Neurosis, Flowers, and Unrestrained Bodies: NWNW Studio Showcase

Written by Kaitlin McCarthy

 Flee on Your Donkey by zoe | juniper and the feath3r theory
Photo by Tim Summers

NW New Works brought Seattlea second weekend of exciting new choreography from the Pacific Northwest. Friday’s opening of this weekend’s Studio Showcase boasted sold out crowds, and the lucky few who were able to grab a seat in On the Boards’ intimate studio theater were treated to a fantastic lineup.

Beginning the show was Timing and Stain created and performed by Erin Pike and choreographed by Ellie Sandstrom. The audience was immediately drawn into the set upon entering the theater: a wall of boxes, a table, chair, flower and vase, all squeezed onto a small square mat. The set was white and entirely covered with black squiggly marks. Suspended from the ceiling around the set were dozens of white kitchen clocks, all synchronized down to the second. As the piece began, a voice from overhead announced, “You have thirteen minutes.” Pike emerged from the box wall, and embarked on the seemingly simple concept of the piece: to clean the black marks off every inch of the set. Her performance was sober, but kept the audience intrigued in her every move as the overhead voice counted down the minutes. Small surprises along the way elicited laughs from the audience—scrubbing in unexpected places and cleaning products emerging from the box wall—but the mood turned serious as the allotted thirteen minutes came to a close and the desperation of Pike’s character became clear. Her neurosis continued even after the time ended, beautifully portraying the constant struggle of obsessive-compulsive sufferers.

Belly by Maureen Whiting and Ezra Dickinson
Photo by Tim Summers
The second work of the evening, Belly, choreographed and performed by Maureen Whiting in collaboration with Ezra Dickinson, opened on the two dressed in caveman-like fur diapers, with Dickinsonalso in an elaborate dress shirt covered in fabric cups each holding an orange flower. The costumes, by Danii Blackwell and Jean Hicks, immediately drew the audience into the strange world that continued to develop through the choreography. The movement was unabashed—lifting their shirts to show their bellies, and slapping their thighs. There was a primitiveness to the duet as if the movement had been generated before there was a ‘proper’ or ‘correct’ way to move. Evocative of Adam and Eve before the apple, a capricious non-verbal relationship developed over the course of the piece. Raw, funny, sexual, and innocent, the Maureen Whiting Company has put human nature on display with all culture stripped away. It was a magnificent and unique piece, expertly constructed and delightfully performed.

After intermission was Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s Song of the Dodo, directed by Jacob Coleman and performed by Amber Whitehall, Rebecca Tobin, and Paige McKinney. The three women walked onto the dark stage and began humming together. The hum grew louder and more intense before it suddenly transitioned. Bright lights, direct audience engagement, and elevator music á la “Girl from Ipanema” changed the mood entirely. Each woman created a very specific character—one a therapist (with some strange movement ticks) who poses questions about death to the other two. Another talked about her drinking habits with a well-tuned forced nonchalance. The third, hunched over and anxious, struck a perfect comedic balance to the other two. The performers developed their character as they switched several times between the dark internal place and the bright public one, each time revealing more of their neurosis. The three women gave incredibly authentic performances and the piece was very well constructed through both spoken word and physicality.

zoe | juniper and the feath3r theory collaborated on the closing number for the night, Flee on Your Donkey. The duet between Zoe Scofield and Raja Feather Kelly began with balletic partnering work that evolved into an abstract journey together around the rose petal-laden stage. Two plaster casts of the dancer’s bodies created an interesting contrast to the fluid and hyper-mobile dancing, while a shiny material on the floor reflected beautiful light patterns on the back wall. The relationship in the duet teetered between abusive and caring. At one point Kelly manipulated a pliant Scofield into position behind her plaster counterpart, placing flowers on her body with his mouth. Scofield’s feeble and almost drunken escape attempts were easily thwarted.  Later she became the one manipulating, propping herself up on him against the back wall, forcing him to be her base as she made her way across the back of the space. The manipulation culminated with the striking image of Kelly changing Scofield’s clothes while keeping her suspended the entire time, having to balance her creatively on his body. The two then returned to the original partnering material, which seemed a bit anti-climactic after everything that happened between the two. There were many elements at play here, including an arbitrary recording of conversation about Walt Whitman and Anne Sexton, and the audience was not let in on the logic of the work, or how these pieces fit together. Though the piece had a certain exquisiteness that was wonderful to watch, it left the audience unsure of what to feel.