In Olympia, people samba down the street, tango at the fountain and do impromptu dances in the parks.
So the surprising thing about the Olympia Dance Festival isn’t that it’s happening. It’s that Sunday’s festival is the first of what is planned to be an annual event.
The festival, put on by Ballet Northwest and The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, will feature nine dance companies performing everything from ballet to belly dance.
“It’s something that a lot of people in the dance community have wanted, but no one’s ever really rolled up their sleeves and said, ‘Let’s make this happen,’ ” said Joanna Cashman, founder of Wild Grace Dance Theater, one of the participating companies. “I’m really grateful for the visibility it will give to local choreographers and dance companies.”
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The other groups participating are Debbi’s Dance Etc., Johansen Olympia Dance Center, Mas Uda Middle Eastern Dancers, Slievenloughane Irish Dancers, Southwest Washington Dance Ensemble, Studio West Dance Academy and Tribal Elements.
“We thought it would be great to have some kind of event where the whole dance community in Olympia could come together,” said Ken Johnson, who runs Ballet Northwest and Johansen Olympia Dance Center with his wife, Josie Johnson. “There’s so much great talent here in a variety of dance disciplines.
“We thought it would be neat to have all different kinds of dance groups come together and perform on the same stage and observe each other and appreciate each other,” Ken Johnson said.
Ballet Northwest also wanted to celebrate its 40th year with a big season of dance, he said. Next up: “Swan Lake” on Mother’s Day weekend in May.
Dancers from Ballet Northwest and Johansen Olympia Dance Center will perform three pieces, a light contemporary ballet number choreographed by Ken and Josie Johnson, a short tap piece, and “Iris,” a modern dance choreographed by Joanne Holbrook of South Africa.
“It’s a really interesting piece that uses three boxes on stage and a large table,” Ken Johnson said. “It is really neat to see our ballet dancers utilize set pieces like that in their dancing.”
Wild Grace, meanwhile, has two numbers. One is “Samskara,” a solo by Cashman that combines contemporary dance with yoga-based movement. It was selected by a National Dance Association jury to be performed at the association’s gala in February.
The other piece, “Here and Now,” is a group improvisation by eight core members of Wild Grace. “Since improvisation is a very important part of the contemporary dance tradition, we thought it would be good for that to be represented,” Cashman said.
Besides the performance, the event will include two master classes open only to members of the participating companies.
Johnson plans for the event to be an annual one. “We hope to build it in future years,” he said. “We want to keep everyone working together to build the dance audience here in the South Sound.”