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Chaos Theory at NW New Works Weekend 2 on the Mainstage

Written by Christin Call

NW New Works Mainstage Show
Photo by Tim Summers
Initial conditions: 1) angsty rock stars yelling pithy sarcasm, 2) forty exuberant wrecks answering the telephone, 3) esoteric artists existing, and 4) a Southern belle epically stripteasing.  Possible results: well, in chaos theory, the initial conditions may be predetermined but the outcome is impossible to predict.  Artists like Vanessa DeWolf and Ulrich/Braczyk/Baldoz fully embrace the risk of chaos as an important catalyst for creativity.  DeWolf’s work A score for an unrehearsed ensemble, in particular, uses randomization and spontaneous choice-making of its performers to create a work that is utterly unique and unduplicable.*  

The defiance of Richard Lefebvre’s Expecting Bad News is part and course of maintaining personas of radical, hardened misfits who go against the grain of societal norms.  However much is fabricated and however much is an accurate reflection of lifestyle, the hope is that the music lives up to the context it exists inside.  Telling stories both through voice and video, Expectingstung with stories such as the opener about a father who works at a fish-processing plant and crashes at a convicted pedophile’s house.  Once the pedophile dies, the house property will revert back to the victims. Compelling and cruel. Musically,however, the work had no defining arc.  Surely a rock star understands the importance of climax?

Cacophony for 8 Players by Ulrich/Graczyk/Baldoz was a difficult piece to absorb, and perhaps intentionally so.  Talented sound artist Angelina Baldoz did the bulk work of providing tone and atmosphere by somehow combining trumpet, electric guitar, and vocals to create a spiritual soundscape tinged with Middle Eastern/Asian influences.  The combination of seemingly unrelated elements was difficult to embrace: three stylistically different dancers, a Danish-based personality adding Eastern spiritual-laden vocals, a collection of massively underused sculptures,  and Baldoz’ music.  However, in their own right, the dragonfly wing-like sculptures and twine-wrapped chairs and lattice held their own mystery. Allie Hankins, as one of the dancers, proved again that she is a machine of precise, repetitive movement.

Considering Hankins’ Nijinsky-inspired interpretation of Ravel’s “Bolero” earlier this season, it was a delight to see the work used for a different purpose by boylesque performer Waxie Moon.  In Moon’s Bolero, Ravel’s slow crescendo was a fitting metaphor for this perfectly paced, epically charged disrobement out of a giant-hooped, red dress.  Moon’s performance was coyly feminine (he knows exactly how much tension is needed to pull a glove off with his teeth and adds plenty of dry-humping on the theater’s curtains), but overall, it held a kind of delight in the elegance of the illusion of “femininity.”   While paying homage to Swan Lake and Serenade, Moon also paid tribute to Bejart’s version of “Bolero,” in which the main dancer can be cast as either a male or female.   As the striptease continued, the illusion of the feminine reached a kind of breaking point where Moon took off his make-up and triumphantly bared all.  The crowd could not help but cheer on this personal statement.

Waxie Moon in Bolero
Photo by Tim Summers
DeWolf’s piece proved that process-oriented work can still be visual eye candy in this exuberantly absurd cast of performers in florescent paper dresses, neon-colored wigs, 80’s facepaint, and all carrying corded telephones.  Inventions of the 20thcentury such as the telephone, typewriter, overhead projector, and record player are an essential part of DeWolf’s iconography here. They seem to be indicators of consumer items of the domestic home and advancements in technology which supposedly enhance American life.  In actual use, however, the ringing telephone exacerbates human habits that are disruptive, irritating and, inconsequential; they distract to the point of missing someone’s death right there in the same room as portrayed in . Poets embedded in the audience further disrupted the action by calling out spontaneous, lingual wordplay of the moment.  Of all the shenanigans and complex narratives created onstage at once, there were still striking moments that emerged—a man dancing with some cross between a rope and broom approaching an audience member with it and asking, “Have you met my sister?”, Paige Barnes growling like a riled up puppy dog with a hot pink pillow toy in her mouth, and a dialogue among four performers that began with “The feathered woman was…” to which DeWolf remarked, “The feathered woman was inappropriately feathered.  The feathered woman was really inappropriately feathered.”

Witnessing all these choices happening independently and yet still fitting together was greatly rewarding, but it wasn’t without some awkwardness.  Transitions between score prompts were somewhat empty as all dialogue dropped out and performers seemed slightly unsure of their next move.  The piece would have benefited from more decisiveness in these moments to create more contrast between the shifting of ideas.  Score, however, is an impressive offering that could easily (and hopefully does) evolve into a full-length work, or at least an ongoing series of work around the same imagery and concept. 

It is hard to be ok with chaos when so much of contemporary American life is about building and progressing to pre-arranged levels of fulfillment.  The Mainstage show from Weekend 2 offered some different filters from which to view and accept the reality of uncertainty, from silly celebration to sullen deflection.  One comes away with the sense that though these filters may not fit right for each individual, a many-prismed approach can lead to insight and empathy.

*(Disclaimer: Christin Call is a patron of this project.)