12 Minutes Max at On the Boards is one of the treasures of the Seattle performance scene. By removing the high stakes and risk for an artist of producing a full evening of work, it gives artists a welcome freedom. Established artists can experiment with something new, and emerging artists can start developing their material. And since the categories under which one can audition are “dance – theater – performance art – music – written word – other”, the audience is usually treated to a juxtaposition of performances rarely seen elsewhere.
12MM started its 2013-2014 season off excellently with a strong and varied program. Of the six works presented, there were three that fell more towards the dance end of the spectrum: For Lulu, choreographed and performed by Bob Eisen; Gömük, choreographed and performed by Hallie Scott; and Manifesto, written and performed by ilvs strauss.
Bob Eisen is a striking performer. He is tall, with a movement quality, long limbs, and curly hair, that combined bring Merce Cunningham to mind. He is also in his mid-sixties, and his grey hair stood out on a program (and in a field) that is otherwise aggressively young. Just as his age transgressed established norms, so did his performance. The house lights went out before his solo, then came right back on as the stage lights revealed him, and stayed on the entire dance. The lighting felt like a way of confronting the audience in its act of watching and being surprised or curious or worried or skeptical of the unexpected performer. As he danced to Dragon, by Lou Reed and Metallica, sometimes he seemed to ignore the anger and pain of the music, showing off the elegant lines of his body. Other times he lip-synched to it, or contorted his face into deliberate grotesqueries that seemed to reflect it. His movement went from technical modern dance phrases à la Cunningham to pedestrian walks and gestures. From a dance sequence accomplished with aplomb, he went into a deep lunge and stayed there until his legs were quivering and his face contorting with the effort of holding the simple pose for so long. He yelled the last couple lyrics along with the music, then subsided into an unexpected stillness. The stillness went from theatrical to fatigued, and he slowly slumped like he couldn’t hold himself up any more, falling forward into a headstand he maintained with ease. He launched into a final agitated synopsis of movement, until without ceremony his movement carried himself right off the stage.
Hallie Scott’s performance in Gömük felt like a glimpse of a larger work, leaving the viewer intrigued to see more. The haunting strains of the opening of Glück’s Orfeo ed Euridice played, as the lights came up on her standing calmly. A brief gestural phrase ended with her hands over her eyes, and when they moved away, her eyes were closed. Her eyes remained closed as she filled the space with sweeping movement, or transfixed herself in stillness. She displayed a wonderful gestural ability to alter minutely the muscular tension in her arms and body, completely changing the impact of her shape without actually changing her position. Her grounded, smooth dancing would be commendable in any normal circumstance; with her eyes closed, these qualities were a technical tour de force. After demonstrating her smoothness and control, it was then especially striking at one point to see a gesture accelerate until it was transformed into a violent shaking and thrashing. Also memorable was the impact of repeatedly reaching out to someone/something with her eyes closed, a poignant juxtaposition to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice referenced by the music. At the very end, she moved swiftly downstage, almost into the audience’s lap. As her arms opened, so did her eyes; the blackout and the audience’s gasp were simultaneous.
Manifesto’s description states “What started off as a piece about sea cucumbers has now morphed into a reflection on womanhood.” And in a delightful, thoughtful, and hilarious way, ilvs strauss delivered just that. She started in a tie and three-piece suit, sans jacket, trying to be the picture of feminine wiles. Her music disappeared, the lights faded out, and she stood there in awkward despair, only to get another chance, seated on the floor, an anticipatory drumbeat leading to her triumphantly opening her legs on the cymbal crash. Until the cymbal didn’t crash. Her confused, disappointed glance down at her crotch to see if all was ok was a moment of comedic brilliant subtlety. Then a recorded monologue started, indeed segueing her fascination with sea cucumbers into ruminations on womanhood. Her movements were small, gestural, mostly standing in place, but with a fabulous specificity and expressiveness to them. For the most part, she did not act out the monologue directly, but captured its mood and amplified it with wry glances, communicating volumes with just a cheek muscle’s twitch. The monologue linked the female ability to create life with the general urge to create, concluding that since she didn’t plan to have kids, “I have to make something.” Whereupon she exited, and various articles of her clothing were thrown back on stage. She reemerged in a giant, red, spiky, ridiculous sea cucumber costume; the look of satisfaction on her face as we heard “I made this costume” sent the audience into hysterics. The disco lights started, and she concluded with perhaps the world’s first sea cucumber dance party.
The entire evening was rich. It is a little disingenuous not to discuss the theater-based pieces on the program also: Communion, created and performed by Erin Pike; Southern Comfort, created and performed by John Pyburn; and The Birds Flew In, performed by Gin Hammond, written by Yussef El Guindi, and directed by Sean Ryan. Their juxtaposition with the dance pieces enhanced the evening. The dance works brought attention to the expressive movement qualities of the theater works, and the presence of the spoken word highlighted the communicative ability of the human body in dance. Indeed, it is oversimplification to draw the genre lines so, as it obscures the dance-like specificity of Pyburn’s movement in his monologue, and the brilliant theatrical sense in strauss’s movements. On the Boards and the performers are to be commended for a brilliant start to the 12MM season.