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Just like the movies

The Lula Washington Dance Theatre visits Evergreen

The Lula Washington Dance Theatre PHOTO: Courtesy

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The Lula Washington Dance Theatre - instrumental in creating the mesmerizing movements of the blue-skinned Na'vi tribe in the film Avatar - performs Thursday in Olympia at The Evergreen State College.

Choreographer Lula Washington of Los Angeles developed the tribe's signature movements, and she and members of the company wore motion sensors so that their movements could be translated to animation.

Washington was inspired by peoples in Africa and by the Australian Aborigines. "They have a certain way of greeting each other," she says in a press release for the show. "They have a certain way of hunting. They're very, very thoughtful of the environment, and they're very spiritual. That helped to flesh out the kind of movements that I used."

"We wanted more than motion; we wanted emotion," Jon Landau, Avatar's co-producer, says in a 2010 interview with the Los Angeles Times. "Lula had the most insight into the motivation behind movement."

However, there is much more to Washington's work than that. Since founding her company and dance school in inner-city Los Angeles in 1980, the choreographer has used her work to explore social and humanitarian issues, often with a focus on African-American history and culture.

Her best-known work, "We Wore the Mask," incorporates Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem "We Wear the Mask," about African-Americans stepping into roles - and putting on happy faces - to survive. The piece is on the program for Friday, as is Washington's "Ode to the Sixties," including dances choreographed to the music of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan and the Beatles.

Washington and her company also preserve works by other African-American choreographers, including Donald McKayle. An excerpt from his 1972 "Songs of the Disinherited" is also on the program for the Evergreen performance.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre

Thursday, April 7, 8 p.m.
The Evergreen State College
2700 Evergreen Pkwy. NW, Olympia
360-867-6651 or
Tickets: $20, $15 for seniors, $10 for students
Tickets available at Rainy Day Records, the Evergreen Bookstore, the Communications Building box office, or by phone at 360.867.6833
Experimental Theater

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