Amy O’Neal is a formally trained white dancer who feels more at home with hip-hop culture and movement than with she does with Western European contemporary art.
She’s also somebody who thinks a lot about gender, race and equity issues.
Two years ago, O’Neal prodded audiences to think about those issues through the lens of an evening-length solo work she called, “The Most Innovative, Daring, and Original Piece of Dance/Performance You Will See This Decade.”
She included everything from break dancing to pole dancing to twerking to explore those traditional “sexy” dance genres, and how they defined her as an artist and a woman.
O’Neal’s choreography and her intellect have won her a solid place in Seattle’s dance community. Last year she was a finalist for The Stranger Genius award, and she’s performed and taught around the country.
Amy O’Neal’s latest dance explores gender and race from a new angle. “Opposing Forces” is a work for five acclaimed Seattle-area B-boys: Fever One, Alfredo “Free” Vergara Jr., Brysen “JustBe” Angeles, MozesLateef, and Michael O’Neal Jr. It premieres at Seattle’s On The Boards, Oct. 23-26.
O’Neal says this new dance initially came out of a desire to make a piece for male dancers. But she was also inspired by her increasing affinity for hip-hop culture.
“I had been thinking a lot about the value systems between competitive dance, commercial dance, contemporary dance,” she says. “B-boy battling and hip-hop specifically.”
The idea for a dance started to take shape when O’Neal met Brysen Angeles at The Beacon, a dance studio and school he co-founded with other members of his award-winning dance crew, Massive Monkees.
Angeles had seen one of O’Neal’s dances, and he was intrigued with her idea to create a work that would fuse hip-hop and contemporary dance styles.
“I wasn’t completely sure what it was gonna be,” he says. But he was intrigued by the questions she asked him, not just about movement but also about race and gender identity in hip-hop dance.
Angeles has danced since 1995 and has competed with Massive Monkees since the late 1990s. The crew has won international competitions; posters, trophies and plaques decorate the walls of The Beacon. In 2007, Massive Monkees was honored with the Seattle Mayor’s Arts Award.
O’Neal and the Massive Monkees had built careers as respected artists in their respective dance communities.
The thing is, those communities don’t often mix.
O’Neal’s new dance, “Opposing Forces,” will bring Angeles and his fellow B-boys into the heart of Seattle’s contemporary art scene, On the Boards.
Angeles says he’s been there once before – for a hip-hop performance intended for a hip-hop audience. This time though, he’ll be dancing in front of some of Seattle’s most insider-y art insiders. And he’s looking forward to broadening himself as a performer and a dancer.
“Getting involved with choreographers like Amy in places like On the Boards is a growing experience for myself and, I think, the other cast members,” he says.
Brysen Angeles and four fellow B-boys appear in Amy O’Neal’s “Opposing Forces” Oct. 23-26 at On The Boards.