Elia Mrak and Nancy López Luna performed the full-length production Seattle, an ode to the city’s grunge period, on April 30 at the Erickson Theater. Adrian Vázquez wrote and directed the work, and Mrak and Luna also collaborated in Seattle’s creation. The piece, co-produced by RipCity Dance in Seattle and Enthnofit Studios in Veracruz, Mexico, premièred earlier in April of this year in Veracruz. Within the genre of performance art, somewhere along the spectrum between theatre and dance, this work incorporated live narration, dialogue, and segments of pure dance.
Luna and Mrak began the work seated in the audience, wearing leather jackets over flannel shirts tied around their waists. Their Dr. Marten boots, along with familiar hits of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Stone Temple Pilots as designed by Rafa Balderas, situated the work in the 90s—the decade of Seattle’s most quintessential cultural phenomenon. The two performers discussed their mothers’ and fathers’ rocky relationships, abandonment, and being raised by a single parent. To amusing effect, Mrak quoted Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”, deeply analyzing the lyrics’ philosophical implications. Luna performed a hair-raising air-guitar solo, her voice rising to inhuman pitches. These elements, along with references to the Space Needle and ill-fated Kingdome, created a nostalgic setting for the two characters’ intertwining stories.
The first movement section illustrated a passionate fight scene between the characters’ parents: punching, grunting, and rolling on the floor. Much of the storyline revolved around odd coincidences in the characters’ early lives: the influences of a hurricane in Mexico and an earthquake in the U.S., losing a bracelet and finding one on the beach, and processing the absences and deaths of family members. One memorable dance segment occurred as Luna angrily rode her bicycle away from home after hearing of her absentee father’s demise. Luna’s legs pumped realistically as she mimed riding the bike with a fierce expression, while Mrak slid slickly across the stage behind her.
The high point of the evening was a semi-improvisational duet in which Mrak and Luna fell, ripped, and crawled as if through viscous molten metal, exuding their inner turmoil at being left by their respective parents. This scene also showcased the performers at home in their most comfortable style, Mrak especially shining as he utilized the flying low technique, in which he defied gravity, hovering inches from the floor.
Other moments left something to be desired. In one section, Luna lived out a fantasy as a pointe shoe clad ballerina in a white dress; this was mercifully interrupted by Mrak with a boom box. The two then spent some minutes playing out the hackneyed device of changing the music to cut each other off, which did little to further the plot. Mrak also performed a solo to Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”, complete with white fedora, but the recognizable choreography failed to live up to memories of the original. Rather than highlighting their versatility, these scenes showed that the two dancers were nowhere near as comfortable in ballet or hip hop as they had been in the earlier contemporary duet. Further problems arose in the perpetuation of traditional gender norms in which the weak female must be continually rescued. Not only was Luna’s character saved from trampling in a mosh pit, Mrak actually carried her from the rubble of the Kingdome’s implosion, an image evoking any blockbuster action flick.
Plagued by distracting wardrobe malfunctions that suggested under-rehearsal, the work also failed to take a cohesive stance on how to approach the matter of the fourth wall. Several times Mrak spoke the Spanish lines of Luna’s Mexican relatives, followed by Luna’s self-conscious commentary on his poor accent. By the end of the evening, the myriad serendipitous encounters between the two characters and the similarities between their interweaving lives became gratingly pat. Perhaps the addresses to the audience and fantastical happenings were meant to be funny or satirical, but the polite audience sounded not a titter of laughter.
The grunge era evokes massive connotations and wistful memories for a native Seattleite, which can carry both risks and rewards. While earnestly spoken and well-elocuted, Seattle’s strongest moments were when the performers felt emotions too strongly to be expressed in words—where they simply danced.