Chances are you don’t know the name Kim Lusk. You likely haven’t even seen her listed in the arts section of publications like this one. That’s because Lusk’s story as a choreographer, thus far, has been about working behind the scenes while others take center stage. It’s a common life chapter among artists, and for Lusk it’s a chapter that ends in March. That’s when this former Velocity Dance Center intern, who has collaborated with some of the most notable local names in dance, unveils her first full-length work, A Dance for Dark Horses, as part of Velocity’s Made in Seattle production. She’s come a long way, even if this show debuts just 11 miles from where she started.
Horseback riding and dance. These were the two extracurricular options given to four-year-old Lusk at her day care on Bainbridge Island. For a while, she had a go at both—she’d been born in rural Montana after all, and there were still some bona fide cowboys in her family.
Eventually dance won out. From that young age until when she left the island, Lusk would study at Bainbridge Dance Center, run by the beloved Susan Thompson, who taught modern dance to multiple generations of Seattle-area performers until she passed away from cancer in 2012.
Lusk would enroll at Connecticut College to study dance in 2007, but returned to Seattle for stints during her junior and senior years to intern at Velocity Dance Center. Here, as she worked with established local choreographers like the duo Zoe | Juniper and under the tutelage of Velocity executive director Tonya Lockyer, Lusk began to push herself outside of comfort zones.
“All my life people have told me, ‘You’re so shy.’ After a while, you start to believe it.” Soft-spoken with an understated, even ethereal presence, Lusk had always lacked the raw physical power and charisma of natural-born performers. “There’s a type of dancer that can step on stage and immediately transfix an audience,” she says. “I’ve had to develop that.”
A big step in that development came in 2015 when Lusk, having moved back to Seattle after college, performed her first work in the city at Velocity’s Next Fest NW—a festival showcasing local dancers. The 10-minute solo production, her first, had “cowboy giddyap spirit” as an homage to her upbringing, something with depth but not too esoteric.
That first festival submission pushed Lusk to apply for more over the next two years. She unveiled a duet, a trio, and a quartet—each imbued with personal narratives abstracted through dance but informed by a desire to entertain, to bring in the uninitiated, to make audiences laugh, even.
“Kim has profound rhythmic intelligence,” says Velocity’s Lockyer. “But she also understands there’s an audience. When she’s creating a performance, she knows it’s completed by and with the people watching.” This year Lockyer decided to give Kim Lusk the platform she felt the young choreographer deserved: her own Made in Seattle show.
While Velocity’s Next Fest NW functions as a showcase featuring a wide swath of dancers, Made in Seattle is a spotlight trained on one name—a moment meant to mark an arrival of an exciting talent.
Lusk chose a solo for her first Next Fest NW back in 2015 because she’d never been given a solo in college. It’s been 11 years since her run as the black swan in Bainbridge High School’s production of Swan Lake, her first major role. Now she’ll have an evening-length show to express in full her creative vision.
A Dance for Dark Horses will incorporate parts of past festival submissions. She and her longtime dance partners plan to retell her story as a performer in Seattle, as the perpetually undefinable underdog, and “show off my technique, that I have a sense of humor,” she says.
Moments of fast-paced footwork and challenging movements meet Lusk’s desire to put on an accessible show. The final details aren’t set in stone, but in one possible segment, dancers pantomime a scene from the Seattle-set film 10 Things I Hate About You “to explore what the body can convey without words.” Lusk may also incorporate Mariah Carey and Britney Spears–inspired music. “I love Dolly Parton,” says Lusk. “So she’s in there too.”
Kim Lusk’s first major show won’t be capital F Fine Art, the sort of performance only those trained in the tradition will appreciate. But do not underestimate her quiet powers as a creative thinker and choreographer. In fact, don’t try to pin it down at all. Expect to be surprised. Expect a dark horse.
A Dance for Dark Horses
Mar 8–11, Velocity Dance Center, $15–50