Humor and Horror at Next Fest NW 2014

Posted by

Seattle is a city of innovation and exploration—a theme tested in many of the new works presented at Velocity Dance Center’s Next Fest NW this year. Many look to Next Fest as a sign of what’s to come in Seattle, although it is hard to hold it as the gold standard considering the number of festivals in town that focus on new talent and new ideas in progress. This year, however, the festival’s theme was the “New West” and the region’s environment for creation, so it could more feasibly be examined as a harbinger of what our city is ready to produce.

Kim Lusk's The Full Bounty Photo by Tim Summers
Kim Lusk’s The Full Bounty
Photo by Tim Summers

The show opened on Kim Lusk’s The Full Bounty, inspired by the “and” culture of the west coast dance world, which demands a little bit of everything from its dancers. The first glimpse revealed Lusk cowering in a spotlight as a sinister chant of “Carrie! Carrie! Carrie!” kicked off Ryan Hume’s sound design. Though interesting, this section and a few other moments scattered throughout the dance seemed completely disconnected from the rest of the piece which carried a sense of playfulness with fun technical phrasing accompanied by Hume’s electronic pop. Between the pure dance sections and unexplained bits of pathos, there was room for growth. Still, Lusk proved that risk-taking dance can profit from going back to basics.

unnamed-4
Mariah Martens and Alexandra Maricich’s Ask Me About My Ass
Photo by Tim Summers

With Ask Me About My Ass, Mariah Martens and Alexandra Maricich zoomed into new concert dance territory, performing on roller blades in a piece that landed somewhere in the Venn diagram of post-modern philosophy, roller derby, and pornography. With the mirror on the upstage wall exposed, Ask Me started off with a graphic display of intimacy. Dressed in grey underwear, loose tank tops, and roller blades, the performers embraced—pulling at each other’s clothes, peeking curiously into their necklines and waistbands. It stopped short of voyeurism, but also just shy of authenticity. Later, they picked up speed, turning the stage into a roller rink and flipping the audience reckless glimpses of boob, ass cheek, or obscene gesture. In the most exquisite portion of the piece, the duo stripped of their tops entirely and stood facing the mirror (effectively obscuring their breasts). Their backs rippled and shoulders shrugged as one inched away across the stage. From the brusque spectacles to the moments of sensitivity, Ask Me explored and celebrated female physicality and psyche.

Colleen McNeary's Mistake #1 Photo by Tim Summers
Colleen McNeary’s Mistake #1
Photo by Tim Summers

Colleen McNeary’s Mistake #1 didn’t reach the bar set by the first two pieces or that of her personal mission to create new female archetypes for the modern world. It started on a strong note: a brilliant characterization of a schizophrenic in a bright yellow jumpsuit by Marlys Yvonne. Muddled whispers manifested as pained tics, and when the voices focused into a conversation, Yvonne’s movements developed into recognizable dance. This pattern of character development could have gone a lot further, so McNeary’s entrance as an uptight neurotic bent on putting the “crazy” woman back in line felt like “mistake #1.” The piece struggled to identify a relationship between the two women and their confusing interaction at the end of the piece drew laughs from the audience by virtue of being completely baffling.

In reference to his piece Atemwende, Choreographer Carl Lawrence wrote, “The shades of grey that run between life and death, creation and destruction, beginnings and endings; this is the place in which my generation can be found grasping and groping beneath the night sky left only with transgression and tragedy as our guiding lights.” The word atemwende is a German phrase meaning “turning of the breath”, coined by German poet Paul Celan. Atemwende may be the most terrifying performance piece to grace Velocity’s stage. In darkness, seven shadowy forms lined the edges of the stage. Viewers felt the deep, pulsing bass line as more a vibration than a sound. Throughout the piece, Cameron Armstrong’s sound design was crucial in making the experience real for the audience. A dancer in a green and blue horned owl hat moved forward onto a crisply lit while circle—the hat unnervingly out of place. As the dance progressed, the remaining six dancers framed an environment of ritual sacrifice. Two figures in white robes smeared his face in a bowl of blood-like paint leaving him, dripping, as they slowly moved toward the audience. Meanwhile, in the red wash of lights forming the outer circle of the stage, two bare chested men framed the back of the stage with graceful and shuddering choreography, and two actors in black street clothes shook and shouted incomprehensible monologues. While the title Atemwende implied a highly cerebral process in the development of the piece, the final product succeeded as an appeal to primal emotion rather than an intellectual statement.

