Editor’s Notebook: Coronavirus can’t stop Seattle’s Dance Church

Our arts editor shares the latest in suddenly streaming arts events.

Large brick building with Alone Together coronavirus window art

Seattle artist Victoria Haven posts a message of support from the windows of her South Lake Union studio. (Victoria Haven)

It’s the end of week 2 in the work-at-home world, where it has become abundantly clear that having a strong internet connection is the key to consuming art in the coronavirus era. As arts and culture editor, I'm watching the local creative scene adapt and innovate in real time.

Last weekend was busy — I attended two dance classes, watched the read-through of a short play, leafed through an artist’s sketchbook in his studio and saw three live concerts. I never left my house.

Arts fans are swiftly becoming connoisseurs of streaming content, as we watch performances and take tours through the rectangular screens on our devices (sometimes while wearing PJs). It’s a new, more solitary take on art consumption, but for the many Seattle artists trying to stay creative — and pay rent — amid COVID-19, video is the medium of choice and desperation.

Seattle and King County have each promised at least $1 million in emergency funding to help save local arts (through Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Arts Stabilization Fund and 4Culture’s Cultural Relief Fund). But, meanwhile, Facebook Live, Instagram Live, Zoom conferencing and Twitch have become makeshift arts venues since our brick-and-mortar arenas are closed. Not surprisingly, artists are disrupting these formats to invent something entirely new.

“This is like the lobby,” said On the Boards Executive Director Betsey Brock, as she welcomed a small group of Zoom viewers to a “social distance performance” of a miniplay by Minna Lee. Brock encouraged viewers to mingle, as our faces crowded together in the Brady Bunch screen layout. During the play, as each actor spoke a line, his or her face came to the fore — closer than you’d ever see on stage. Afterward, the performers welcomed questions. It was novel and strange and also pretty fun. Word has it that more theater at a social distance is in the works, so stay tuned.

Skerik Band performing on a livestream
After his tour was canceled, Skerik played a live-streamed gig viewed online by 300-plus people who donated more than $4,000. (Daniel Spils)

Islands in the stream

After so many canceled gigs and kaput tours, Seattle music makers of all stripes are taking to the internet both to entertain and make ends meet. So many live and recorded music streams have been set up in the past week, it’s a veritable Lollapaloozacoachellashoot. From my kitchen, I rocked out to the local jazz monsters of Skerik Band. “Imagine yourself in the bed of a river,” lead sax Skerik said to the online crowd. “We’re streaming around you.” The band did just that via LiveConcerts.stream, a new Twitch-based platform developed by Seattle musician Gordon Brown. As with most arts streaming options, a donate button is featured prominently on the page. Skerik Band was trying to raise $3,000, and donation by donation (tracked with a visible ticker) it ended up making more than $4,000.

Amid the recent slate of cancellations was the 46th annual Seattle International Film Festival — a huge loss to local film lovers, as well as filmmakers who were excited for their red carpet moment. Like many arts organizations, SIFF had to lay off workers, and is on hiatus. Northwest Film Forum also had to shut doors temporarily, but is working to bring some of its planned programming online via Vimeo, including the By Design Film Festival (through March 22), featuring independent films about design and architecture. Buying a ticket online gets you a Vimeo password, and access to screenings. Especially enticing is the short film program, which includes movies about luxury cruise life, Armenian apartment blocks and the ominous design options for the Mexican border wall.

A woman dancing in her living room during a livestream
Seattle-based Dance Church Go is streaming twice a week, earning about 1,000 viewers (and donors) per class. (Alaa Mendili)

Dance like no one is watching (because ... they aren't).

Feeling trapped in my body as well as my home, I also took a spin on a virtual dance floor. Seattle choreographer Kate Wallich created Dance Church, the come-one, come-all dance workout in 2010, and has been expanding it to more cities ever since. In person, the packed class feels like a raucous dance club where everyone gets close. During last week’s trial run of “Dance Church Go,” streamed live from Velocity Dance Center, Wallich and several dancers led moves like the lawnmower and jumping jacks, interspersed with freestyling. “You’re in your bubble, dance in your bubble,” Wallich urged us. Some 1,000 people got their groove on at home, a few of us crashing into bookshelves in the process.

Dance Church Go is going to be a regular thing (next class March 22 at 10 a.m.), as are several other streaming dance classes. Seattle choreographer Mark Haim is starting a new streaming ballet class on Zoom, during which he’ll offer feedback on your form (March 25 at 6 p.m.). Dancer Kyle Davis of Pacific Northwest Ballet will also teach ballet (check his Instagram Live for the next class). And you can reconnect with former Seattleite Amy O’Neal for her Rhythm Assembly hip-hop movement class, straight from Los Angeles, via Zoom (March 22 at 3 p.m. Click here for more info.) In all cases, donations are requested, and well deserved.

The creative ideas will keep coming, and arts aficionados will keep trying them out, each of us viewing from our isolation bubbles. Meanwhile, please enjoy a few of our recent stories chronicling the twists, turns and talent of the local arts and culture scene.

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in Crosscut's Arts & Culture newsletter. Not yet subscribed? Sign up, below.

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