“If it’s terrible, it’s going to be over soon.” With that opening by co-curator Glenn Kawasaki, 12 Minutes Max ended its three-year hiatus. Began at On the Boards in 1979, 12 Minutes Max showcases brief experimental and performative pieces in dance, theater, music, and multimedia three times a year. None of the pieces featured at 12MM @ Base on December 5 were terrible. On the contrary, each had something compelling to offer; some were outstanding. On the whole, this evening of innovative work was stimulating and surprising, and a welcome return to Seattle art and performance programming.
The first half of the program featured solos and duets with little ornament. The evening opened with Naphtali Beyleveld’s Labor of Love, a brief portrait of an intimate partnership. Weight sharing poses and asymmetrical shapes characterized the duet. Despite the driving score and weighty embraces, the piece felt one-note. More variation in tone and tempo could have helped the implied emotion have more resonance.
Lynn Tofil’s step one. followed, performed with lovely articulation and flexibility by Alexandra Beatty Spencer, who conveyed an intense body awareness as she explored anxiety, depression, and, literally, getting up off the floor. As the music transitioned from a spare static sound landscape to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” the movement bloomed from a floor-based sequence of repetitive, watchful, careful poses to a slowly unfurling dance party for one. As the dance became less tethered, more exuberant, Spencer’s gaze turned inward, from a calculated observation of the external to what felt like an inward solidity and warmth. The feeling wasn’t joy, exactly, but it was something near it.
As another solo dancer exploring how the self interacts with space and the world, Danielle Doell broadened her perspective to wrestle with a belief system in Make My Own Machine Work. Pop songs about consuming relationships took on new meaning when interspersed by recordings of the Ten Commandments read in a female voice. Often, when a song was interrupted by disembodied religious commentary, Doell would crumple, collapse, or shake. She performed much of the piece on roller skates with phenomenal physical control. She gracefully timed face-first trajectories at the wall, performed a reverse moonwalk of sorts on the toes of her skates, rolled slowly into the splits, and sped in circles to songs like “Every Breath You Take” by the Police, “Holding Out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler, and “Would Die 4 You” by Prince. Make My Own Machine Work was a fantastic display of inner struggle with the concepts of god, a yearning for meaning, a working toward self-reliance, and the discovery of wonder. It was utterly entrancing and fresh.
The second half of the program added more props, accoutrements, and bodies. Left, created by Susan Finque and performed by Finque and Gretchen Orsland Hoffmeyer, was a powerful piece about living and persisting in a disabled body. Spoken words about the implied simplicity and actual challenge of transitioning from sitting to standing, of controlling the left and right sides of the body, of moving from chair to walker, anchored a series of movements framed by blackouts. Finque’s choreography included crutches, walkers, and chairs, which she used to create striking physical lines to accompany the emphatic dialogue. Deeply felt, and deeply moving, the piece was all the more successful because it incorporated moments of levity and humor. Finque and Hoffmeyer spunkily addressed the disconnect between the body and the mind, between a body left behind and a body that remains.
Beaded costuming, headpieces, and pointe shoes followed in Cake Ballerinas by Kristina Dillard. Susan McIntyre sang while Echo Norris and Wendy Samuels danced, first apart, and then gradually moving together. Decked in a tutu, Norris’ movement felt almost like a ballerina-in-training, which paired interestingly with the emotional force of her stage presence. Norris’ seriousness and mature expression behind her youthful movement lent an unexpected heft to the piece. Samuels, more modern and bohemian than Norris’ fairy, was rather gawky, and she, too, conveyed a touching sensitivity. Sweet and melancholic, Cake Ballerinas envisioned a slowly-growing love between two women, wound through with a tender love of dance, at whatever level.
Emotional intensity continued through the final piece of the evening, though on a grander scale and with more raw power. Daniel Costa’s Interposition: Movement II featured six athletic dancers. The vulnerable, haunting voice of Alicia Pugh, wrapped around the dancers’ energetic floor work as they slid and whirled, joined into architectural, multi-partnered lifts, and separated into solo, slithering bodies. Pugh sang the words, “all my will I will assert,” repeatedly in her arresting, breathy voice as black-clad bodies clambered around the space. Strong, sinister, shadowy, Interposition: Movement II was polished and committed.
12 Minutes Max is the type of program that simply loves art. Delightful and surprising, the evening, which could have been random and strange, felt remarkably cohesive thanks to careful curation by Glenn Kawasaki and Owen David. It was encouraging to see performers of various ages, shapes, and physical ability in one program. 12 Minutes Max provides a limiting form for pieces to gain their hold and have expansive impact. This is a series to follow, and see, and support. It’s remarkable the stories that can be told in twelve minutes. What results when many of them happen at the same time is sometimes almost magic.
12 Minutes Max @ Base ran December 5-6, 2017. Future editions of 12 Minutes Max will run February 18-19 and May 20-21, 2018.