Amy O’Neal is a versatile dancer, performer, choreographer, and dance educator with one foot firmly planted in Hip Hop and Street Dance culture and the other in Contemporary Performance. She is passionate about the intersection of these worlds and how they connect energetically and philosophically, while honoring their cultural differences. For fifteen years, she has taught and performed throughout the US, Japan, Italy, and Mexico, and she has choreographed for stage, commercials, rock shows, galleries, dance films and music videos. Her work is an amalgam of her diverse movement and life experiences presenting social commentary with dark humor and heavy beats.
Amy’s work has been presented by On the Boards (Seattle, WA), PICA TBA Festival, (Portland, OR), Joyce Soho (NYC), Jacob’s Pillow Inside/Out (Becket, MA), Myrna Loy Center (Helena, MT), ODC (San Francisco, CA), Southern Theater (Minneapolis, MN), Project Motion (Memphis, TN), SUSHI (San Diego, CA), Okinawa Prefectural Museum (Okinawa, Japan), Northwest Film Forum (Seattle, WA), RADAR: Exchanges in Dance Film Frequencies (Vancouver, BC), Next Moment Film Festival (Tokyo, Japan), Kyoto Art Center (Kyoto, Japan), Festival Danza Sin Frontreras UNAM (Mexico City, Mexico), ProDanza Italia (Castigliencello, Italy), and Off Center Festival (Costa Mesa, CA) to name a few.
She regularly teaches Contemporary Dance and Street Dance Styles at Velocity Dance Center and House dance at The Beacon: Massive Monkees studio in Seattle. She teaches dance composition and improvisation for Seattle Theater Group’s “Dance This” program. She spent seven years developing and teaching for The Young Choreographer’s Lab and the Seattle Youth Dance Collective. She has worked extensively with musician/comedian Reggie Watts since 2002 both on stage and screen. She choreographed his Comedy Central-produced “Fuck, Shit, Stack” video and toured nationally in his show “Disinformation”. From 2000-2010, she was co-director of locust (music/dance/video) creating six evening length works and several shorter works.
Amy has been an artist in residence at Bates Dance Festival, Headlands Center for the Arts, the US/Japan Choreographer’s Exchange, and Velocity Dance Center. She is a Creative Capital, National Performance Network, National Dance Project, Mid Atlantic Arts, Foundation for Contemporary Art, and James W. Ray Project Venture Artist Trust Grantee. She is a two-time Artist Trust Fellow, DanceWEB Scholar, and two-time Stranger Genius Awards nominee with a BFA from Cornish College of the Arts. Her dance writing has been published in Dance Magazine, City Arts Magazine, and ArtDish Forum. Amy is based in Seattle, WA.
Artist Questionnaire for Double Exposure
How long have you been making your own work as a choreographer? How long have you been making work on the West Coast?
I have been making my own work since I was a kid, but professionally for 17 years. I have lived on the West Coast for almost 20 years.
What does it mean to you to be a ‘West Coast choreographer’, if anything?
There is a certain kind of freedom in being a West Coast Choreographer. I am based in Seattle, and because the scene is small but mighty, I feel I have been able to take risks and fail and try again and still be supported. It has felt at times like the wild west, like I really can do anything. On the flipside, it’s isolated. It’s challenging to get out, even though I have been able to do that consistently throughout my career, it’s not the case for everyone. Amazing artists come through Seattle, but we are still geographically isolated so the influence is very specific and less dense.
Who generally performs your work – yourself, your company, a pick-up company, other companies, etc.? How collaboratively do you work with your dancers?
I have worked on a project-to-project basis since 2010 when my former collaborative group, locust (music/dance/video), disbanded after a decade of working together. My process has always been very collaborative. I like to create specifically for who is in the work instead of imposing my own physicality on other bodies. You will see my ideas and a strong aesthetic, but it’s being translated through the history of the people I am working with. Depending on who I am working with and how much training and/or movement experience we share, there will be a mix of material I have made and material we make together, or a task I give to dancers that I direct from the outside. I have also done a lot of solo work over the past 7 years and premiered my first evening length solo in 2012.
Describe your aesthetic or choreographic style.
I am equally rooted in Street and club dance culture and Contemporary dance and performance. At the heart of my work is my first club cypher experience when I was 13. When I am improvising or creating movement from my body is a sense of weighted tension, a soft, but pointed edge, and a feminist lens. I mix my dance experiences to create a hybrid physical language unique to my body with dark humor and heavy beats. When I create on other bodies, I work to find a language that will present those performing in the best light and perhaps show a different side of who they are as artists and performers.
Who would you describe as your most important influences in the dance field? How would you define your artistic lineage, if any?
In order of my life since I was a kid: Soul Train, Janet Jackson, Alvin Ailey, Donald Byrd/The Group, Merce Cunningham, Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker, Meg Stuart, Wim Vandekeybus/Ultima Vez, Rennie Harris, Mr. Wiggles, Circle of Fire/Soulshifters Crew, Christian Rizzo, Crystal Pite, Sekou Heru. I would define my dance lineage as diverse and complex, both culturally and stylistically and I continue to add to my list of teachers and art heroes.
Where do you start with a commission like this – the relationship, an image, a piece of music, a movement phrase, etc.?
Since I had never met Wendy and Ryan until our first rehearsal, we talked a lot to get to know each other a bit and for me to understand their relationship a little more. Then we improvised around a few ideas so I could see how they move and problem solve. I initially wanted to create something with them that went deep into a specific question, because that has been my process over the past 6 years, but decided to take the opportunity to create something fun and not too heady since there wasn’t much time. Usually I do come in with a phrase to a new process, but wasn’t interested in doing that at the particular moment of making this duet. I always work really collaboratively with dancers, so in this case, I gave them a task that they had to problem solve, and I directed the result from the outside.
Have you ever previously created a work this short? How does the duration impact your decisions/process, if at all?
I have never created something this short for the stage, for video, yes. It was a challenge to just keep to one idea, but also really liberating.
Do you often create duets? How much are they a part of your larger body of work?
Duets are my favorite! I had a duet partner for 10 years in my former collective, locust. I love creating new partnering puzzles to solve and exploring relationship. Duets and solos are my most favorite things to make.
How does the duet you’ve created for Double Exposure dialogue with your other work?
The duet I made with Wendy and Ryan utilizes a method used to create duets in my latest evening length work Opposing Forces. The style of the movement is very different because Opposing Forces is danced by Bboys, but there is a similar aesthetic of weight sharing and the uncertainty of two dancers sometimes helping each other and other times hindering. I like the tension. It was really fun to translate the same ideas onto completely different bodies, with different kinds of training and history and get a completely different result, but still see the idea very clearly. Opposing Forces also explores ideas of gender binary and stereotypes associated with masculine and feminine energies. Although we didn’t get to fully explore that together in our process, there is a hint to it in the costuming choice.