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Spokane native Amanda Hulen tours with MOMIX’s nature-inspired troupe

Sun., Nov. 3, 2013

After falling in love with dance as a girl in Spokane-area studios, Amanda Hulen, 31, has performed professionally her entire adult life. But when she takes the stage Wednesday at Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, it’ll be the first time as a pro back in her hometown.

She won’t stay long. Hulen is on an eight-month tour with the MOMIX modern-dance company’s “Botanica,” traveling fast from city to city. Also on tour: Hulen’s husband and fellow “Botanica” dancer, Morgan Hulen, 32, and their 2-year-old daughter, Corinne.

The tour is an experiment and an adventure.

It’s a chance for Hulen to try a new kind of performance after 13 years in the Louisville Ballet, which she said had grown comfortable and home-like but which she left in search of a new pace and “to be pushed” as a dancer. MOMIX, which bills itself as a company of dancer-illusionists, has put on shows on five continents, its performers recently appearing in ads for Hanes and Target. Its artistic director, Moses Pendleton, emphasizes imagery and illusion along with his dancers’ athleticism.

It’s a new kind of production for Hulen, whose Louisville company was more likely to perform “Swan Lake” than a segment in which a triceratops comes to life.

It’s also an experiment in family life. A new pace Hulen got. Renting out their home in Kentucky, her family lives on tour, calling ahead to theaters to secure baby sitters for Corinne on performance nights, visiting playgrounds and zoos during off time.

After shows in Seattle and Bellingham and gathering with family and friends after arriving Tuesday in Spokane, they’ll perform Wednesday, then travel Thursday to Hamilton, Mont., where “Botanica” will take the stage Friday. On the road since September, “Botanica” toured theaters in the Midwest before launching its West Coast schedule a couple of weeks ago. The dancers will get a few days off around Thanksgiving. In December they’ll go to Germany, where they’ll perform until April.

“Morgan and I are taking this year as a family with Corinne, seeing what travel life is like, seeing how tour life works with MOMIX and ‘Botanica,’ ” Hulen said.

If it works, maybe they’ll keep going, at least until Corinne starts school.

“Or maybe by the end of the year I’ll be fed up with living out of a suitcase with a toddler,” Hulen said, laughing.

Based in Washington, Conn., MOMIX’s staged works include “Opus Cactus,” which creates images of cactuses, lizards and fire dancers of the Southwest, and “Lunar Sea,” which aims to demonstrate “what dance would look like on the moon.”

“Botanica” strives to illuminate changing imagery in nature, with some fantasy thrown in. Dancers as marigolds bloom, dancers as centaurs leap – into a sort of line dance – and a triceratops skeleton comes to life and interacts with a woman. Tall fall branches dance, finches fly and beetles run from a big slow snail.

The soundtrack – described by some reviewers as “New-Agey” – includes birdsongs, Antonio Vivaldi, Peter Gabriel and trance music.

“All your senses are engaged,” said Audrey Overstreet, marketing director for Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox and the Spokane Symphony. “It’s this riveting music, and then you’ve got the visually stunning costume changes. You’ll kind of wonder what you’re seeing – how is it possible to see things grow on stage and to see human bodies look like plants and animals? … It’s not just a dance. They bring you into a world.”

“Botanica” shares some elements with Cirque du Soleil, the popular nouveau circus troupe, Overstreet said, although without the lifts and pulleys. While “Botanica” makes use of props and technology – projections, lighting, puppetry – it does so in a traditional stage setting.

“You’re not watching special effects,” Overstreet said. “You’re watching actual, real athletes and dancers bringing you into this world with them.”

Hulen said her favorite parts are when she and Morgan dance together. She knows, with him, that she doesn’t have to worry about technique, that the lifts will work. They can concentrate on the artistic side – portraying what they’re trying to portray.

Dave Diehl, Hulen’s father, said she’s loved dancing since she started, at 3, in a “creative movement” class he and his wife, Gloria Diehl, enrolled her in “just for something to do.” As she grew older, he urged his daughter to expand her interests – softball, soccer – but she wasn’t interested.

Studying at a few studios but mostly at the Academy of Dance in Spokane Valley, his daughter was around 10 when he realized she was very serious about dance, Diehl said. She’d performed with a group of students who won a trophy to share. She wanted a trophy of her own. So she and a teacher worked to create a solo performance, and she won first place – and a trophy and $50 – at a regional dance competition in Nelson, B.C.

At 12, “she pretty much put the blinders on and said, ‘I’m going to be a professional ballerina,’ ” said Diehl, a dental technician.

It was difficult to let the Central Valley High School student leave home at 16 to finish high school at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, Diehl said. But she was self-disciplined and got good grades, he said, and he and his wife trusted her.

She spent two years at the school, dancing and studying, before graduating and joining the Louisville Ballet. She and Morgan Hulen married in 2004.

When Hulen asked her parents for advice on the MOMIX tour, Diehl said, they encouraged her to go.

“I said, ‘Wow, when are you going to get another opportunity like that?’ ” Diehl said. “ ‘Somebody’s paying you to see the world.’ ”

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