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Collision Theory: KT Niehoff breaks down the fourth wall - and many others

Theater, dance and music collide in the veteran choreographer's new work at On the Boards, along with the performers and the audience.
K.T. Niehoff in "Collision Theory"

K.T. Niehoff in "Collision Theory" Photo Credit: Christian Hansen.

KT Niehoff is a seminal figure on the Seattle dance scene. She founded Velocity, a center for contemporary dance on Capitol Hill, and Lingo Productions, which presents her wide-ranging repertoire of creative works. Niehoff, who has won many local and national awards, was an Artist in Residence with ACT Theatre’s Central Heating Lab, where she created her latest work, the acclaimed Glimmer in 2010. With Lingo, she has performed throughout the U.S. and at major dance venues around the world, including The Joyce SoHo in New York. Since 2006, Niehoff has been interested in creating productions that let the audience roam through the performance space and mingle with the performers. Niehoff’s newest work, Collision Theory: The Finale, will premiere at On the Boards in April. She been developing the piece for months, engaging hundreds of participants at dinner parties, fashion shows and through pen pal exchanges.

Alice Kaderlan: You’re an incredibly versatile performer - a dancer, actor, singer and director. Did you receive training in all these disciplines?

Actually I got started as a singer at age six with the Colorado Children’s Chorale in Denver, where I grew up. Duane Wolf, the director, was very talented and ambitious, with lofty ideals and very rigorous training. I learned everything from Mr. Wolf: discipline, how to be a soloist. And I loved him.

Your work is so theatrical. Did you receive training in theater also?

I did a smattering of theater in high school but at that point I was completely dedicated to singing. Then I went to NYU [New York University] and studied at the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting, but I discovered acting wasn’t for me and even now I don’t know why I went to school for acting. Basically, I was a choral singer.

What was it like studying with the great Stella Adler?

It was really hard, and she was hard. She sat on a throne and the men had to wear ties, the women skirts. To this day I remember her stopping me while we were rehearsing The Misanthrope. I was starting to put a pillowcase on a pillow and she stopped me almost immediately [because she didn’t like what I was doing]. It wasn’t for me.

So when did you start dancing?

In my last year of college at the old Danspace on Broadway and Houston.

That’s very late to start dancing. How was it for you?

It shattered my world and hit my core in a fantastic way. Dance is so visceral, kinetic and full of emotion, and the music and musicality are so deep. It made a lot of sense to me but I was scared because I didn’t know how to dance, I had no vehicle for my feelings. So right after college, I started taking class every day, sometimes four a day, practicing and feeling the experience of dancing.

It must have been incredibly hard to start dancing at that age, and in New York.

It was tough for lots of reasons. I became depressed because I realized I had been doing the wrong thing [acting not dancing] for all those years, and I was so bad in the midst of really good dancers. I also had to make a radical shift physically which is really hard on the psyche as well as the body. And I had to cut everything else out of my life because I was starting so late and that was really difficult because I’m such a multifaceted person.

So how did you get to Seattle?

Michelle Miller [a dancer friend in New York] and I had auditioned for [Seattle choreographer] Pat Graney in New York while she was doing an East Coast tour, even though we didn’t know who she was or anything about Seattle. But she hired us, so we packed up a Ryder van and drove straight across the country. We arrived on April 2, 1992.


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