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Exposing dance on the Eastside

By Keegan Prosser on June 12, 2013 – No Comment

Alex Wheelwright, Byanka Larkins, Ulyber Mangune and James Matthew Johnson make up the Expose the Eastside collective. COURTESY PHOTO

BY GABRIELLE NOMURA

Don’t be fooled.

Seattle may be where people go to the ballet. It may be home to modern-dance hubs, Velocity Dance Center, On the Boards theater, and hip-hopper’s studio of choice, Westlake Dance Center. But the big city is not the place to see dance.

Enter Expose the Eastside – a dance collective with a whole lot of homegrown talent. This collective aims to give emerging choreographers a chance to showcase their work on dancers from various backgrounds and abilities. Much of the group hails from Bellevue, Issaquah, Sammamish, Redmond, Kirkland, Bothell and Renton in addition to the Greater Seattle area.

The group is now gearing up for their June 16 performance at the Theatre at Meydenbauer, where audiences will be treated to high-energy contemporary ballet, jazz, hip-hop and even some African fusion.

Byanka Larkins, a choreographer and founder of the project, said it’s not just about helping young people grow as artists; it’s about helping them mature and grow, period.

“We want to expose how much talent there is among our youth who often do not have the opportunity to be recognized,” she says.

Larkins grew up dancing at Ballet Bellevue before partnering with the studio’s education and outreach division to form the Expose the Eastside project almost a year ago.

Larkins, as well as the other choreographers – Alex Wheelwright, James Matthew Johnson and Ulyber Mangune – are given support such as studio time and costumes from Ballet Bellevue to set their works on dancers who range in age from teen to early 30s,’ all with a variety of abilities and backgrounds. The goal is to create an opportunity to dance together in a fun, non-competitive environment.

The stylistic differences in the choreographers will create a show that hasn’t been done yet on the Eastside, says Wheelwright, a recent Cornish College of the Arts graduate whose pieces reflect her modern and jazz-dance background. Larkins, a ballerina at heart, contrasts her highly-technical style with hip-hop or popular music, whereas Johnson and Mangune will bring the isolations, full-bodied articulation, popping and locking one might expect to see in an MTV music video.

Most people have seen dance recitals or competitions; performance is usually what’s emphasized in a dancer’s development. A showcase of young people’s choreography, however, that’s not often done.

Especially for those trained in classical dance, one is taught to follow, not to lead – to be a puppet to a choreographer’s vision, rather than an innovator of new steps and ideas.

Of course, this isn’t the case for Larkins and her peers.

For them, dance, in all its aspects, is a way of life. This includes the art of making a dance: getting an idea or story, selecting the music, making up the moves, then teaching them.

Larkins’ ability to fearlessly put her own work on display has had a far-reaching positive impact.

“I love that some of our dancers are starting to get groups of their friends together,” Larkins says. “They’re translating ideas into dances.”

Watch Expose the Eastside in performance at 7 p.m., Sunday, June 16 at the Theatre at Meydenbauer: 11100 NE Sixth St., Bellevue. Tickets range from $13 -$16 in advance and $18 – $20 at the door. To purchase in advance, go to brownpapertickets.com/event/369681.