Alia Swersky is a movement artist, performer and teacher, engaged deeply in the vital act
of dance improvisation. She graduated from Cornish College of the Arts in1998 with a
BFA in dance and now teaches as part of the creative process curriculum at Cornish as an
adjunct faculty member since 2005.
She has taught at Velocity’s Strictly Seattle Festival and the Seattle Festival of Dance Improvisation (SFDI). She was a long time Co-artistic director of Dance Art Group (DAG), a non-profit organization that promotes the practice and appreciation of dance and somatic education in the Seattle area, including the Seattle Festival of Dance Improvisation. Influences and inspiration come from her many years being immersed in movement practices and performance. Specific forms include contact
improvisation, release/somatic techniques, yoga, Authentic Movement, Tuning Scores,
Aikido, Buddhist meditation, and many pivotal dance partners and teachers.
Alia danced and toured nationally and internationally as a member of the LeGendre Performance
Group. She has also collaborated and performed in the works of many Seattle artists
some of which include The Maureen Whiting Company, Khambatta Dance Company,
Jurg Koch, KT Niehoff, and Salt Horse.
Alia has been actively teaching, performing, and creating improvisational and choreographic works in Seattle since 1998.
Some of my most profound dance and performance experiences have taken place in living rooms, galleries, studios, fields, dusty parks, streets, and spaces one barely fits into. These dances have been with my children, my students, strangers, random spectators, and my long-term movement collaborators. My dancing path over the last two decades has been influenced and impacted by the realness and rawness of connection with people and places.
I think of myself as a co-creator, a ritual maker, and a “horizontal” director with those I share a space with. Essential to these visions is the fact that as a movement artist, I literally and figuratively seek to touch others through dance, somatic presence, vulnerability, and fierceness. My creative process begins with a deep inquiry into the body, asking: what is my internal landscape and how does it want to move? The inner world of the body is an entire ecosystem, and my practice is to have a deep ongoing dialogue with that unknowable “home” we carry within our bodies. The subtlety of attending to breath, the permission to be patient, and to not force yourself towards virtuosic, kick-ass dancing unless that is the truth of the body’s experience. This is the cornerstone of receiving and sharing somatic richness, stepping outside of the capitalistic constraints of productivity to be with the vast and strange wisdom below our surfaces.
I believe in embodied movement as a means towards social change and human understanding. All bodies are inherently political. As a womxn, an older dancer, a parent, queer, and an explorer of unconventional relationships and ways of living, these politics feel more at the foreground than ever. This belief is like a seed surrounded by shadows. The heart of the seed is the evolutionary wisdom of the body and its multifaceted ability to communicate. The shadow questions include, how do we gain skill in consciously communicating through the diverse ecosystem of the body? How does our body teach us about belonging, especially in rapidly changing environments and a divided culture? What history of dance are we dancing, and whose stories are missing? How do I use my somatic understanding to communicate with those who may have felt alienated by my art, my race, and my privilege?
To cast light on these shadow questions, over the last 14 years I have created and performed many iterations of a solo, “A Walk Towards the Sun…the Moon…and the Stars…” designed to be experienced by a single audience member. This solo is at the heart of all my work and something I will continue to perform so I stay connected to my own evolution and the potential transformations of those I share this performance with. The piece explores personal meaning and connection as it brings forth questions of how we reconcile our ideas of perfection with our humanity, how we allow ourselves to be seen, how we receive or reject intimacy, and what we perceive as being truly essential.
Another exploration of similar questions was a performance involving breast-feeding my infant daughter; we nursed and then I folded her body into mine and slowly rolled our bodies together as a voluptuous traverse across the stage. Much of my work touches into intimate acts that usually occur in privacy. I am curious how the private aspects of life deepen when in the context of performance.
Other aspects of my performance practices are to cultivate courageous actions that include entire audience participation, physical acts of endurance, repetition, stillness and subtlety, singing, soft energetic grace, movement explorations that range from abstraction, to caricature, and to deconstruct clichés, such as extreme high femme expressions. I’m very interested in generating detailed movement that may barely look like dance, or creating movement that transcends our ideas of dance and instead captures the idiosyncrasies of a performer, speaking to and from the historical moment we are in. Even when I make abstract movement, I am humbled by the way history enters the room; I am in conversation with history, trying to tell stories about bodies and lives and moments and experiences that upend forces that want to regulate difference. This research also lends itself to making site-specific work where I both transform the audience’s experiences of spaces and allow those spaces to transform those who perform within them.
While I have been deeply committed to living in Seattle and to this field for over 20 years, my overall feeling is one of not belonging here. I have been immersed in the community and also skirted its edges. My story is that of the failed artist, the one who didn’t live up to her potential, and this haunts me daily. This narrative of the failed, aging dancer who touches others deeply and meaningfully while doubting herself is at the core of my current work. A specific and refined aesthetic, rawness, the ability to deeply touch other people, places, and ritualized states of being, complex sexiness and shame, all this I can acknowledge, yet the quest to be healed and happy as an artist remains elusive.
I am interested in visual beauty and embodied beauty insofar as it paradoxically destroys and amplifies false ideals of beauty. It’s a practice of watching what bubbles up and always asking, who is this for? For whom is this beautiful? It’s a real feeling to stand on the precipice of an aging body and stay with this form that threatens to dispose of anyone over 35 years old. My teaching and work seek to create practices that embrace endurance--on stage and in life--and that frame endurance as acts of resistance, resilience, release, and beauty.
Photos by Jessa Carter