Freedom and Precision

The weekend offers kids in spats and Euros ad-libbing.


Velocity MainSpace Theater, 915 E. Pine, 2nd floor, 329-6999, $12-$14 8 p.m. Fri., June 28-Sat., June 29


Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine, 292-ARTS. $7-$12 7 p.m. Sat., June 29

Improvisation as performance is risky business, capable of transcendent moments and total failure. It takes a certain kind of courage to persevere in that world, and Katie Duck has that quality in abundance. She's been making it up as she goes along for nearly 30 years, performing across Europe and the U.S., solo and with an illustrious complement of collaborators. She's in Seattle with MAGPIE, a loose-knit ensemble of dancers and musicians based in Amsterdam that includes drummer Han Bennink, violinist Mary Oliver, lighting designer Ellen Knopps, and dancers Michael Schumacher and Vincent Cacialonos.

Their performances can be sensual or cool, densely packed or elegantly spare, but the unifying thread is their connection to each other and to their audience. The dance isn't presented in a neatly tied-up package. Instead, the audience becomes a part of the creative ensemble, bringing their curiosity to the theater, willing to enter into the process and figure things out as they go.

MAGPIE is being presented in Seattle by lingo dancetheater, and director KT Niehoff will be performing with the group. Her enthusiasm for MAGPIE started with a 1999 encounter at the Washington, D.C., Improvisation Festival. "They are insane—really damned good. They really engage the audience, read the audience. MAGPIE is a roving group of merrymakers."

Also on Saturday night is the youth dance performance DANCE this . . . , an annual event produced by the Seattle Theatre Group (which runs the Paramount and the Moore). The program's aim is to make connections between different cultures through their dance styles and to get kids into the theater, as performers and as audience members. This year's edition includes the Filipiniana Cultural Group, the swing-dance troupe Happy Feet, hip-hop breakdancers Turf, and the Sweet Mahogany Drill Team.

We usually only see the Sweet Mahogany Drill Team, made up of Central District girls, in passing, as they march on the local parade circuit. The way they combine the smooth precision of traditional drill and the rhythmic swing of step dancing is hypnotizing, and their mastery of the drop-dead stare and percussive stride should pin the audience to their seats. Traditional drill sequences are descended from military maneuvers, and there is a faint sensation of menace in the sound of their boots hammering the floor. But the shifting arrangement of their floor plans lightens the message, making them look like a kaleidoscope or some other children's toy, bright bits of glass shuffling through an infinite variety of patterns.

Hep Jen and the Happy Feet will use the floor in a different way, almost like a trampoline, as they bounce and soar through the Lindy Hop. One of the original members of the Century Ballroom's "Swing This" ensemble and a student of the legendary Frankie Manning, Jen teaches throughout the area and has become a local authority on swing. The athletic dance style of the '30s and '40s has been enjoying a renaissance, and ensembles like the Happy Feet connect young dancers with the originators of the form, in some cases their own grandparents. It should be a fantastic evening.

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