"Imagine beautiful dancers, smartly dressed in grey and purple moving to a luscious score by an all-cello ensemble. They follow its musical blueprint: sometimes soft and sentimental, sometimes impassioned and driving. The dancers are people, not abstract entities. Their vulnerability, expressiveness, and on-stage relationships may reflect that which you know or have known...feel or have felt. The magical result? You may lose yourself in their journey as if it were your own." —Emily Schoen Branch, OBT's "DEBUTS"

Historic, 50,000-sq.-ft., 700-seat Edmonds Center for the Arts (ECA) has been inviting the best of the best onstage since opening to the public in 2006. Sitting high on a hill at 410 4th Ave. N., ECA gleams, a beckoning jewel in Edmonds’ crown.

The former 1909 high school — Edmonds’ first — underwent many changes to get there, including an $18 million renovation by LMN Architects Seattle in 2005-2006, with acoustics provided by Jaffe Holden.

Ever since that 2006 opening (Grammy-winning Americana/chamber musicians, Eric Tingstad and Nancy Rumbel were the featured act), ECA’s become the go-to for all kinds of artists — headliners, local heroes, and promising new voices — and their varied, storied productions.

Spoken Word, jazz, folk, rock, Hawaiian, country, Russian techno-EDM, Celtic, comedy, dance…moving, thought-provoking, original, outlandish, entertaining performances are always welcome here.

You’ll never know who’s up next. It could be Grammy-winning folk icon Judy Collins, or her modern counterpart Joan Osborne. Ukulele phenomenon and frequent flier Jake Shimabukuro. One of Rolling Stone’s — and Edmonds’ — “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” Grammy-nominated Richard Thompson. International Guitar Night, featuring an entire group of outstanding string masters in one sitting, put on every year.

Performers come from far and wide, just to touch ECA audiences.

Besides special engagements and ECA presentations, the venue hosts children’s shows and matinees, a Music on Film Series, and education & outreach programs. Fundraising groups and newcomers looking for the next big play can host events too.

Upcoming performances for the 16th season include an exciting new production from the Olympic Ballet Theatre called “DEBUTS,” Feb. 12, 7 p.m., and Feb. 13, 5 p.m.; Judy Collins, Feb. 23; Cascade Symphony Orchestra’s “Return to Life,” March 7; Masters of Hawaiian Music — slack key guitarist George Kahumoku, Sonny Lim, and Jeff Peterson, March 26; Jacob Jonas The Company dance, May 7; Brubeck Brothers Quartet, May 20; and The Temptations, June 8.

OBT’s “DEBUTS” production features new dances by thought-provoking contemporary choreographers Emily Schoen Branch — “She travels softly (through midday light),” accompanied by the Portland Cello Project; Price Suddarth — “Borderland,” with music by J.S. Bach; and Norbert De La Cruz III — “Until the Mermaid Drags You Under,” music by Ben Salisbury, Peter Gregson, Ichiko Aoba, Abel Korzeniowski, Shigeru Umebayashi, and Matthew D. Morgan.

"With Borderland, I took the classical ballet roots deeply engrained in us for years and stretched it to each individual dancers’ maximum. Each line, each lift, each arm, each slide — I wanted it to go further. I wanted to strip the dance of the expected connotations of ballet — the tutus, the classical port de bras, the controlled nature — and magnify instead the extreme nature it simultaneously holds — the athleticism, the adrenaline, the uncontainable moments." —Price Suddarth

“‘DEBUTS’ is a new addition to the OBT’s season, and we are thrilled to present three new ballets by talented choreographers,” artistic directors Mara Vinson and Oleg Gorboulev shared in a recent press release. “We were planning to launch ‘DEBUTS’ last season, but the pandemic forced us, like other performing arts organizations, to cancel the whole season of live productions. Now, more than ever, we are excited to collaborate with these diverse choreographers, who are bringing original ideas and introducing new movements to our company dancers and our audiences. This production is a celebration of contemporary ballet, featuring the creative works of choreographers and musicians from the Pacific Northwest and New York.”

“She travels softly…” premieres at ECA this Feb. 12. “Riding on musical waves by the acclaimed regional group Portland Cello Project, unacquainted individuals find that their ethos align. Through camaraderie and with elegance, they voyage to a shared destination [choreographer’s notes].”

“Borderland” premiered on June 13, 2014 at the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Next Step Performance.” “Borderland: the state of being where the mind is caught between two realms — awake and asleep. The ballet opens with four dancers emerging out of the darkness as if in a dream. Following the unpredictable path of this dream, they travel back and forth between hauntingly silent tranquility and explosively manic tension. The work invites the viewer to remove themselves from the predictable and immerse themselves instead into this rapidly changing experience [choreographer’s notes].”

“Until the Mermaid Drags You Under” premiered on May 22, 2021, as an OBT digital fundraiser release. “I am interested in creating a ballet that explores the relationships we have with our interiority: our dreams, nightmares, our monsters, and our fantasies. I want to see how our relationships with one another transform in a time of endless uncertainty and how we escape and return to our normalcy. I have had vivid dreams of sirens dragging me under into the deep blue ocean, questioning whether or not they will save me or destroy me. What is it about this underworld that calls me? Gasping for air, unable to breathe — the water is both a symbol of our fear and freedom.  I am examining the relationship to these hauntingly beautiful nightmares to the fear and liberty we hold as a culture.  Using the mermaid as symbolism for our desires, destructions, beauty, secrets, and repression, I ask the dancers to co-create this work with me as a personal and contemplative reflection of self-transformation and to embody what remains in our internal emotional landscape [choreographer’s notes].”

Award-winning Juilliard instructor De La Cruz III will give a masterclass Feb. 5, 2 p.m.-3:15 p.m., ahead of the performances. The masterclass is open to dancers 11 and older.

Feature photo: Anisa Sinteral, Mara Vinson, and Rowan Catel in rehearsal for “Until the Mermaid Drags You Under”
Additional images: Taylor Lim in “Cello Concerto,” Into Dust Photography; Emily Schoen Branch, choreographer of “She travels softly (through midday light),” photo by Mike Esperanza; Norbert De La Cruz III, choreographer of “Until the Mermaid Drags You Under,” photo by Rebecca Marcela Oviatt; Price Suddarth, choreographer of Borderland