Editor’s Notebook: Bruce Lee and the art of flow

Plus: Dancing the debate away.

Whim W'Him dancer Mia Monteabaro undulates underneath I-5 in the new dance film "The Way it Is," choreographed by Olivier Wevers. (Whim W'Him)

This week’s unsavory presidential debate demanded a powerful palate cleanser. In my case, it came in the form of dancers with houseplants on their heads. For a blessed 10 minutes, I was mentally whisked away to a roomy white-walled apartment on Capitol Hill, where members of local company Whim W’Him scampered across furniture and scuttled through hallways, all while sporting fabulous frond-covered headpieces.

“Grassville” (choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa) is one of several new short dance films by Whim W’Him, which like all performance groups has had to make a serious pivot this year. After the cancellation of its stage shows, the company is creating beautifully produced films — all made in accordance with distancing guidelines — with dancer/filmmaker Quinn Wharton (known on YouTube for recreating movie scenes alone in his Brooklyn apartment, including Dirty Dancing with a lamp).

Whim W’Him founder Olivier Wevers told me the company had to completely rethink the way it approaches dance to reorient the focus from the proscenium to the camera lens. “We needed to go further, challenge ourselves out of our comfort zone,” he said. “By doing so it opened the door to many different possibilities that are not possible on stage.”

Rather than video recordings made as an afterthought to choreography, these films consider both art forms from the start. (You can watch them online with several payment options.) Wharton keeps the viewing experience crackling by moving with the dancers as he films. Locations play a starring role, whether under Interstate 5, along the Washington coast or inside an empty performance hall. The result is intimate and affecting.

In “Elsewhere” the dancers appear in some dystopian future, their heads encased in disturbing black-fabric tubes. For a moment, maybe only mentally, they escape to the beach and do somersaults on wet sand. It’s a good reminder during these fraught days to take a breath, dance around the block, put a houseplant on your head.

Bruce Lee's daughter Shannon Lee has written a new book sharing his philosophy. (Flatiron Books)

In trying not to let (so much everything!) overwhelm us, perhaps we should take Bruce Lee’s wise counsel: “Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water.” The martial arts legend (whom Seattleites proudly claim as a former son) taught himself when to flow past — and when to crash against — the untold obstacles he faced as an Asian American in 1970s Hollywood.

This month, daughter Shannon Lee releases a new book, Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee, in which she lays out her father’s guiding philosophy. In sharing his principles for self-actualization, she hopes readers can use them to become more fluid and in touch with their own flow. (No promises about improving your roundhouse kick.) She’ll talk about the book during an online streaming event with Elliott Bay Book Company (Oct. 6, 6 p.m. $10 admission; $35 with book).

And speaking of homages to Bruce Lee: The Paper Tigers, a Seattle-made kung fu comedy filmed across the Puget Sound, has been getting great reviews in the festival circuit, and just got picked up for distribution by Well Go USA Entertainment. It’s now slated for a theatrical run in spring 2021.

"Monument," a new painting by Seattle artist Cable Griffith. (Linda Hodges Gallery)

All right. So we have two more presidential “debates” coming up, and an election in 33 days. As Bruce Lee advised, when we can’t control external circumstances, we can still choose how we respond to them. While it would be irresponsible to choose to wait this out under a rock (much as we might like to), we must also take mind-clearing breaks from the incessant news cycle.

Can you guess what I’m going to suggest? Take in some art. Galleries are open and eager for visitors, no purchase necessary. Immerse yourself in lush green paintings at Linda Hodges Gallery, courtesy of Seattle artists Kimberly Trowbridge and Cable Griffith (up through Oct. 31). The former shares work from her residency at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, landscapes of deep emerald, dark gray and lime splashes. Griffith’s new body of fantastical work resembles forests as they might exist on some sister planet, recognizably leafy but with a humorous glint (kind of like a houseplant headpiece).

Or head to Traver Gallery, where the new show, Bigs and Smalls, features 20 pieces of glowing neon sculpture by 10 artists (each of whom contributed one large and one small work). Curated by local glass artist Jen Elek, the exhibit exemplifies new trends in neon art — taking it well beyond business signage and into abstract art. (Seattle’s own Western Neon School of Art is helping to boost that trend.)

The works are a mix of linear and curvy, monochrome and multihued, meditative and particularly timely — such as “Neon Wallpaper #1,” by local artist Megan Stelljes, in which everything is quite literally bananas. Step into the light. Consider the neon gas moving effortlessly through the glass tubes. Perhaps it will give you a momentary glow, perhaps it will spark a new mode of flow.

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