VOTE ART VOTE

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A recording of Anastacia-Renee plays: “Put the past under my tongue, when it melts, pretend to swallow it whole.” As she closes her lips and gestures to her chest, she resumes a calm, collected posture, allowing these slick words to sting a virtual audience. A seated dance of pedestrian gestures provides a literal visual to the soundtrack of poetry. The work halts with an unexpected scream, followed by the words “vote for me,” now spoken in real time by the performer. This choice coats the ending message with urgency, suggesting a present call to action that differs from the poetic reflection throughout most of the piece.

Saira Barbaric. Photo by Maria Manness.

VOTE ART VOTE is the first video presentation from Washington Ensemble Theatre. Directed by Raja Feather Kelly and co-curated by Dani Tirrell, this 26 minute work strings together new performances from ten Seattle artists, all with the goal of reminding audiences how powerful one vote can be. The description of the performance explains, “The pieces are a queer instigation of the often forgotten, often underserved, and most important part of our city—the art in the heart of Seattle.” This work makes the most of its digital format by utilizing the creative advantages of video editing, but maintaining the feel of a real-time performance—a much needed treat in an age where digital adaptations can sometimes be lackluster. Each piece ends similar to Anastacia-Renee’s by declaring “Vote for me” to the audience. Despite the repetitive structure, these pleas feel personalized and sincere as they build the momentum of the directive. In addition to its important message, this performance is a high quality production and a delight to watch.

Angel Baby Kill Kill Kill. Photo by Maria Manness.

Cipher Goings performs a skilled tap dance with precise rhythm. Video cuts juxtapose this dance with shots of Goings on stage without shoes. In these cuts, he strikes relaxed poses with an ‘I’m looking at you’ gaze. Angel Baby Kill Kill Kill’s work similarly takes advantage of video editing by using overlay to create different levels and depths of performers. Artists stare into the beams of bright lights held in front of their bodies, with ruffled tops and shiny skirts contributing to an ethereal atmosphere. One by one, the performers turn off their lights and disappear, leaving only a soloist dancer with the show’s call to action written in sharpie on their arms. This ending confrontation coupled with the speedy disappearance of the piece’s earlier dancers creates a concise call to vote for overlooked communities.

NEVE introduces original song to the show, with lyrics entertaining a wish to live in a world of whales. They twirl their hands in and out, creating a dreamy flow that transitions into a more rhythmic dance, including twisting of the torso back and forth. Equally dreamy in demeanor is performance duo Ümlaut & Isis (known together as LüChi), who enter the stage in glamorous face jewelry and luxe black outfits. They lip sync to a compilation of Chloe x Halle song covers, with sharp unison choreography. LüChi asserts clarity and poise. 

LüChi. Photo by Maria Manness.

Saira Barbaric presents an alluring mix of characters in a fearless theatrical dance. Their tone is confrontational. They challenge the audience to contend their confidence as they smash flowers against their inner thigh. Barbaric is patient and unabashed. This unapologetic nature is matched by Fox Whitney, who stands in the middle of the stage wearing a jumpsuit with an upside down American flag patch. Using some frank humor and collapsing contemporary dance moves, Whitney battles and eventually escapes the stage box that wilts him. He commemorates the victory with two middle fingers in the air. Whitney portrays a lighthearted but sincere struggle.

Moonyeka effortlessly dances in platform heels, drawing the audience in with lashes almost as long as their leg extensions. Moonyeka then reveals a different version of themselves, one with expression beyond pleasing the audience. They emote wholeheartedly, until tears have dismantled their makeup. A bare-faced and barefoot Moonyeka ends the piece on a note of triumphant strength. Commitment to emotional expression also unfolds in Thumper Blu’s work, which uses political news audio clips to express outrage and worry at current events. It serves as an important reminder to withstand desensitization to horrific news. 

Moonyeka. Photo by Maria Manness.

Randy Ford closes the performance with meticulous choreography and equally clear-cut words. She moves with calculated, intentional force that captures attention, even through the screen. At the end of Ford’s performance,  the camera lingers before cutting out, allowing the audience to sit with all of the pieces for a moment. 

VOTE ART VOTE is a stellar production and a wonderful opportunity to see some beloved Seattle artists show off their talents in a thoughtful, well-designed online experience. A gem of artistic expression that, like our upcoming election, is not to be missed!

VOTE ART VOTE can be watched now through November 3 at https://washingtonensemble.org/season-17-vote-art-vote/

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