Local Talent

A Fiendish Conversation with Tonya Lockyer

We talk to Velocity Dance’s executive director about a summer of dance festivals at "maximum velocity."

By Seth Sommerfeld July 5, 2012

For years Tonya Lockyer was known as one of Seattle’s foremost dancers and choreographers, thanks to works like Consumed at On the Boards and her lessons from Merce Cunningham. But at the urging of many in the dance community, she took her talents to the administrative office and became executive director of the struggling Velocity Dance Center in May 2011. Since taking over, Velocity has stabilized financially and ticket sales are booming.

This summer Velocity Dance has an exciting lineup of programing they’re calling Maximum Velocity. It includes this month’s Strictly Seattle 2012 dance festival, the Seattle Festival of Dance Improvisation, and eventually winds down August 31 with the premiere of a new commission by Danielle Agami of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company. Before Lockyer gets too busy with programming, we chatted with her about Strictly Seattle, what exactly dance improvisation is, and her knack for writing.

What sets Strictly Seattle apart from other dance festivals?
Velocity commissions six of the leading choreographers in town and they have three weeks to do research and development and create a new work. Young artists come from across the country to participate; this year we’re gonna have over 100 dancers from over 17 states coming through this space. What’s unique about Strictly Seattle is on one level you get young professionals, but we also have an evening program where people who have never danced before—adults who are completely new to dance, or maybe they danced when they were younger and want to come back to it—and it also culminates in a new work. It all culminates in this incredible performance where you have some of the best dancers in the country and you have these people that are making their stage debuts, and they’re all working with leading choreographers.

With the Seattle Festival of Dance Improvisation coming up, how would you describe improvised dance to the uninitiated?
It’s like an improvised score in music. If you listen to jazz, it is improvised and yet there’s a very clear score that’s developed. There are portions of the work that are a very specific score where the dancer can collaborate in the moment to generate new material. Dance improvisation over the past 25 years has really been a revelation. Now, not only do contemporary dancers improvise, but so do ballet companies. When you see a work by [famed ballet choreographer] William Forsyth, only 75 percent of that work is set. The other 25 percent is improvised.

How has Seattle shaped your approach to dance?
A lot people don’t know this, but I came to Seattle in a U-Haul with Juniper Shuey, who is the other half of zoe|juniper, and with Sean Ryan, who is now the regional director of On the Boards. And when we were moving from the East Coast, we really thought about where we wanted to go next. We decided on Seattle because we felt it was a place where there would be a lot of support for emerging ideas—where you would have the time and space to really try something new, and that that kind of innovation would be supported. And I would say that is absolutely the case. In Seattle, you can be an independent artist, you can be an innovator, you can be an entrepreneur, and there are systems of support there for you.

If you didn’t work in dance, what would you do?
The direction I was going in before I did dance was actually writing. All of my scholarships when I went to collage were for writing. When I graduated high school I got a national scholarship, a national award as a writer in Canada. I had to rebel to be a dancer. I know when I took on this job, one of my professors called me, very concerned, and she said, “What’s gonna happen to your writing?” Maybe I would’ve ended up in journalism, which is not the most lucrative career is it? [Editor’s note: Nope.] It’s probably not much better than choosing dance as a career.

Strictly Seattle 2012
July 9–28, Velocity Dance Center

Seattle Festival of Dance Improvisation
July 29–Aug 5, Velocity Dance Center

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