unnamed
Ariana Bird’s Remedies for Aching Bones
Photo by Tim Summers

Ariana Bird’s Remedies for Aching Bones kicked off the second act with an eerie and lavish world of sequins, painted horse figurines, knickknacks, and kimono-like robes. Three women lounged in front of a mirrored vanity table, dressed in outlandish getups (think fur and lingerie covered in large pom-poms) and overdone make-up, gold legs, and platinum blonde bobs. Each dancer took her turn at the front of the stage, displaying sultry strength in mesmerizing and creepily unnatural movements, emphasized by Andrew Powell’s sound design. Remedies was like Mean Girls with washed-up alien divas. Unlike Ask Me, Bird’s exploration of the feminine seemed to point toward unease with objectification and the feminine capacity for destruction.

Luke Gutgsell's First Take Photo by Tim Summers
Luke Gutgsell’s First Take
Photo by Tim Summers

In First Take, Luke Gutgsell explored a sweet and lighthearted gentleness that, like all pieces of humanity, had a discordant side. The piece combined Gutgsell beautiful lines and strong dance technique with Fatha Green’s acoustic music and honey-like voice. The differences between their artistic languages as dancer and musician illustrated the universal difficulty of communication between two people not on the same page. While their relationship was caring, it was also inadvertently hurtful. With the work’s environment, Gutgsell successfully captured the laid-back vibes of the region; a factor that often has a big impact on the art created on the West Coast.

Anna Conner's Surrounded and Static Photo by Tim Summers
Anna Conner’s Surrounded and Static
Photo by Tim Summers

Anna Conner’s Surrounded and Static made a foray into isolation and confusion in the noise of modern digital age. It also acted as a living example of how technology is influencing the world of dance and performance, pushing that envelope a bit with an almost gratuitous use of strobe lighting. The stunning dancers successfully communicated through the Conner’s combination of pedestrian movements, abstracted gestures, and technical choreography. This combination proved especially powerful when excruciatingly loud static filled the room. One dancer, isolated from the others for most of the work, covered her ears in pain while the rest continued dancing as if nothing changed, indicating, perhaps, that only a few of us are truly paying attention to the realities of modern life.

This performance was not without controversy—even beyond what any experimental art is bound to provoke. The choices to include Ask Me About My Ass and Atemwende particularly drew concerns about the responsibility of artists and curators to be socially conscious in the art they present, especially within a charged political and social climate. Each piece was clearly chosen for its creative content and marked departures from common expectations of concert dance; however, taken as a group, they also raised the question of whether or not art in Seattle is reflecting the city’s evolving populace.

But Next Fest 2014 did hint at some changes to the Seattle Dance scene: an updated aesthetic with a stronger focus on technical precision and clean, yet innovative, choreography and a trend toward composers/sound designers being fully acknowledged as collaborators. This, however, is also only a tiny slice of what is happening in Seattle. It may well be an indicator of what’s next, but anything could happen on Seattle’s stages next year.

More information about Velocity’s annual Next Fest NW can be found at Velocity’s website.

6 comments

  1. There are two critical ommissions in this review:

    Next Fest NW included two performance/conversation events (Speakeasys), and four film programs, that explicitly addressed, “reflecting the city’s evolving populace”. The Speakeasy performance/conversations included “El Norte” focused on artists of the Latino-Dispora and “Identity Riot”.

    Speakeasys are curated by Velocity’s Artistic Director, and hosted by the invited artists. However, Next Fest NW performances are curated by a peer-panel based on submissions.

