For those about to dance (we salute you)

Diana Cardiff has a dark side.

After graduating with a BFA from Cornish College of the Arts, the gifted modern dancer thrived in the Pat Graney Company and with Wade Madsen and Dancers. She also co-founded the d9 Dance Collective.

But a decade-plus of dancing to thought-provoking pieces and esoteric music didn't stop Cardiff from embracing spandex, pouffy wigs, lots of dramatic make-up, and yes, AC/DC.

At Velocity MainSpace Theater, which, like Cardiff, is best known for its display of contemporary dance, she co-produced this month's "Buttrock Suites III ... sweetest."

The antithesis of contemporary dance, it's hip choreography, trashy costumes and pulsating rock music all crammed into a 11/2-hour spectacle.

"Buttrock Suites III ... sweetest" premieres 10 new pieces performed by local artists trained in modern dance.

"We wanted to have fun on the stage," said co-producer Jana Hill. "The dance that I've been part of has been a lot more on the serious side. And this show seemed like a risk."

But they love it.

Like kids on a playground, the professional dancers clap and sing as they boogie across the stage rehearsing for the show, often laughing so hard they're snorting.

A glimpse of Buttrock

The modern dancers may be rockin' out, but they can't disguise their roots. Years of ballet and jazz training, along with the unmistakably studied movements of their limber, disciplined bodies set them apart from your typical MTV dancer.

Strapped in corsets and clingy white gloves, five women strike pouty-lipped Marilyn Monroe poses as they gyrate to Aldo Nova's "Fantasy." Prancing while primping, they spray Aqua Net on their 'dos to complete "the look."

These wiggling booties set the tone for the first act of "Southern Comfort," a piece from "Buttrock Suites III ... sweetest," choreographed by Hill and Matt Mulkerin.

Act II: The guys ham it up, jiving to Foreigner's "Jukebox Hero." The women giggle (they'll have to contain themselves during actual performances), egging the trio on in their zombie-like moves and really fake guitar riffs.

Jumping, twirling and spinning ladies star in the third act as "Southern Comfort" goes from sexy to playful to full-on naughty.

Like the "Buttrock Suites," it's just a tease.

The women do the can-can and shake their stuff to Mötley Crüe's "Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)."

Then Hill bares the "boob, double boob," twisting two white parasols in front of her breasts as she marches toward the audience.

Buttrock beginnings

Cardiff started this Seattle phenomenon about five years ago.

She recalls sitting in her 1971 Buick Skylark, listening to Boston, thinking, "this music is so dramatic it needs dance put to it."

Cardiff then attended a performance in which two artists — Mulkerin and Hill — choreographed a piece to Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive."

She approached them about collaboration. It helped that each of the three had a lot of experience producing shows (Hill and Mulkerin founded Rockhopper Dance), Cardiff said. "So, we decided to go for it."

"Buttrock Suites" debuted at Velocity in 2003 to packed audiences for three performances in one weekend. "On opening night the crowd started stomping on the bleachers and pulling out lighters even before the lights came up [for the first number]," Hill said.

"Buttrock Suites II ... sweeter," opened in January 2005 at Velocity. This time, with six shows on two weekends. "It was sold out every night and we had to turn people away," said Cardiff.

So, "Buttrock Suites III ... sweetest" gets even more face time: nine shows, three weekends.

Define buttrock

Although Seattle's becoming more and more familiar with "Buttrock Suites," there's still no consensus to the age-old question, "What is buttrock?"

"It's rock music that is over-the-top but it has an underlying naïve sweetness to it," Cardiff said. "It's also subjective, because everybody has their own idea of what buttrock is."

Hill agrees.

"KISS is glam rock but are they buttrock? And there's arena rock. And Styx — they just went off the deep end — they went from [buttrock] to Mr. Roboto."

"I've got two" rules, said Mulkerin of what makes something buttrock-worthy. "Wailing guitar solos and wearing more makeup than women do."

He dismisses KISS as buttrock. "They have theatrical makeup, but they did a disco album."

It's not the battle over what's buttrock that lures the crowds to these shows. Why do they flock to "Buttrock Suites"?

"It's accessible. People who don't normally come to the theater [show] up," said Cardiff. "It's rock 'n' roll. It's nostalgic."

Judy Chia Hui Hsu: 206-464-3315 or

"Buttrock Suites" dancers in rehearsal include, from left, Sara Jinks, Pam Gregory, Liz Cortez, Jana Hill and Diana Cardiff. Creator Cardiff recalls listening to Boston, thinking, "this music is so dramatic it needs dance put to it." (JIM BATES / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

Coming up

"Buttrock Suites III ... sweetest," 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday until April 23, Velocity MainSpace Theater, 915 E. Pine St., second floor, $12 in advance, $15 at the door, reservations suggested (206-722-0963, information at