Relay Dance Collective presents PASSAGE Featuring choreography by Brenna Monroe-Cook, Imana Gunawan, Sara Jinks, Mark J. Kane, Anna Krupp, Amy Johnson, Holly Logan, and Austin Sexton. Yaw Theater 6520 5th Ave S Seattle, WA 98108 Cost: General $20.00; Patron (preferred seating) $30
By Gabrielle Gainor An Asian American dancer/journalist myself, I've long admired Imana Gunawan from afar. She is fierce, whip-smart, and without a doubt one of Seattle's hottest emerging choreographers. Her creativity roams from the written word, to podcasting, to creating and performing dance. Through the past few years, I've come to appreciate a through-line in her work; Imana subverts dominant power structures. She tells stories of underrepresented communities and histories (immigrants, people of color, and the LGBTQ community, to name a few) including how they often intersect. Relay has been proud to commission Imana's Au Collective colleagues Cheryl Delostrinos and Megan Erickson, and we continue to present work by this crew in our fifth season with Imana, whom SeattleDances has described as a prolific choreographer "worth keeping an eye out for."
Who or what are you?! I'm a multimedia journalist and dance artist, brown af Texas-born Indonesian, person who is always ready to side-eye anyone.
Top three loves outside of dance. Go!: The first amendment (I'm a journalist!), cats, and unapologetic QTPOCs (they give me life).
Write one sentence about who you are as a choreographer: I strive to create surreal worlds wherein both performers and witnesses can have a visceral experience.
Tell me about the dancers in your piece that will be featured in Passage: The inimitable Randy Ford,Ayako Shapiro, and Chris Engelbrecht. They are all such radically different movers, but they all have such different kinds of presence that complement each other in a really satisfying way. They're super intelligent performers who aren't afraid to make choices and ask tough questions, and they're always down to tackle anything I throw at them! I'm also working with badass musician Dylan Greene, who is currently based in NY.
As an artist, what are your favorite things about either living in or being from Seattle? For better or for worse, the dance scene here is smaller and still growing. On one hand, it's the perfect place to be an emerging choreographer. On the other hand, sometimes it gets so insular that everyone tends to make similar things/get so complacent in ways they think about dance/art. That said, it's been such a joy to see artists (especially artists of color and queer artists) leading the move to break out of that complacency in this city.
Briefly describe your process for making this dance. It's loosely based on the board game Candy Land. I've been really into this idea of a journey and the concept of players vs game. So outside of generating movement during rehearsals, I think a lot about making rules and structures for this game. It's the most prop-heavy dance I've made so far (and lord knows I love using props/stage sets/etc). There will be flowers, colorful plastic balls, heels, buckets, and all the things! It's going to be really crazy. Whether crazy good or crazy terrifying, TBD. One theme that I've always been really attached to in all my works is the idea of survival. So I'm constantly coming up with games or movement patterns or arranging props so that the performers will have to survive through it, so to speak. The struggle through it can then just become part of the story instead of becoming something that the performers have to hide.
What lessons did you learn from the last dance you made that you've taken with you into this current process? The past few dances I've made have been done within a very short time frame. It's almost always a sort of pressure-cooker environment that pushes me to just trust my gut and make decisions. So with this current process, I've been really pushing myself to really look at things critically and savor the amount of time I have to create. I learn to analyze more and ask myself hard questions and really edit the work.
What's your coffee order? Plain black. When the coffee bean isn't my cup of tea (or coffee, I guess), I add half and half.
What artists/troupes are inspiring you right now? Not really a specific troupe, but I've been so drawn to and inspired by Vogue right now, which is a dance form (as well as cultural form) created by Black and Latino queer/trans folks in Harlem in the '70s-80s. I'm still trying to learn the ways/be confident in my abilities though, so for the time being I'm only learning it in the comforts of my bedroom ;) I've also been really into heels! Always on the hunt for a good heels class and incorporating techniques I've learned into my process. But more generally, I'm always inspired by people who are unapologetically themselves, incl: Nina Simone, Grace Jones, Beyonce and Solange, Erykah Badu, South Asian trans poet Alok Vaid-Menon, the artists of my Au Collective family, the artists of The Purple Lemonade, teacher/dancer/choreographer/Vogue and House extraordinaire Dani Tirrell, local poet Imani Sims, Indonesian writer/political exile Pramoedya Ananta Toer, also Indonesian writer Eka Kurniawan. Plus so many more QTPOC artists of all disciplines that are almost always on the forefront of their respective mediums, even though their contributions often go unrecognized.
What's the biggest challenge you face as a dancer/choreographer? I think being an artist is a huge responsibility. I'm always interested in creating works that subvert the existing social power dynamics that have been toxic for centuries. I'm not super into making works that exist in a vacuum. Those works exist and they're valid, but that's personally not what I'm interested in. I want to create works featuring people and exploring contents that I wish I had been exposed to growing up. But especially when it comes to taking on societal issues, I don't have all the answers, no one person does. So the challenge is always learning more, listening more, not making assumptions, and being accountable when I make mistakes. That requires putting my ego aside and focus on the work. Since art-making is so subjective and personal, it's always a challenge, I think for any artist, to tell their ego and be like "Hey, you ain't shit" and instead focus on doing the work. I'm sure any artist is drawn to the limelight and recognition or what have you, so I'm always reminding myself that I'm only one tiny part of something way bigger.
What are your goals for yourself? Drag myself to class more, read more books, tolerate less bullshit from society, surround myself with even more badass QTPOCs doing badass work. On the dance side, I've been a very lyrical dancer, so I've been trying to work on doing more hard hitting movements with integrity.
What else have you been working on lately? I'm currently making another work for Au Collective, a dance collective I'm a part of that centers POCs, queer people, and women in everything we do. I'm drawing inspiration from mythologies and oral traditions in West Java and southern Sumatra in Indonesia, as well as the traditions surrounding textile and clothes. It's going to be part-durational installation and part-dance, so it's definitely a lil beast! But I'm working with 3 extraordinary collaborators so I'm feeling really good about it. I'm also trying to take more photos of people, since photography's also been a love of mine. My goal by the end of this year is to produce/direct/style at least 1-2 fashion editorials, especially since I know so many cool people who would be down to work on these things, and I personally love styling and putting together looks that aren't just for day-to-day affairs.
What's next for you? I just got a new full-time job, so trying to juggle that and dance is going to be the next big challenge. I'm trying to get better at saying no to things and really valuing my time to do the things I actually want to do, so tbd on that!
What else should we know about related to you/your work/dance/life/the world etc? I'm a huge advocate of centering QTPOC voices, not because I hate/don't care about cis straight white folks, but because they've had the metaphorical mic in this country for a while now. So my last word is let's make space so that other folks can get the mic too.