2008 Spotlight Award: Zoe Scofield

Choreographer Zoe Scofield isn't afraid to dig in the dirt, creating imagery that connects with some
Brangien Davis  |   September 2008   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION

In the beginning, she was just in it for the tutu. As a young girl, choreographer Zoe Scofield coveted the scratchy pink skirt her older sister earned as a reward for completing a ballet class. She made it her mission to earn her own, and in the process learned she loved living in fantasy—even if only for the duration of a dance.
At age 29, she’s still creating fantastical opportunities for herself with radical, technically challenging modern pieces. “Originally I wanted all the dancers in a 16-foot pit, with the audience watching from steep risers above,” says Scofield of her current work-in-progress, a piece based loosely on Aeschylus’ classic Greek trilogy, The Oresteia. The niggling realities of set design (and safety concerns) have forced her to tone down this vision—but not her lifelong ambition.

After that first formative class, the Georgia native headed north to attend the prestigious Walnut Hill School for the Arts near Boston (where she practiced ballet five hours a day), and then spent a year at the Boston Conservatory. She worked with Prometheus Dance Company, also in Boston, and then with choreographer Bill James in Toronto before landing in Seattle in 2001.

Once here, she tried to join various modern dance companies with no luck, but she didn’t want to return to strict ballet. So she started her own eponymous company, which performed for the first time at On the Boards’ Northwest New Works festival in 2005 (a piece titled I Am Nothing Without You).

Scofield works with her artistic (and domestic) partner Juniper Shuey, a video installation artist who contributes ethereal projections to the work. “Everything we do is a collaboration,” she says. (Composer Morgan Henderson also collaborates on the music.) Shuey brings a gallery perspective to the work (evidenced by the stark white boxes that often serve as sets), and a theatrical sensibility, helping Scofield gauge the overall energy and progression of pieces. “He helps distill it,” Scofield says.

Since coming to Seattle, Scofield has earned tremendous acclaim. “It’s been a total explosion,” she says. She’s had pieces commissioned locally (by On the Boards and elsewhere) and she’ll tour her current work, The Devil You Know Is Better than the Devil You Don’t, across the country in 2009, including at Dance Theater Workshop in NYC.

Though friendly and quick to laugh offstage, Scofield’s choreography often has a haunted, melancholic tone—perhaps due to early struggles with alcoholism and anorexia, though she refuses to let her past addictions define her as an artist. Ideas for recent pieces have come from Lord of the Flies, obsessive-compulsive disorders, archetypical revenge stories and gang mentality. “It is definitely not a conscious choice on my part to make dark work,” says Scofield. “It’s just who I am, and the work I want and need to make.”