Amy Seiwert On Leaving Imagery Behind and Coming Home to Smuin


by Michael Phelan

July 4, 2023—After fourteen years at the helm of Amy Seiwert's Imagery, Amy Seiwert has decided it's time to come home to Smuin. Her experience includes positions as Artistic Director of Sacramento Ballet and Artist in Residence at ODC Theater. Her choreography is in the repertory of numerous dance companies around the country. But Smuin is more like home. She performed with Smuin for nine years, eight of them with Michael Smuin, was a choreographer with that company for ten years, and has continued to choreograph works on their dancers. Now that the time has come for Imagery to end, Amy looks back on her accomplishments and forward to new and exciting goals as Associate Director of Smuin Contemporary Ballet.

Amy Seiwert
Amy Seiwert

The full-time position starts on August 1st. Amy stresses that she is ending Imagery because it's time to end it, not because she has to. The pandemic gave her time to "reflect on everything. The desire to have a little space in my life was important, and you can't do that with two full-time jobs. I want to be able to focus my energy on Smuin and on my creative work, and I felt that if I was doing Imagery, it would just pull me in so many directions."

The SKETCH series of experimental dance works is in its 13th year, having premiered 37 new works. "That's a really good run," reflects Amy. And this year, "The dancers are stunning!" she gushes, "I'm so excited by the artists." It seemed like the time for it to be the last SKETCH.

Imagery was formed in 2004 with the phonetic spelling im'ij-re, until someone pointed out that it was impossible to Google. The name Imagery was incorporated in 2011 with Amy's name added, "to put some context behind it." The company's website states, "Imagery's artists share the belief that through collaboration and experimentation, vibrant and courageous ideas can become inspiring works of art." The purpose of the SKETCH series was to, "ask established choreographers to step out of their comfort zone" says Amy, and try things they hadn't done before. From this experimental (Amy's been called a mad scientist) format, choreographers could either develop new artistic tools to move forward with or discover this was an artistic path they did not want to travel again. Either way, it was a developmental experience.

Amy considered continuing Imagery under different leadership, but after numerous discussions among the board of directors and the staff, it was agreed that this was a good time for Imagery to come to an end. "We're going out in a way that feels good," says Amy, "We're not going out because we have to, we're going out because it's the right time."

Smuin is an established culture that Amy is "very steeped in." She is very familiar with the Smuin staff and culture, having worked with Michael Smuin for eight of the nine years she danced there. A San Francisco icon established by the late Michael Smuin in 1994, the company begins celebrating their 30th anniversary beginning in September by featuring favorite works by Michael Smuin and other celebrated choreographers, including Amy Seiwert.

As Associate Artistic Director of Smuin Contemporary Ballet, Amy will collaborate with Celia Fushille, who has been Artistic Director of Smuin since 2007. "It will be interesting," muses Amy, "collaborating with Celia," whom Amy thinks has, "curated brilliantly. She's pushed the envelope a lot of times, and I think that excites some people, and it doesn't excite other people." She's worked that balancing act really well. I think I'm brought in to maybe push the envelope a little bit in other directions, but also because I understand where it's coming from, and I am never going to take it down an entirely new road." Amy has not started yet officially, but the conversations are already starting about repertory and dancers, "and a lot of the things that Imagery does that I'm so proud of."

One of these things is audio-described performances, for blind and visually impaired patrons. Started by Annika Presley, Imagery's Managing Director, Imagery has worked with Jess Curtis and Gravity Access Services, which consults on making presentations accessible. According to Amy, Imagery was the first ballet company in the Bay Area to take this approach. "I'm pretty passionate about it," she says. Smuin did their first audio-described performance last spring with Dance Series 2, and Amy plans on contributing to these efforts, such as including performances with ASL. "The potential seems exciting, and the people have been receptive."

Looking back at Imagery, what is Amy Seiwert most proud of? She thinks a moment and says,"We did some great things." Imagery performed twice at the Joyce Theater in New York, at Jacob's Pillow, did random tours in less-travelled locations, such as Walla Walla and Bozeman. "Imagery is the kind of company where on the first day of rehearsal, all the dancers come together and put the floor down because we don't have a production department." She laughs and says, "We call it team building. It's a unique situation because they're such team players." A small company half the size of Smuin, it's a very intimate rehearsal process in "an atmosphere that's pretty special," she says, "There's only eight people in the room. At the end of the SKETCH Series, we're all going to know a lot about each other."

Amy describes Smuin as a unique type of company. "Everyone is so diverse in what they can offer." There is no standardized type and look of the dancers, in which, "everyone has to have perfect feet and super extension. It's more like this person is a jumper, and this person turns really well, but only to the left, and that person is the most Gumby-beautiful, leggy thing you've ever seen. Cel (Celia Fushille) has always said it's not a cookie cutter company. She wants individuals. And that is always a really exciting palette to paint with." While she understands why sometimes there is a need for similar bodies in a company, such as in a corps de ballet doing Swan Lake, "But that's not what we do, and we're not bound by that aesthetic."

Asked if there's anything she didn't get to do or would have done differently, she replies, "I think one of the challenges has been trying to grow it. When it's smaller, it's very manageable." But it wasn't enough to be anyone's full-time, all-season job. "We never got to that point. I'm not sure we ever would have."

What is she looking forward to in her new position? "I think there's something really exciting about going to one place," she laughs. "I'm not kidding! Because sometimes it's like I teach in this studio, and I have rehearsal over here." Amy rides a bicycle around San Francisco because she has to go so many places, and "there's no parking anywhere." What really appeals to her is, "Being in one place, having that artistic home, having that deep relationship with those dancers. I already have it to a degree. Like if I look at Terez Dean, who I've been choreographing on since I joined the company fourteen years ago, to see her growth and her journey, and to be a part of that, and now I get to do it all year. Not like I made a piece for you this year, and I might get to see you again this year or maybe the year after. The arc will just be different. I'm excited for that."

SKETCH 13: Lucky runs from July 28th - 30th at B. Way Theater in San Francisco.

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