Land Use and Dance: Make Me Feel Weird

CollisionTwo things happened yesterday that point where we can go as a city when it comes to growth. The first, in the middle of the day, was a public scourging of a housing type, small, affordable apartments. Erica Barnett wrote the defining post about the mob facilitated by the Seattle City Council’s Tom Rasmussen, who played the role of the Red Queen

One woman testified that aPodments would quickly be overrun by mold, “meth addicts,” “wild parties,” people with “mental illness,” and men who will terrorize “our daughters.” (Then, in a classic case of concern trolling, she worried that microhousing residents wouldn’t be able to cook decent food, because they’d have filthy shared kitchens and in-unit microwaves that wouldn’t “even be big enough for a Hungry Man dinner.”)

This orgy of fear and hate toward a type of housing was, of course, about our city’s fear of new people, fear of intimacy, and, in the, end our resistance to love our neighbor as ourselves, no matter what kind of house or apartment they live in.

Later that evening something else happened; a performance of Collision Theory: The Finale, created by local genius KT Niehoff. To call what Niehoff creates dance may be limiting, but it is dance at it’s core. I had the opportunity to work with Niehoff several years ago when my King County program sponsored Inhabit, an earlier innovation by Niehoff.

If the angry mob assembled at City Hall is where our city might go when it comes to growth, Niehoff points us in another direction; intimacy, acceptance, and transgression of boundaries.

True to the spirit of Inhabit, the dancers in Collision Theory move about the audience, interact with them, talking and touching them, and even handing them things. There is narrative, but it pairs so beautifully with the space and the movement that it is almost liturgical in form. It’s like Eucharist, except that I was eating the bodies of the dancers with my eyes.

And the dancers dance but they also tell stories. Molly Sides moves and tells a story about a teenage experience with a pink back pack full of Bud Light. Meanwhile, dancers occupy creaky table like stages that make you sweat, worried someone might fall. I saw one woman reach out as if to stabilize one of the dancers hanging, dangerously, off the edge. Sides piece in particular made me think, “if this could be squished into a pill the size of an ibuprofen, I’d swallow ten.” It’s that good.

The intimacy achieved by Niehoff’s work is a powerful expression of hope in human beings, in their ability to learn and love one another by connecting physically and sharing stories. It is, simply put, the antithesis of where our public process around land use is going, down a path of tapping in to the worst aspects of human experience, fear and loathing of other people.

Our city and our City Council ought to be embarrassed at what transpired at their gathering yesterday. And they ought to get on the phone and call KT Niehoff (I understand she’s closing her company) and ask her to take over all the public process for land use in our city going forward. It would be weird, but we might learn to fall in love with each other and and all those new people coming to Seattle who will need a place to live in the years ahead.

Performances of Collision Theory: The Finale continue at On The Boards through the 21st. Go. 

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