    1. Thank you so much for adding your voice to this discussion, Tonya! I was only able to attend and review this small piece of Next Fest, so I appreciate that you have put it into context. It is also so valuable to know that different groups curated the performances and Speakeasies, as some of the questions raised by the audience members responded to the juxtaposition and perceived separation between the Speakeasy and mainstage artists.

      1. To be clear:
        I curated the Speakeasies, with input from one of our peer panelists Jim Kent, reaching out to artists to collaborate to shape them.
        A peer panel, which I also participate in, curates the MainStage program.
        I curated the Speakeasies, in part, as a means to contextualize the MainStage performances, and spark dialogue.

        ALL programs in NEXT FEST NW reflected “changes happening in our city” culturally AND aesthetically. And when art does that, it’s going to push buttons.

        Adding to Luke’s thoughtful question to you below:
        Ciara I don’t think you can write as you did that a work “drew concerns about the responsibility of artists and curators to be socially conscious in the art they present, especially within a charged political and social climate” without explaining actually what you mean, and what about the work led you (and some unspecified others) to have concerns. I’m actually confused by what “being socially conscious” looks like to you because
        ironically the two works you pulled out, were exceptionally socially conscious. One, a queer work performed in a community seeing dramatic increases in verbal and physical attacks on people perceived as queer. Another, an unabashed feminist piece. As history has shown, each new “wave” of feminism pisses off somebody.

        Other MainStage artists of NEXT were also very socially conscious, purposefully responding to today’s charged political and social climate. One was a direct response to Ferguson.

        The one work you commended, “Lusk proved that risk-taking dance can profit from going back to basics” was the most abstract, least socially conscious work on the program – because it’s interests were, just as validly, elsewhere – on Kim Lusk, a white, woman exploring a range of pure kinetics and abstraction.

        Your comment, as it stands now, inserted without any contextualization, leaves more questions about your perspective as a viewer, rather than providing more insight into the work presented. Nor does it encourage more dialogue (Thus, I’m trying to create it here.)

        The intention of Next Fest NW was to raise a question and activate CONVERSATIONS. Clearly it did so in the audience and for the artists. The question posed in the applications, programs, on http://www.velocitydancecenter.org/stance, to the audience in the pre-show introduction was: “What is the New West?”

        There are going to be a multiplicity of answers.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful review Ciara. I am amazed with your ability to succinctly capture the tones of our work. I wonder if you could say more regarding your statement, “Ask Me About My Ass and Atemwende particularly drew concerns about the responsibility of artists and curators to be socially conscious in the art they present, especially within a charged political and social climate” and, “Each piece was clearly chosen for its creative content and marked departures from common expectations of concert dance; however, taken as a group, they also raised the question of whether or not art in Seattle is reflecting the city’s evolving populace.” I am particularly interested in the question of the social responsibility of the artist and currator that came to mind after viewing Atemwende and Ask Me About My Ass.

    1. Hi Luke, thank you for your comment. As a reviewer, I strive to voice more than my personal experience when writing about each performance. It is always my goal to present an objective view of the performance, which can include reflections of audience perspectives and reactions, especially when they are as strong and conflicting as they were to this show. Some people felt that the selection of pieces for this show were imbued with dance-community politics, and others felt that certain artistic choices could be interpreted as insensitive. I cannot say that these statements are rooted in my personal opinion, but I do think they are important voices to bring to the table. One of the best things about the pieces selected in this year’s Next Fest is that they took heavy concepts by the horns and made choices that left room for the audience to add their voice.

      1. “One of the best things about the pieces selected in this year’s Next Fest is that they took heavy concepts by the horns and made choices that left room for the audience to add their voice.” – What a great statement. I wish it had been included in the original piece.

        This entire paragraph Ciara is super helpful. It’s inclusion would have made the piece that was posted clearer. I’m not sure objectivity is possible. But if one wants to take on that role as a writer, it seems crucial to unpack various differing points of view. Your response to Luke does that. Thank you.

Comments are closed.