Bending Genres at City Arts

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Genre Bender, an annual performance presented by City Arts Magazine, pairs local artists of differing disciplines to create works that defy categorization—literally bending the traditional genres audiences are accustomed to. Though not all pieces featured a dance component, three of the five collaborations boasted names no doubt familiar to SeattleDances readers.

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Justin Huertas and Beth Fleenor in Our Piece
Photo by Robert Wade, courtesy of City Arts magazine

Our Piece, by actor/playwright/cellist Justin Huertas and composer/clarinetist/vocalist Beth Fleenor, began with Huertas and Fleenor handing cookies to audience members as they entered the theater. The work combined Fleenor’s clarinet and vocal stylings with Huertas’ cello, as well as an audience participation component. Fleenor led audience members in percussive back-up to Huertas’ singing and spoken word/rapping. Fleenor’s singular energy bolstered participation, and any lull in focus was certainly due to Huertas’ magnetism.

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Hold on Tight! by Kyle Loven and Tessa Hulls
Photo by Robert Wade, courtesy of City Arts magazine

Hold on Tight! by writer/artist Tessa Hulls and performance/visual artist Kyle Loven, transported viewers to the set of a post-apocalyptic game show, with shadow projections and grayscale props. The game show host had an oversized papier-mâché head and referenced vital stakes, including the final challenge, “Escape the Bomb.” The surrealist work ended as the two unitard-clad artists transformed the game show podium panels into wings, circling the rubble of props before a blast sound signified the aforementioned bomb.

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Alice Gosti and Timothy White Eagle in Mountain Rising
Photos by Robert Wade, courtesy of City Arts magazine

The smell of sage precipitated Mountain Raising, which paired performance artist Alice Gosti and Native American ritualist Timothy White Eagle. White Eagle blessed the stage from each cardinal direction. Chanting, he poured cornmeal in a large circle as Gosti remained fixed, center-stage, under a large canvas tarp. Cornmeal was poured over the tarp as well, and Gosti began to move slowly, falling to the side and rising to standing. She then circled the stage, her tarp trailing like the train of a dress. The work took advantage of sensory elements often under-utilized in performance; the effect was entrancing.

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Weapon on my Back by Erik Blood and Markeith Wiley
Photo by Robert Wade, courtesy of City Arts magazine

Erik Blood and Markeith Wiley’s Weapon on my Back, perhaps the least genre-bending of the night, featured the traditional pairing of musician/producer and dancer/choreographer. To Blood and Wiley’s credit, the quality of Weapon did not suffer for this. It did stumble in its entrance, as a lone female dancer descended stairs through the audience, but stayed so close to the stairs that very few audience members could see what was happening. The movement of the piece was slow and deliberate, Wiley in a black hoodie traversed the stage in sync with Blood, dressed in a mask and wide-brimmed, Amish-style hat. The bulk of the movement was performed by two female dancers—Danica Bito and Jenna Eady—and, in a recurring theme, they continually altered their proximity, embracing and separating. Wiley joined the women, moving forward with light freezes, changing facings easily, and evolving into more athletic movement with breaking influences. The symbiosis of music and movement throughout gave the piece a cohesive feel.

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How/When by Jody Kuehner and Keira McDonal 
Photo by Robert Wade, courtesy of City Arts magazine

How/When by dancer/choreographer Jody Kuehner and actor/solo performer Keira McDonald, featured the pair descending through the audience clad in Easter Bunny suits, climbing over obstacles (and people) to get to the stage. Once on stage, Kuehner’s bunny fell to the floor as McDonald played an EMT, asking inappropriate medical questions to great comic effect. There were Looney Tunes-esque hijinks and a song about naming things people like. Just as it seemed that this was going to be an extended performance piece of pure joy, the pair shed their bunny suits to reveal bodysuits depicting the human muscular and nervous systems. This foreshadowed McDonald’s emotionally exposed monologue about living with someone who has Alzheimer’s. An anguished and heart-wrenching speech, it brought the work to another level. In the silence that followed, Kuehner began to totter around the stage kicking props like a child having a temper tantrum, seeming to reflect McDonald’s emotional state. The piece ended with McDonald remaining in the audience, holding onto an audience member’s hand. How/When spanned an impressive emotional range, and found its strength in both humor and the intensity of the emotions portrayed.

 

By crossing disciplines, Genre Bender successfully does something that most art aims to do: present the audience with something new—something perhaps they have not seen before, that will spark conversation or deeper thought. It reminds artists to broaden their horizons, to play with the unknown, and to remember that, despite different forms, they are all creating art.