Artscape
8:51 am
Sun November 27, 2011

zoe | juniper is wild, theatrical dance

Here’s what a performance by  zoe|juniper won't look like:

"Predictable and controlled," says company dancer Christiana Axelsen.

"Having the music play. Having everyone dance. Having the lights go on and then having the lights go out," says sound designer Matt Starritt.

"I wouldn’t expect it to be simple. I wouldn’t expect to see anything I’ve seen before," says dancer and company manager Raja Kelly.

Critics have described the Seattle-based company as "visually arresting" and "a feast for the senses."

zoe|juniper is still young but it's undeniably hot, having just earned a Princess Grace award for choreography (Seattlelite Olivier Wevers of Whim W'Him also won).

The company is directed by choreographer and dancer Zoe Scofield and visual artist Juniper Shuey.  In 2005, Shuey persuaded his girlfriend at the time, Scofield, to team up and enter work in the New Artist Series at On The Boards.

The work launched their careers, leading to one performance after another. Commissions followed. So did engagements and fellowships and critical buzz.

What the company creates is highly-theatrical dance: floors that look like frozen lakes; videos of falling snow; costumes that look like body paint. The dancing is intense and physical. The experience can be transportive.

"My desire is to sort of like, create space. To create a spaciousness around something," Scofield says. "I like to think of it as sort of separating the cells a little bit more so it’s sort of this fog that you enter into and this experience, this overall experience is you enter into and it enters into you."

Scofield is thirty-something, tiny and muscular and originally from Gainsville, Ga. When she was a kid, she got into ballet because she wanted a pink tutu like the one her older sister had. She apprenticed with Boston Ballet but then the company told her she didn’t fit the part of a ballerina.

"The ballet thing was devastating. I had spent my whole life doing that and I really wanted it, too."

She turned to modern dance and performed with companies in Boston and Toronto. Along the way, she also fought anorexia and drugs and health issues eventually made her stop dancing for several years.

When she returned to dancing -- creating and performing on her own terms -- she knew it was what she should be doing.

"I had always tried to be what I thought I should be or what I needed to be. I was in these companies and I was working and I loved it. But it wasn’t it, it wasn’t entirely it. It was as if some taste or some element was missing.

"And I can’t really explain, I don’t think there’s this single thing, like I need to talk about trees or whatever so I need to choreograph again. It's just this impulsive urge. Why do you drink water or eat food? It’s just a necessity."

Donald Byrd is artistic director of Seattle’s Spectrum Dance Theater. He says Scofield’s choreography "has a wildness about it. ... But I don’t think it means 'wild' in the sense that it is 'out-of-control wild,' but it has a kind of primal or intuitive nature to it."

Scofield also wants the work to be a kind of intuitive experience. Or at least something that eases in over you. Context, she argues, isn't all that critical.

"I think those things ... they can also also build up a lot of barriers and a lot of fear around 'What am I going to see?  Am I going to get it? Is there something to get in general?' And so my desire is to create a space where that can kind of release."

 The company's newest work is called “A Crack in Everything,” and it’s inspired by the theme of revenge. It integrates dance with video, a super-glossy floor, red yarn, a red marker and barely-there costumes.

It plays at On The Boards in Seattle Dec. 1-4.