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Tacoma’s BQDanza brings giant puppets to Art on the Fly, kicking off the Seattle International Dance Festival this weekend

Post by Rosemary Ponnekanti / The News Tribune on June 11, 2013 at 10:19 am with No Comments »
June 11, 2013 2:31 pm
A dancer in puppet costume plays with Naomi Jacobsen at a PLU rehearsal. Photo: Rosemary Ponnekanti
Avalon Ragoonannan, wearing a bride puppet, dances with Naomi Jackobson at BQ Danza’s rehearsal for Art on the Fly. Photo: Rosemary Ponnekanti


Question: Where can you see giant wearable puppets, audience-controlled marionettes, a Bollywood flash mob and national champion breakdancers all in one day?

Answer: At Art on the Fly, the free outdoor kick-off dance event for Seattle’s International Dance Festival. Art on the Fly happens from noon-9 p.m. this Saturday on Terry Avenue in South Lake Union; while the festival runs June 14-23 and involves emerging and established companies from the Northwest and around the world.

But it’s Art on the Fly, though, that involves Tacoma group BQDanza, headed up by our own choreographer Carla Barragan, who is bringing back 14-foot-high Peruvian Paway puppets in a roving performance they’ve been practicing this week on campus at Pacific Lutheran University.

“It’s improvisation…the moment it’s happening it’s just enjoyment (for the dancers),” explains Barragan, as she watches her troupe of five cavort with passers-by in the PLU courtyards. “The performers love interacting with the audience. And mostly the audiences are very respectful, and join in. The hard part is rehearsals, getting it together behind the scenes.”

Along the campus’ shady walkways, the figures stroll like a Diego Rivera painting come to life.

Dancers from BQ Danza wearing large puppet masks rehearse for Art on the Fly. Photo: Rosemary POnnekanti.
From left: Melina Sergent, Elizabeth Jackobson and Shunying Wang in puppet costume at BQ Danza’s rehearsal for Art on the Fly. Photo: Rosemary Ponnekanti

There’s a bride and groom, dressed in finery, wearing long-necked papier-maché heads through which they see via tiny mesh vents, like on a burka. They waltz gracefully, perch on a bench, peer around. Behind them a man carrying a sack steps in tai-chi slow motion, and giggling behind him are two women dressed in bright skirts and blouses. All three of them wear masks that cover their heads, masks with thick, droopy faces and comically sad expressions. As young Naomi Jacobsen (daughter to one of the dancers) wanders up arms outstretched, the bride reaches gently down and entices her into a waltz. She laughs. Meanwhile, Sack-Man and the two ladies are mock-arguing and pretending to pass out fake fruit.

“We have to get some real candy for them to hand out,” sayss Barragan, as she eyes the improvised action and takes notes.

Commissioned for the Seattle International Children’s Festival in 2003, the puppets were made by professional artists and were part of an enormous production with smaller puppets, aerial dancers and a set. Now Barragan will use them to create off-the-cuff roaming dance theater around Art on the Fly, in 20-minute segments between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Amelia Heathram, right, and Avalon Ragoonannan from BQ Danza rehearse at PLU. Photo: Rosemary POnnekanti.
Performers from BQ Danza rehearse at PLU. Photo: Rosemary POnnekanti.

Back inside the dancers take off their masks and costumes, hot and sweaty.

“I like that we have the freedom to do whatever we want,” says Melina Sergent, who plays Sack-Man.

“Anything goes,” Barragan says.

During the festival Barragan will also be directing her troupe of student dancers from Elk Plain School of Choice.

The rest of Art on the Fly is designed to be equally amazing and ad-lib. Free, kid-friendly and interactive surprise dance performances will take over the streets around the South Lake Union area, including acts like Seattle’s national breakdance champions The Massive Monkees, Kokoro Dance from Canada, Idan Cohen from Israel, slo-mo shopping geishas and more, plus a flash mob dancing Bollywood (Indian movie) style. All-ages dance classes include ballet, salsa, zumbatonic, Bollywood, yoga and hip hop; indie rock bands include Shenandoah Davis, No Cloads and Exohxo. There’s a beer garden and kids’ activities.

At 4:30 p.m. eight finalists will compete in the finals of “Dancing with the Seattlites,” with audience voting; and from 6-9 p.m. you can join in a dusk dance party at Van Vorst Plaza hosted by KEXP’s Latin DJ Will “Chilly” Myers.

Art on the Fly happens noon-9 p.m. on Terry Avenue between Republican and Thomas Streets (2200 Westlake Ave.), Seattle. Free. seattleidf.org

The festival continues for the next 10 days with indoor performances each evening at Raisbeck Hall (2015 Boren Ave., Seattle) by Idan Cohen, Kokoro, Wuza Wuz from Ghana, Experimentus from Brazil and Northwest companies like Tere Methern Dance, Khambatta Dance(which organizes the festival) and Dancing People Company. For more information see seattleidf.org or call 800-838-3006.

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