next choreographer, Eva Stone, to rehearse her  portion of “Project Orpheus.”.

Wevers walks over to the stereo and tells the men to run through it one last time. As the men push through the detailed and textured movement, it’s obvious that there’s a lot of complexity in Wevers’ choreography. Cooper pays full attention as the men struggle through the last moments of the dark music, and Wevers says, “Nice… good.”

Stone starts her rehearsal in a manner that is in line with the very spirit of this program. With her it’s a discussion of what works; she lets the dancers bring ideas to the piece and she bounces ideas off of them. Tobiason tells me that Stone “really looks at it from the whole big picture and then goes in to add the details.”

The music Stone has chosen is a hypnotic stream of bells that helps create a calm in the room– remarkable considering they’ve put nearly all of “Project Orpheus” together in two and a half weeks. Within the next hour, the company is meant to start their first full run through.

It will be their first real look at how one ballet created by three choreographers – with three different styles and a collage of music – will look, feel and sound. With this as SDP’s first narrative work, Tobiason mentions the amount of performance experience and maturity needed to do justice to a story like Orpheus.

“It does take something to get up there on stage in front of people and not be afraid to be physical with someone or to let something wash over you, and open that up to an audience.” That’s really the success of SDP; they offer so much experience behind their performances. Throughout SDP is an overriding generosity that is as clear as their talent.  They’re in a constant state of answering the question: Why do we dance?

As Stone’s hour of rehearsal comes to an end the room begins to fill with company members, choreographers and a chaotic buzz of anticipation.  Everyone is waiting to do their part, to see this project come together as planned.

Seattle Dance Project’s “Project Orpheus,” choreographed by Olivier Wevers, Eva Stone and Wade Madsen, can be seen September 13th through October 4, 2008 at ACT Theater.  For tickets and info visit

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