By Gabrielle Nomura
It's a really strange thought, but I first performed Mary Kay Bisignano-Vadino's "Surviving the Undertow" 13 years ago in the 8th grade. I'm going to be performing it again very soon in "Beginnings" with some of my lifelong friends who I grew up dancing with.
Mary Kay was one of my first modern-dance teachers. The slender and muscled dance educator, performer and yogi holds a Bachelors Degree in Dance from Western Michigan University and a Masters Degree in Choreography and Performance from U.C.L.A.
Back in 2001 when we were first learning "Undertow," I was intimidated but excited to be trying these luscious and exotic movements, and also, to be dancing with Mary Kay, as well as many of my dance teachers. Mary Kay originally created this as a multi-generational piece; dancers in their early teens (us) and dancers in their 40s and older shared the stage.
At the time, I was a member of Dance Fremont's youth performing company. Mary Kay, and some of our other teachers at Dance Fremont, also performed in Next Stage Dance Theatre, a professional company for mature dancers (based off of similar group affiliated with Nederlands Dans Theater).
Growing up, we young dancers got to perform "Surviving the Undertow" six times with Mary Kay and the Next Stage dancers (this will be the 7th staging), mostly at Broadway Performance Hall and Shorecrest Performing Arts Center. I used to joke that it was "the piece that keeps on giving."
It feels natural and right to be performing it once again in Relay Dance Collective's "Beginnings." While you won't see the Next Stage performers (and we're no longer in our teens, but our 20s and 30s), you will see Mary Kay's poignant and powerful choreography, a piece of our dance heritage, and a work that continues to connect us throughout time. When we decided to use our roots and where we come from as the inspiration for our next show, we knew that "Undertow" would have to be a part of it.
Q. Why does this piece have staying power?
A. I think what draws me back to this piece, and maybe dancers and audiences as well, is that it addresses a very universal human experience. The experience of meeting up with struggle or adversity and having to deal with it; knowing that we can be pulled under or ride the wave and rise above. I also think the music (by Loreena McKennitt) is captivating and helps to create a total experience of the piece
Q. You first worked with us when we were young teenagers! How have we changed or stayed the same?
A. You former Danceworks girls, now women, are such a joy and pleasure to work with. You have retained your youthful spirit and passion for dancing, while also maturing into responsible, thoughtful creative and performing artists. I am totally inspired by you young women, and honored to be working with Relay Dance Collective.
Q. What specifically inspired you to create "Surviving the Undertow"?
A. The inspiration for this piece is actually a heavy and difficult situation which I will try to share with some lightness. A family member was hospitalized and I experienced how very fragile life can be. I really felt “pulled under” but also a response to swim or float back up. Fortunately, this family member recovered, and a week or two later, I went into the studio and choreographed the dance in two or three days. It literally flowed out of me as a response to this experience.
Q. Tell me a little bit about Next Stage Dance Theatre and your
involvement with the company.
A. Next Stage Dance Theater was a collaborative company of dancers and choreographers, founded by the late Dominique Gabella. Our company enjoyed ten years of creating and performing modern dance in Seattle. It was an ideal place for me create new work, to work with other local choreographers, and to stay connected and committed to dance as an expressive art form.
Q. How would you describe yourself as a dance artist?
A. I love to dance. I love to create dances. I love to lose and find myself, and connect with others, in the process of dancing.
Q. What kinds of dances do you like to make?
A. I think I have always been most interested in creating new work, generating new material, (which makes "Undertow" an exception to my usual ways). I really enjoy working with large groups of dancers, and feel fortunate to be a part of Dance Fremont where I have the opportunity to work with amazing young dancers. I have also enjoyed creating works for the Kaleidoscope Dance Company. I like to create dances that are fun and physically satisfying for the dancers while also being visually satisfying for the audience.
Q. What is the next dance project you're going to tackle?
A. I actually do not know what is next. I would like to create something new for myself, a solo piece (I will keep you posted). I actually have a different type of choreographic project this June: teaching at the Dance and the Child International Conference at the University of Washington. I will be facilitating the collaborative creative process of many dancers and helping to get the dance from “seed to stage” in three days. I’m very excited about that and looking forward to tackling that challenge.