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12 Minutes Max Returns to Washington Hall

Written by Kaitlin McCarthy

Marlo Martin in Without Context or Provocation
Photo by Tim Summers

This past Sunday, December 2, 2012, 12 Minutes Max, On the Boards’ longest running program, returned to its original home: the historic Washington Hall. An ecstatic Sean Ryan introduced the curators for the 2-night run: Nilki Benitez, Jen Graves, and Storme Webber, who chose the seven-work lineup, six of which were dance or closely related to dance. Despite the excitement in the community about returning to Washington Hall, the sightlines were horrendously bad. With the dancers performing on the same level as audience members, and with no risers, it was a constant struggle for everyone seated behind the first row to see anything that was happening. For Washington Hall to be a realistic space to show dance, risers, or the actual stage, must be used. Or perhaps On the Boards could ask 12 Minute Max participants to design their pieces around the unique space that is Washington Hall. Either way, this is not a mistake to be repeated.

Opening the evening was a ceremonial piece, Holy Ghost, created and performed by Kat Larson. It begins with Larson standing in a projection of sunlight glistening on water. She repeats the phrase “mother, daughter, holy, ghost” as she flings her long mane of hair with each word. She then sings the words as she proceeds down a long strip of paper, toward a bowl on the floor. She dips her hair in the bowl, and what at first appears to be water turns out to be ink. As she drags her hair back along the paper strip, she leaves an inky painting in her wake. Short and sweet, this piece contained many strong images, and was performed with an engaging solemnity. Larson could perhaps clue the audience in to the meaning behind her words if she were to continue to develop the piece.

The following work was a contact improvisation duet, Mano-a-Mano or The Game is Afoot, between Scott Davis and Eric Nordstrom. The piece displayed impressive contact skills and contained engaging moments of aggression and posturing, but these two elements seemed completely disconnected. At one point Davis triumphantly raises his index fingers above his head, declaring himself “number one” and later, puts his hand in front of Nordstrom’s face and quietly challenges him to touch it. These moments held a lot of tension and interest, but the promise of narrative and character were never fulfilled. Furthermore, the soundscore felt random and inappropriate to the action on stage. It’s exciting to see improvisation in performance, but a balance needs to be struck with intension and thoughtfulness.

Anna Conner presented her work Luna (in progress and to be continued…) with a cast of five dancers outfitted in white lace leotards and bonnets that look like 1950s swim caps. Their faces were powdered white as well, which made for a potent opening image as they trembled in unison. The dancers performed abstract robotic movement to an atmospheric soundtrack in much the style that is seen from Cornish graduates recently, which makes this choreography feel less fresh to Seattle audiences than it might otherwise. The skilled cast displayed virtuosity inside the kaleidoscopic piece, kicking sky-high and tackling very fast and precise material. Conner is ambitious with the amount of exactitude her movement requires, the kind of detail-oriented choreography that demands hours of rehearsal time just to make sure ever line, angle, and rhythm are the same between dancers. She is not quite there yet, but for a work in progress she is close, and the effort is appreciated.

Created and performed by Rachel Levins, Eleanor the Clown and the Books is a change of pace for the show. With directorial support from David Taft, the clowning act introduces the audience to Eleanor, an extreme version of the awkward librarian, with clown nose and all. The piece is basically watching Eleanor whimper and grunt as she attempts (and fails) to carry a large stack of books. Every facet of the performance is exaggerated and cartoonish, and has the audience in stitches. There is a nice sense of circularity when it is the same tiny book that always seems to be getting Eleanor in trouble, but it does seem a little like the same joke gets repeated over and over. From a dance perspective it would be interesting to see more nuance and less what is expected—from the moment Eleanor presents herself, the audience understands the awkwardness of the character and what to expect from her. This piece was simple, well composed, and funny, and maybe from a clowning perspective, that’s exactly what it should be.

After intermission, badmarmarDance brings the audience back to the dance world with  Without Context or Provocation, choreographed by director Marlo Martin, who also performed with her group of six women dancers. The piece opens with Martin soloing in front of a line of her dancers to a recording of performance poetry. Typical of her choreography, the solo integrates gestural movement into full-bodied athleticism. Her dancers continue with signature-style Martin movement: weighty and breathy. They collapse, rise, and fly on their collective abstract journey. Badmarmar dancers operate as an ensemble, and the impressive partnering work is fluid and spot on. Although the piece is successful, for those who have been following Martin’s work, this doesn’t feel like much of a departure from last year’s evening-length work, tenSIDES. Martin continues to use repetitive, slow building, epic music. While well matched by the intensity of the dancing, it plays too large a role in guiding the emotional response to the choreography. The poetry also creates an emotionally drenched environment in which to view the dance. It feels unnecessary; the dance can speak for itself.

The final work of the evening is Warts and All, choreographed by Amanda Oie. This quartet starts in a specific time and place…all slumped in front of an imaginary television as the Bewitched theme plays. The dancers seem to get bored with this and organically transition to dance movement infused with nuanced gesture, character building, and expression. A love triangle develops to Tammy Wynette’s “I don’t wanna play house,” which introduces a tension between queer and traditional relationships. This is followed by two beautiful duets, first by the women, then by the men. Suddenly, the Bewitched theme is reintroduced unnecessarily, and the tension, complexity, and genuine feeling built in the first half dissolves into blissful contentment and pure entertainment-style dance moves. Nothing is wrong with this kind of dance, but the narrative feels completely unresolved. Oie has a golden mix of charm, cleverness, and meaning in the first half. Her cast is not only dancing with clarity and skill, but is emoting with realness and subtlety. She should take advantage of this opportunity and see the promise of the first half through.

The next installment of 12 Minutes Max can be seen February 10 and 11, 2013, at Washington Hall. For more information about 12MM see here