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Thieves and Devotees at Velocity’s NextFestNW

Written by Mariko Nagashima

(Photo: Ora et Labora installation at Velocity’s NextFest NW)

Giant crab legs. Washing machines. Armchairs. Shakespeare. Not four things generally found together, but at VelocityDanceCenter’s NextFest NW, the program stretched far beyond the typical. With the theme of Theft + Devotion, each work drew on clear inspiration from outside influences, but also underscored each artist’s true devotion to their craft.

A puppet-like tribal mask with bug eyes and protruding fangs hanging from the rafters, and gigantic crab legs resting in one corner of the stage immediately immersed the audience in the quirky explorations of Laara Garcia’s Nobody’s Intersubjective Spectacles: Voyage Log 0001. Though the title sounds intimidating, Garcia’s work stayed accessible as it toured the frontiers of the deep ocean and the Wild West. Dancers Devin McDermott and Laurie Roberts perfectly evoked both creeping crustaceans (awkward scuttling and inhuman tics of flexed wrists and elbows) and intrepid cowboys (goofy bowlegged walks and raucous bucking on invisible horses) as they alternated between scenarios. With each new scene, dancer Yma Muñoz rose from the floor to stand in the puppet mask, its eyes gently glowing, the “spectacles” of this peculiar voyage.

Mike Pham’s solo work, DØD, was a multidisciplinary study of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. An extremely open stage space, (the wings were removed after the first piece) combined with a projection insistently flashing fragments of the text and pulsating electronic beats, all contributed to the epic effect of the piece. Pham’s tensed and twitchy movements felt a bit too constricted to match the grand proportions of the setup, but his flair for the dramatic carried it through. “Act II” turned ominous with echoing chord as the video flashed “swear/never to speak of this.” Pham seemed to channel and dissect Hamlet’s frustrations and madness. Running chaotically about the stage with a sheet of shimmering fabric, he then carefully laid it down, stepped laboriously across it, and staggered with it around his ankle, mired by this obstacle of his own contrivance.

Ora et Labora, an installation by Rosa Vissers and Hatlo, was on display both before the show and during intermission. The studio behind the stage area was adorned with flickering candles and an assortment of laundry paraphernalia: clotheslines, washboards, and two actual washing machines in which the women danced. An interesting pre- and mid-show diversion, the two women enacted feminine stereotypes like putting on makeup, doing laundry, and an over-the-top bump and grind, all while standing in their respective washing machine.

In an epilogue to Room with Themes, her full-length work seen earlier this fall, Kate Wallich presented a duet exploring “all that could have been” in the original piece. Stuck in a panel of light, Wallich moved back and forth across the stage, while dancer Erica Badgeley slowly leaned away and toward the studio wall, as if tethered to Wallich’s retreats and advances. Alternating between solo work, where their bodies rippled jelly-like in individual patterns, and moments where they suddenly snapped, in perfect synchronicity, into a crouch or an abrupt roll to the floor, the phrasing stayed surprising throughout. Though the motifs from the full-length work were evident (a wary fascination with the light and cascading energy from one dancer to the next) the intent of this epilogue lacked the clarity of the full-length version. When the two danced separately, despite their stunning movement quality, it felt rather self-indulgent; each one exploring their own movement possibilities and surrendering to wherever those possibilities carried them. Without the context of the rest of the piece, it became slightly less accessible, though no less aesthetically interesting.

Marlo Martin’s tenSIDES: an excerpt without throwing plates, closed the program. A diagonal of sleek black armchairs bisected the stage, and Martin utilized Velocity’s versatility as a performance space by opening up the doorways to the back studio. Two dancers stood framed in these doorways as hands reached over the tops of the chairs, revealing the dancers crouched behind them. The plaintive strings of Olafur Arnalds, the meshy black costumes, and gestural motions like trembling hands, a caving in of the chest, and a silent scream, all lent the piece a slightly sinister feeling. Delving into the universal motivators like love, hate, lust, and apathy, the eight female dancers all radiated an emotional intensity that added another dimension to Martin’s full-bodied, visceral movements. This excerpt only whetted the appetite for the full-length work, which will premiere later this spring.

NextFestNW continues today and tomorrow evening (December 10th and 11th). Tickets are available at