Variations on a Theme at NWNW

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Opening night of On The Board’s annual Northwest New Works Festival brought a studio theater showcase with a lot of wit, wisdom, and women with Things To Say. Three of the four pieces (by ilvs strauss, Linda Austin, and Sarah Rudinoff) were solo movement and speaking works, which made for an interesting variation on a theme—each bringing their own brand of hilarity and frankness. All three solos contained some kind of tongue and cheek presentation of stereotypical femininity, usually a variation on vouging or posturing, and each candidly addressed sex, poop, masturbation, and other similarly “unseemly” topics. The result was three honest portraits of real women.

Strauss_3
ilvs strauss
Photo by Tim Summers

In Is This Real Life, Seattle theater favorite Rudinoff monologued on identifiable topics such as procrastination, internet escapism, therapy, and online identities—interacting with her phone as it was projected for the audience to see. “I’m supposed to be meditating,” she admitted, as she scrolled through dresses online. Choreography by Wade Madsen was minimal but acted as a perfect vehicle for Rudinoff’s self-deprecating wit. What was captivating about Rudinoff’s performance was that even in a full theater, it was as if she were speaking and performing only to you.

 

In a different take on the monologue, strauss’ voice sounded only over the speakers as she interacted creatively with her own inner dialogue on sea cucumbers, creation, and deciding not to have children. Sometimes she cocked an eyebrow suspiciously at her own voice, or moved in a fluid gestural manner that initiated in one limb, rippled through the ribcage and redirected into a facial expression. The intelligent play between the visual and sound elements gave the audience a rare and intimate glimpse into the complex world of another human, all while laughing their asses off. strauss understands exactly when to keep the humor dry and subtle, and when to get carried away—taking the audience along with her. Manifesto is metaphorical, beautiful, honest, and hilarious: strauss reveals herself and it is impossible not to love her.

Linda Austin by Jeff Forbes_2
Linda Austin
Photo by Jeff Forbes

Austin’s solo, Hummingbird, was a bit more abstract and intentionally sloppy, but also addressed issues of womanhood and aging. She started flopped over a carpeted cat house as her leopard-printed stocking feet ran in place. “Go, go, go! Faster!” she intoned to herself. She moved from inane task to inane task: throwing her shoe at a target, knocking down flags with a tiny fan, repeating—and forgetting—her grocery list. Watching Austin is like watching the curious personal habits of someone who doesn’t know they are being watched. The scattered quality of the performance felt refreshingly honest, even if less neatly bundled.

 

A complete change in tone for the evening was Anna Conners’ YOURS, but don’t kiss me, a precise, rhythmic group piece for five muscular dancers in tight-fitting gray-scale fitness wear. To start they stood scattered throughout the space, staring through the audience as if catching someone’s eye on the other side.  The dancers layered in athletic movement that quickly flowed between hard and soft. Occasionally a single dancer would break out of sharp unison phrases to pause in performed-human: grazing their face with a hand or a subtle glance of uncertainty.  Lorraine Lau and Brittani Karhoff in particular stood out both for their exquisite dancing and mature presence. Then at the end of what would otherwise have been a pure dance piece, a video camera and tripod showed up, projecting a live feed of the audience that the dancers then watched. The audience broke out in goofy giggles upon seeing themselves on camera—making an awkward ending to an otherwise serious-toned piece. The concept seemed forced at best and unsupported by the choreography.

 

Northwest New Works Festival continues this weekend with a different lineup. For information and tickets, visit ontheboards.org.

 

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