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Jobaris Casts Her Spell At On The Boards

Jessica Jobaris '97 and her collaborative collective General Magic use dance and theater as a quest into the human condition. Her work nurtures risk, mystery, absurdity, sensation of the body, and emancipation through imagination.

Since graduating from Cornish College of the Arts in 1997, Jessica Jobaris has been choreographing and performing throughout Europe and across North America. Although she has lived and worked in Berlin, San Francisco, and New York City, she still calls Seattle home. Her latest work, A Great Hunger, opens at On the Boards this week. The production features a number of Cornish alumni on stage and backstage, including Renee Boehlke '16, Jason Franklin '98, Alianna Jaqua '99, Amy Mayes '12, Heather Mayhew '00, and Aly Norling '15.

A Great Hunger is the result of several years of dance theater collaboration. In 2011, after forming the the collaborative collective General Magic and working on another piece at the Northwest New Works festival, Jobaris began thinking about the question “What are we hungry for?”

“So much chaos and unrest was happening around the world,” recalled Jobaris. “I felt like my bubble burst. A Great Hunger began as a response of growing awareness about the human condition.” The piece premiered at the 2015 Northwest New Works. Jobaris and General Magic was invited to be part of the On the Boards’ season in 2017. The General Magic collective includes Ariel Burke, Neil Coffey, Owen David, Sruti Desai, Jason Franklin, Nikolai Lesnikov, Tyisha Nedd, Rosa Vissers, and Hendri Walujo.

Located in Seattle’s lower Queen Anne neighborhood, On the Boards is known as the home of contemporary artists working on forward-thinking ideas. They’ve been providing space for creators of all types for almost 40 years. “This is the first time that I’ve worked with a really big set and it’s been a lot easier than I thought it would be because of On the Boards. They give you the ability to tease something out over a period of time. It feels like a luxury but it should be the norm,” said Jobaris.

In some ways, the experience echoes her student years at Cornish. “Kitty (Daniels, the then chair of dance) was very encouraging about making your time at Cornish your own. My senior thesis project deviated into an evening length work in a separate theater that required using friends from other departments. They’re still my performers and tech crew 20 years later,” Jobaris said.  “Maybe because of the setting (at Kerry Hall), it seems like dancers are constantly steeping in that creative spirit. You’re giving yourself permission to find out different things. Cornish is awesome. I’m so glad that I went there.”

As for the dance scene in Seattle, Jobaris has seen it evolve since the late 1990s. “It has changed a lot. People now move here for dance. So much to do, so many offerings, and so many ways to produce your work. I’m amazed at the new generation of dancers and how they are finding these new resources for making art. When I started, there used to be one show a week and now it’s four times a week or more.”

In her own work, Jobaris seeks to attract more people to dance. “My personal mission is how we can make dance more accessible without dumbing it down,” she said. In A Great Hunger, “there’s a lot of play and mess, but it’s very crafted too. We will spend a lot of time trying to craft a comedic moment. We’re also talking about loss due to suicide and, unfortunately, that’s quite a common experience. I just want anyone and everyone to come. This is a work for a true general audience!”

Although she laughs about a recent post that called her a sorceress (“that’s the publicist’s term!”), Jobaris admits that there is some magic in her work. “It should feel like it lands with the audience and there is connection. For me as a choreographer and an audience member that is what I crave in dance. How do we stretch time like a rubber band? It’s like casting a spell. You’re connected and you’re disconnected.”