January 1

Dancing into the New Year

The founder of Khambatta Dance Company discusses learnings during a pandemic, how the dance community has coped in 2020, and his advice for the artists.

In a year filled with turmoil and hard times, Cyrus Khambatta helped bring beauty to the neighborhood with “A Dance View of SLU.”

Khambatta Dance Company had just finished a presentation at the Seattle International Dance Festival’s Winter Mini Fest. According to Khambatta, the shutdowns started shortly after. It was clear KDC would not be participating in the larger 16-day Seattle International Dance Festival in June, which includes an outdoor Art on the Fly dance and music component at Denny park in SLU.

“We huddled with one of the SIDF partners, the SLU Saturday Market, to try to come up with a socially-distanced artistic solution. We pushed the date back for the event and, after much back-and-forth with the city and other SLU partners and businesses, we arrived at a solution: spotlight the artistry of Art on the Fly with outdoor SLU landmarks and hard-hit businesses.

In short, by focusing on the businesses that were still open, The Khambatta Dance Company could create a photo and video essay and dance-inspired art walk through SLU,” he said.

“A Dance View of SLU” features iconic dance imagery with KDC dancers in and around sculptural works and other landmarks all across SLU. The exhibition included a series of photos, three dance videos (including the art walk), and a microsite with a map featuring the entire project so that viewers could follow the art walk route and connect the imagery to the shooting locations of the sculptures and landmarks.

It also featured interviews with longtime SLU residents who share their knowledge and stories about the neighborhood and its history. Khambatta conducted these interviews and KDC’s managing director, Connie Villines edited them together.

Explore “Art View of SLU”, and read Khambatta’s thoughts about dance, the SLU community, and what’s next in 2021 below.

Focus on the essentials

I’ve learned to remain focused on the essential things and appreciate the community I am deeply connected to. I have seen sequential layers of cutbacks in the arts community as the pandemic deepened. This process has laid bare what was truly essential and what was, perhaps, a glorious wish list. The year brought such suffering; this suffering has guided me toward refocusing attention on what we do for each other as a community. I have learned to sustain that which bonds us together to create a sense of community.

Embracing community

I am truly, truly grateful that our community, both in SLU and beyond, has been very generous in reaching out to Khambatta Dance Company and the Seattle International Dance Festival to help us through this challenging time.

Without that generosity from our community, we would not be able to make it through this. That is not a platitude, it is a fact. The South Lake Union Chamber and other area organizations actually reached out to us to ask if we needed help before we could reach out to them. That was a real surprise to me, and it definitely gave me a new understanding of community both for myself and for our organization.

Female dancer balancing on a rail outside a mirrored building.

Male dancer leaping over streetcar tracks.

Dance in 2021

I think we’ll be seeing some thoughtful, inspiring art coming out of the pandemic. It would be an understatement to say that the arts and society has been shaken up considerably. It is difficult to say exactly what impact that will have to our psyche as individuals and as a society.

Artists have been amongst the most impacted during the pandemic. The New York Times published an article recently that stated that dancers have had the highest rate of unemployment (55%) of any of the arts, entertainment and food industry.

So, I don’t want to minimize the massive undertaking that will be required to lift the entire arts sector out of what is the equivalent of a tidal wave. Or maybe a severe drought is a better analogy.

However, the arts are a repository for humanity’s deepest introspection and self-reflective processes and experiences, so yes, I think once we dust ourselves off, we will see renewed artistic activity.

I expect some thoughtful creative activity because the souls of artists have been profoundly touched in multiple ways; also, more political engagement as the urgency of the pandemic has emphasized how important it is to make sure we take care of each other as a community.

The challenges of pivoting in a pandemic

For “Dance View of SLU,” we had to act fast! The summer was already almost over by that point, the days were already getting shorter and fall’s unpredictable weather was around the corner.

Coordination with the South Lake Union Chamber and area businesses was complex and obtaining permission to shoot  was no small feat in the middle of a pandemic. Booking one of our favorite photographers, Marcia Davis, dictated some of the scheduling. Luckily the companies we contacted for permission to shoot on their premises were very accommodating and gracious. The project come together thanks to the entire community’s effort.

Additionally, we had to follow all protocols for both photography and motion pictures and obtain permits to shoot. The need for masks meant that we had to shoot in a certain way to avoid always having masks in the shots. We hoped for this project to transcend just being used during Covid-19, and we had to make sure that all of our dancers were kept in the utmost safe conditions at all times.

The community’s response

The feedback has been wonderful from the community and the social media campaign released over the last couple months has been followed quite actively as well as picked up on by numerous SLU businesses.

This moment where we all remain isolated is in a way a good opportunity for people outside SLU to see just how much art and how many interesting environments have been designed for the pedestrian to experience. The dancers were ecstatic and loved the idea from the start. Everyone was excited to interact with sculptural works and serve the community by helping to bring attention to areas businesses that were hurting. I think there was a certain amount of pride in feeling like we could do something.

We had a little girl and her mother watch us shooting one day. And one of the dancers went up to them (6 feet away, with a mask) and the little girl said she wanted to be a dancer so the dancers talked with her for a while. She seemed tickled and her mother was delighted and thanked them all.

Compassion is key

My advice would just be that we all must try to have compassion for one another in the various challenges that we are facing. This might mean showing compassion for something as severe as food security or the pain of lost family. Or perhaps it’s showing compassion for those extroverts who are hurting from feelings of disconnection and severe anxiety. Whatever the case, my advice is to look around see the community we have and be thankful for their existence. With compassion we will get through this.

If I had one wish, it would be that through this moment of incredible challenge, we revisit gratitude for what we have now, and when it is all over, we reprioritize our values towards a more compassionate embrace of the humans, animals and planet that surround each of us. This is what I have vowed to myself, and the pandemic as horrible as it is, has helped me see that quite plainly and abundantly.

Story by Ethan Chung and photographs by Marcia Davis, courtesy Khambatta Dance Company.

At The Center

SLU is the geographical center of Seattle