Dance festival widens scope

Seattle companies join 5th year of Olympia event, plus more master classes

Contributing writerFebruary 28, 2014 

For five years, the Olympia Dance Festival has brought together local dance companies and dance schools for a performance and master classes.

This weekend, the festival adds to that tradition.

Saturday’s performance will include two Seattle dance companies making their Olympia debuts: Ashani Dances, which blends modern dance and ballet with Afro-Caribbean forms, and The Stone Dance Collective, a contemporary company with dances that express emotion and include humor.

“It is in celebration of the fifth anniversary, and we also wanted to bring a new dimension to the program to complement the wonderful local groups, many of whom have been a part of the festival since day 1,” said Ken Johnson of Ballet Northwest, which presents the festival along with The Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

“The companies are in residence for the weekend, and it will be a great opportunity for our local audiences to see these two companies and for our local dancers to work with the directors first hand,” he said.

While Ashani Dances is new to Olympia, artistic director Iyun Ashani Harrison is not. For the past two years, he’s danced with Ballet Northwest, including taking the role of the prince in the company’s “Nutcracker.” Harrison also teaches at Olympia Dance Center as well as at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle.

Ashani Dances will perform “Three,” an excerpt from Harrison’s “Artifact,” a piece that Seattle Times critic Michael Upchurch described as “a joyous, sassy, intricate homage to what Harrison calls ‘the beautiful traditional dances of my childhood in Jamaica.’ ”

“The choreography is actually quite formal,” Harrison said. “It’s contemporary ballet meets Afro-Caribbean dance. It’s a hybrid, which is the style of much of my work.”

Ballet Northwest will perform another piece by Harrison, “Hush,” set to music by Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma.

“This one is a lot more balletic, but there’s always a nod to my Jamaican heritage in my work,” Harrison said. “You’ll see things that are a little bit playful.”

The festival offers dancers the chance to perform on the center’s stage and take master classes and audiences the opportunity to sample a variety of dance forms — ballet, modern, tap, jazz, Irish and swing. This year, the festival also has expanded its master class offerings to include Sunday classes that are open to the public.

Participating companies and schools are Ballet Northwest, Centralia Ballet Academy, Comerford School of Irish Dance, Debbie’s Dance Etc., Olympia Dance Center, Random Acts of Dance Collective (Radco), Slieveloughane Irish Dancers, Southwest Washington Dance Ensemble, Studio West Dance Theatre and Sunday Night Swing.

Sunday Night Swing is a past participant returning after a break. “It’s fun to see the swing group back,” Johnson said. “That brings a different and really exciting element to the program that complements the other dance forms.”

Olympia Dance Festival

What: The fifth annual festival will feature performances by 10 South Sound dance companies and schools, plus two guest companies from Seattle — Ashani Dances and The Stone Dance Collective.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

Tickets: $10

More information: 360-753-8586, or

Public master classes

What: For the first time, the festival includes master classes open to the public.

When: Sunday

Where: Black Box, The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

Cost: $10 per class

Registration: Registration in advance is required. Call 360-753-8586.

Schedule: Modern with Body Vox of Portland from noon-2 p.m., African with Manimou of Seattle from 2:15-4:15 p.m., and hip-hop with Markeith Wiley of Seattle from 4:30-6:30 p.m.

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