Audiences enjoyed a dance-packed first weekend of On the Board’s Northwest New Works 2016 (June 10-12). Of the eight pieces presented between a studio and a mainstage showcase, six were primarily dance works. One cross-disciplinary work by Paris when it Sizzles! even included an impressive amount of jumping around despite the performer’s leg being in a cast.
At the Studio showcase, Allie Hankins and Rachael Dichter’s duet, When We, captivated with exquisite idiosyncrasies: Hankins squirming as if trying to scratch an unreachable spot on her back; Dichter’s mouth subtly working as if she’s about to say something. Their timing was impeccable as two different sentences erupted from the women’s mouths: perfectly synchronized and obscuring the other’s words. Awkwardly settling into feminine poses, the dancers drew out potent pauses broken by flurries of movement. The crafted pacing and detail of this work made it a stand out number in the festival.
ilvs strauss showed Doin’ it Right, a development of her work from Velocity’s Bridge Project in January. This version, however, engaged the same mechanism used in her previous work, Manifesto, where Strauss delivered gestures and facial expressions in coordination with her recorded voice. The technique is completely beguiling, and makes for fantastic story-telling, but audiences already familiar with her work may wonder if this is her one shtick. The other dancers took more of a support role in this version, but some of the most interesting dynamics were the dancers’ stage personas: Brittany Gaudette’s cool patience contrasting Kate Pope’s warm admiration towards Strauss.
Britt Karhoff closed the studio show with her new work Wonder Full. In one unforgettable section Karhoff scrambled between different awkward positions on top of a table all while politely saying “mm hm…yes…I understand…” as if on the other side of a very one-sided conversation. Suddenly, a party favor horn appeared in her hand out of nowhere, she took a drag as if on a cigarette, and without missing a beat, dropped it to the ground, putting it “out” with the twist of her foot. It is only later when she dances gleefully in a rain of confetti that the symbolism of the party supplies became clear: they’re her joy.
The Mainstage showcase also featured three dance works, the first a solo by Vanessa Goodman of Vancouver, BC. In Container, Goodman’s compelling physicality was a spastic fluttering in perpetual motion, interacting with channels of amber light charting her course. Just when it seemed like she might continue this way forever, the volume of each movement progressively lowered until it was nothing more than subtle hand twitches. When the movement re-emerged it had shifted to something smoother and more presentational, but equally captivating.
The one quartet of the evening, Sophia, was the contribution of Sleep Nod (aka Dylan Ward). Exhibiting exquisite polish, the dancers flowed seamlessly between gestural details and ballet influenced vocabularies peppered with sometimes predictable partnering. It was worth watching just to see Hayley Shannon spilling into exacting stops and quick angular forms, but whatever story lay beneath the choreography was inaccessible to those outside the piece.
AU Collective’s epic Bayanihan: A Collection of Physical Tales was a piece in five parts. Featuring a cast of seven, the work, directed by Cheryl Delostrinos, featured spirited hip hop-influenced dancing to popular music. A veritable buffet of dance, many of the most successful moments slipped by all too quickly. Among the moments I could have watched forever were the group leaping side to side, feet tucked under and arms lofted as if about to take flight. In one section, Delostrinos donned a bird skull mask and led the group with a commanding wildness that was equal parts fem and force. In the final section, the group expanded and contracted in space as if the piece were breathing—a living organism made up of individuals. It was unapologetically pretty and a great way to end the night. That being said, many of the sections felt like they were a touch under-rehearsed. With a little polish and a little more room for each of these images to land, this knockout could reach its full potential.
Producing new works can be risky business, often resulting in a mixed bag of performance quality at NWNW. This year’s festival, however, was a stronger-than-usual showing in the dance department, even if the range of development and polish varied. Often the festival is a sneak peek at longer works to come, here’s hoping these artists continue to push and grow these brand new pieces.
More information about the Northwest New Works Festival can be found HERE.