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CityArts Fest’s ‘Genre Bender’ Breaks Boundaries

Written by Victoria Jacobs
In CityArts Fest’s second year, they asked a dozen fascinating Seattle artists to pair up and create unique collaborations for the Merrill Wright Theater at On the Boards. The artists ranged from dance and performance artists to sculptors, a filmmaker, a musician, a poet, and a chocolatier.

The opening piece from upright bassist Evan Flory Barnes and illuminated sculptor Jen Law featured Barnes playing first inside a jellyfish-like tent that was illuminated by softly pulsing lightbulbs and later in a twinkling jacket and feathery lights. His movement while playing caused the light sculptures to wiggle and swim, and the varied tones and melodies he brought forth from the bass, paired with the deep-sea light show, created a hypnotic and mysterious experience.
In dance artist Rainbow Fletcher’s matchup with visual artist Sean Johnson, Fletcher wore a beige jumpsuit attached by strings to a vertical blind of yellow measuring tapes. When she moved, the tapes would rise and fall, but they tended to snag, so two voyeuristic men in green jumpsuits sat at either corner of the cage-like frame, fixing the piece as it tripped up. Unfortunately, being tied to a set of vertical blinds limited Fletcher’s movement, and she was freed when she stepped out of the suit to stand in her underwear, but then she exited. The piece seemed to be about oppression and body image, but the sculpture limited development and coherence of the movement idea.
Next was the unusual pairing of local poet Karen Finneyfrock and Theo chocolatier Joanne Lepore. They read a poem about the divine, awful, boring enormity of the suburbs while crafting a neutral suburban scene out of chocolate onstage. The chocolate sculpture didn’t capture or comment on the “fertile madness” of the suburbs as described in the poem, but, delightfully, the audience was invited to descend upon the sculpture at intermission and devour the dark chocolate cars, trees, and houses.
In performance artist Mike Pham and visual artist Gretchen Bennett’s piece, abstracted club dance gestures were executed under separate spotlights. They layered their movement with films of their bodies overlapping and shots of their faces and hands. The live performers’ movement seemed to be paired to their movement onscreen but not consistently enough to be clear, nor was the relationship between the two of them ever concrete enough to inspire any meaning.
Dance artist Mark Haim and Implied Violence’s Casey Curran created a surreal traveling set that included a talking cow skull, a waterfall of sugar overflowing a flying tea set, and a suited man who obsessively debated with the skull about when they might have tea. Haim was subdued in a kimono and geta sandals, but he flung into a brief, ecstatic, and self-conscious spot-lit dance solo near the end of the set’s journey across the stage. The surrealism, wonder, and integration of the work demonstrated collaboration at its best; each artist’s discipline commented on and elevated the other’s.
Wes Hurley’s film with Amy O’Neal showed the Seattle dance icon as a broken-hearted geisha visiting Seattle sites like the Can-Can and Pike Place. At the end, she stabbed herself with her trademark pink kitana, but woke up in a hospital slurping on JELL-O. It comically expressed how there is no place for noble sorrow in neon Western culture, but her dancing was missed in this work.
As Amy O’Neal said at the top of the show, the curators’ goals were for the artists to create work that took maximum risk in a place where they could try something and fail. They all rose to the challenge, mixing disciplines for surprising and thought-provoking results.