April 04, 2013
: Sam Picart. Photo by Joseph Lambert.
: Iyun Ashani Harrison and company. Photo by Joseph Lambert.
: Samuel Opsal, Camryn Kelly, and Sam Picart in "Subway Stories: Dances on the'A'". Photo by Joseph Lambert.
ASHANI DANCES shakes up Seattle dance with Iyun Ashani Harrison’s unique blend of ballet, modern and African based movement, and by mixing the talents of experienced artists with those fresh out of college (or still in it).
In its second season, ASHANI DANCES features pieces that are traditionally strong, but with big, unusual twists, such as being set to the music of Tina Turner. Sam Picart (Dance ’13), one of the founding members of the company, elaborates that the challenging combination of athleticism, ballet, modern, and theatricality can be attributed to Harrison’s professional experiences as a dancer. “The vision and the movement vocabulary are fresh because of Mr. Harrison’s distinguished and eclectic background.”
Harrison professionally performed with repertory companies that required him to develop range and versatility in ballet, modern, West African, and jazz styles, resulting in his particular brand of choreography. “The hybridization of ballet, modern and African based movement is not intentional,” he explains, “I am Jamaican and historically our culture has emerged from African descendants fusing their cultural heritages with those of the English, Chinese and Indian into a unique and unintentional new cultural expression. I believe that see the world in a multi-faceted way and that this comes out in my work.”
If you don’t know what exactly that means, the Africanist movement aesthetics that are celebrated by ASHANI DANCES are, as Harrison explains, “the ‘aesthetic of cool’ - creating the illusion of being calm (perhaps ‘cocky’ or as if nothing is happening) particularly when the material is challenging”. Other characteristics are low center of gravity and grounded movement (“not pulled away from the floor like ballet”), use of deep plies (for non dancers, that’s a low bend of the knees and legs), extreme athleticism and virtuosity, isolations of the pelvis and rib cage, strong rhythmic focus, and individuality in interpretation of material.
Camryn Kelly (Dance ‘12), who danced in “Neo Funk Ballet” last year (the piece set to James Brown), said that the dancers were encouraged to watch videos of James Brown so that they could “embody him” as a performer and add authenticity to the performance. To Kelly, this was a refreshing break from predictable Seattle themes. “Iyun’s strong technical background, influenced by the Horton technique, and his pride in his work, has brought crisp, straightforward, and aggressive performance.”
It’s not just Harrison’s talent alone that produces these eccentrically beautiful ideas, it’s also the creative dancers and artists that work collaboratively to make them come to life. “Part of the decision to start a company is motivated by my work as an artist-educator”, says Harrison. “I was observing that many of my exceptionally talented students were graduating from college and did not have a place to continue growing […] because they were not able to compete with seasoned professionals for the few jobs that are available.” In every work, Harrison makes a point of giving new, emerging artists a chance. “I believe that my work and mentorship will help these pre-professional dancers to reach a new level of maturation and hence make them more competitive”.
Picart appreciates that “this unique and diverse company gives the opportunity for the younger artists to learn a lot from the more experienced company members. Also, being asked to respond quickly in a professional setting and not a school setting is important to experience because the environment is different than that of class”, meaning high professional standards. Both Kelly and Picart agree that they feel a sense of ownership and pride in being a featured performer, as well as heartfelt gratitude. Picart concludes, “It has always been a dream of mine to dance with a professional company and to have this opportunity so early in my career and while still in school means a great deal to me.”
This season’s Cornish students, alumni, and faculty:
Brenna Monroe-Cook (Cornish Faculty)- Professional
Ariana Bird (Dance ‘14)- Founding member
Camryn Kelly (Dance ‘12) – Founding member
Sam Picart (Dance ‘13) - Founding member
Sean Rosado (Dance ‘15) - Founding member
Kelton Roth (Dance ‘12) - Founding member
Autumn Tselios (Dance ‘13) - Founding member
Taryn Jensen (Dance ‘13) - New member
Trevor Miles (Dance ‘15) - New member
Thomas O’Neal (Dance ‘16) – Apprentice
Lindy Lou Smith (Dance ‘16) – Apprentice
Also featured in this season’s performances:
Ben Morrow- (Cornish Dance musician)
William Hayes (Music ’13) – Composer
For more information about their current season, visit the Ashani Dances website.
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