SOLO FEST 2020

On the Board’s Solo Fest returns after a successful first iteration in 2018. This time curated by artistic director Rachel Cook and esteemed choreographer Dani Tirrell and revamped to include free, site-responsive works throughout the building in conjunction with a festival-style performance in the proscenium. The goal being to “encourage and empower a group of women and POC artists,” each night had a different lineup of local performers activating the building with site specific solos prior to each mainstage performance, which featured Jade Solomon Curtis, Allie Hankins, jumatatu m. poe, Adrienne Truscott, and Mariana Valencia.

Photo credit Sophia Rodriguez.

On the Boards characterizes solo dance as a “thrilling opportunity” to create as a “form of personal expression and rebellion.” jumatatu m. poe did just that with SALT, a self-described “lil’ cousin”’ to their 2014 solo Android Tears, and a work that was curious, humorous, and rebellious all in one. Audience members arrived throughout the duration of the  fifteen-minute prelude in which poe – otherwise unclothed aside from a pair of black contact lenses – slowly wrapped plastic wrap around their waist, sat into one hip and then the other, and walked throughout the stage to pop-soul music set over metronomic ticking rhythms. By the time a six-inch thick roll of plastic had been fully repurposed into a translucent mini-pencil skirt, Poe’s expression of complete neutrality intact, the lights dimmed on their audience. Poe’s beautifully articulate pelvic isolations, footwork, repetition, and presentational gestures throughout, appeared to mix their training in contemporary African dance and dance theater with vogue. They shook their hips side to side on straight legs – mouth agape – traveling in a lateral step touch patterns across the downstage line, tiptoed towards downstage as if on a catwalk, and spoke garbled sentences with nouns and pronouns deliberately disordered. The repetition of lateral/frontal spatial patterns and words, as well as a cryptic yet simultaneously mesmerizing performance, made Poe’s SALT an absorbing way to begin the show. 

Photo courtesy of the Lumbar Room.

Allie Hankins’ Part 1: GHOSTING – the first part of a five-part performance series – used visual art, song, speach, storytelling, astrology, movement, humor, and audience participation to explore the impermanence of individual evolution. Composed in a multi-part format, Hankins addressed her audience directly at times, telling personal anecdotes about California summers during wildfire season, and pondering the ghosts of her past selves. Use of tape players on stage with pre-recordings of her own voice and live repetition of the line “bury them and design their headstones” made for an eerie effect in satisfying juxtaposition to Hankins’ likeability as a comedian and her musical renditions of female new wave/post-punk artists such as Yoko Ono. Thoughtful, visually stimulating, and transitionally seamless, Hankins’ Part 1: GHOSTING asked her to address the ghosts in all of us.

Photo credit Daniel Barnes.

Seattle artist Jade Solomon Curtis has been making waves both nationally and internationally with her work Black Like Me: An Exploration of the Word Nigger. Her solo Keeper of Sadness (a work in progress), performed at Solo Fest, is sure to do the same. Using a backdrop video recounting the Black experience in Mississippi and set against the distinguished voice of prolific American lyric soprano, Barbara Hendricks, Keeper of Sadness was both a profound look into generational trauma of Black women, and a technical feat of notable proportion… performed almost entirely in a square spotlight on an otherwise dark stage. Curtis transitioned through images from slow-motion defensive poses to quicker offensive posturing and back – close-fisted, contorted, concave through the core and chest, pained, yet simultaneously powerful. The occasional extension of a leg, technically achieved in all of its height and energy, made for moments of breathless escape from the otherwise contracted, hunched-over movement vocabulary of the piece—an ode to longing, defiance, and possibility. “[Keeper of Sadness],”  Curtis writes, “aims to give voice to the pain that lays dormant in the bellies of so many Black Women ignored throughout history – often self-suffocated as a means of survival…”  It was also powerful, athletic, profound, and deeply relevant. 

Photo by Maria Baranova.

Mariana Valencia and Adrienne Truscott closed out the show with reflection and humor. In SOLO B, Valencia explored concepts of home, sculpture, and fragmentation in an overarching ode to postures of Pre-Columbian jade figures. She described time spent sleeping in a cave alongside Romani people, learning to honor the body as home, and delving into the “sensitive and fantastical” alternate reality of Starbaby, the imaginary subject of another work. Engaging in their own right, Valencia’s stories were woven haphazardly amongst each other and transitioned abruptly into an extended, post-modern movement solo inspired by the shapes women of color have embodied in jade throughout time.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Adrienne Truscott went out with a bang. An absurdist mashup of feminist standup, memoir, and multi-media storytelling, EXCERPT FROM THIS was a giant emblematic question mark… but what really is this? Truscott describes THIS in her program note as being “a dance about a dance without any dance”… which is precisely what it was and just as funny as it sounds. From costume changes to snack interludes, ladder-climbing, and good bad jokes, Truscott’s work was something… else. “Sometimes,” she pondered, wandering about the stage, halfway through a sandwich. “Performances are so good they feel like real life.” THIS was one of those.

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