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Exploration and Exasperation at NW New Works

Written by Kristen Legg

Last week, On the Boards wrapped up its season with Northwest New Works, a dance/theatre/performing arts festival with performances by 16 adjudicated artists.
Quark Contemporary Dance Theatre presented David Lorence Schleiffer’s Toast, in which actress Kate Moyer portrayed a pained woman, being cheated on by her lover.  This theatre dance piece was heavy on theatre, but the dance featured, much of it gestural, was quite captivating. The lack of dance made those choreographed moments and even small body movements more exciting.  Moyer’s theatrics, in what was almost a monologue, were beautifully timed and staged.  In a tense moment of the work, Moyer repeatedly presses down the lever on a toaster, listing places her partner, Alethea Sadie Alexander, might be instead of out with another woman. Alexander’s calm and poise, often missed in larger performances, was larger than life in the studio space.   In the role of the mistress, Kate Mosbarger was understated but striking. The only thing lacking in David Lorence Schleiffer’s Toast was a physical connection between the actress and the dancers.  While at the end of the work Moyer and Alexander did engage in a conversation, something was missing in their interaction—the blend of the two art forms was not quite right, and their body tension and energy never quite matched as the two worked to repair their relationship.  Perhaps it was Moyer’s stronger acting ability or Alexander’s ability to emote through her posture.  Whatever the reasoning, the work ended on an off-kilter note.

Next was a theatre piece by Danielle Villegas that had a lot to say.  Written by Villegas, Azteca la Curandera—As I see it.explained the actresses struggle growing up questioning her gender and sexuality.  The work began with a sound clip on Aztec culture, then the lights came up to reveal Villegas on stage in men’s underwear, dress shirt, and tie.  She walked around the stage exclaiming “I am a man.”  As the work developed, she transformed from a man, to a boy, to a girl trying to fit in with the other girls.  What was so interesting about this aspect of the work was how drastically her physicality shifted as she put on each character.  The work ended with Villegas donning Native American clothing and performing a traditional dance around a fire pit.  Here her juvenile, confused movement became graceful and sure.  Sadly, the work was diminished by the video projected on the back wall.  Images of tribal groups from all over the world were paired with information on how non-heterosexuals have been revered throughout the nations of the world.  The presentation of this material was disorganized and poorly timed and may have been missed by some.
The “dancy”-ist work was by Canadian Lori Hamar.  In this work, dancers Brandy Baybutt, Jung-Ah Chung, and Robert Halley move about the stage with very little emotion or connection.  Named Blood Line, and filled with references to how people define themselves, this work seemed to speak of discovering ones identity.   With videos of people using smart phones, Ukrainian eggs being examined by flashlight, and floating bags, that concept, along with the choreography, was sometimes lost.  What was noticeable was the amazing muscularity and articulation abilities the dancers had.  They skimmed the floor with rolls and dives, reached sickled feet and contorted limbs through the negative space of three chairs, and manipulated one another through the space.  Due to the distracting video stage left and a disruptive audience member, the meaning and power of this piece was lost. 

The last work of the evening, The FINGER Songbook, was just that: a number of songs by FINGER.  Created by musician Julie Baldridge, each Medieval-esque song had extremely suggestive and humorous lyrics.  To add to the zaniness, singer Jeppa Hall joined Baldridge on stage, creating eerie dissonance while dressed like an Orc in too-large boots.  Jeppa danced around with strange, jilted movement while her counterpart sat at her drum set with a stoic gaze and a Viking helmet.  The work seemed to speak of the American dream—getting fat and being lazy.  As the performers reminded us, the extra meat gluttons carry around on their bodies is really food that should be shared with the less fortunate.  While there was the making of brilliance in this work, much of the lyrics and true audience laughter was covered by the disruptive audience member’s full volume soliloquy during the entire work. (See an upcoming article on Seattle audiences, appropriate dance concert behavior, and what this world is coming to.) 

All in all, the NW New Works Festival Studio Showcase June 17-19 showed a great deal of promise for the exploration of new ideas and pathways in local art.