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NextNW Real/Time Shows Real Talent

Written by Mariko Nagashima
Erica Badgeley’s (earthworm)
Photo by Tim Summers
NextNW is more than just a festival of performances, conversations, or film screenings. It’s a testing ground, a place for experimentation, and as this year’s theme “Real/Time” indicates, it’s a moment to reflect on the here and now, and peek into what’s coming next. The live performance part of the festival, (December 7–9, 2012) had several choreographers presenting their own work at Velocity for the first time, and the new voices seemed only to enrich Seattle’s diverse pool of choreographers.

Two installations provided pre-show talking points. Sarah Butler sat in the front hall, building a winding wall of playing cards. An innocent pursuit, it sharply contrasted Paris Hurley’s MYTH No. 1, which had her standing in a soil-filled bathtub, dirt falling from her body. Video close-ups of dirt-covered skin and blood dripping down a breast created an ominous, claustrophobic feeling.

Babette McGeady made a compelling debut with her intense and well-crafted 9andOne. A hanging wall of strings (created by Christopher Walsh) stood suspended in the middle of the stage creating a permeable barrier through which the three dancers (Arianna Bird, Matt Drews, and Micaela Taylor) stretched their way through. The three entered hunched in a line, their bare-chested and gold-painted bodies pressed together front to back. They each wound a string around their waist, harnessing themselves to the hanging apparatus as well as to a fourth performer, Alia Swersky, who sat in the back row of the audience holding the bundle of strings. Swersky became a puppet-master of sorts, sometimes controlling their movement and at other times barely keeping up with the intricate web-like geometries. The movement was detail rich and even statuesque at times, an effect aided by the dusky golden light. A mood of tension and fear hung over the piece, and at one point the strings seemed to run straight through the dancers’ midsections; they pulled the lines as if wrenching out their guts. When finally untethered, they walked slowly, brazenly away.

In Hour Hand, choreographer and solo performer Molly Sides started small, standing in one spot, treading through her feet to Apparat’s metronomic beat. A hazy fog filled the space, creating a club-like atmosphere. The movement gradually expanded to her upper body and eventually through the space with deep lunges and ripples. A sly smile played across her face throughout as she glanced at the audience teasingly, imploring viewers to watch her evolution; she seemed to be continuously discovering her body’s capabilities and enjoying the possibilities. Though Sides’ fluid quality is pleasant, the movement feels rather inconsequential, like she’s playing around, and the audience just happens to be there for it.

“Diane” by Shannon Stewart with Mary Margaret Moore
Photo by Tim Summers
“Diane” takes the audience to a bizarre and quirky world inspired by the 1990s David Lynch film Fire Walk with Me. Choreographed by Shannon Stewart with Mary Margaret Moore, the work began with a duet where the two traded consciousness; one became an alert manipulator just as the other fell lifeless. Where Moore is stiff and rigid in her “unconscious” state, Stewart is slumping and rag-like, both conditions made for interesting compensations by the “awake” party. Finally lifting their heads simultaneously, they embarked on a section of unbridled but entertaining awkwardness. Like teenagers, they twitched and fidgeted, unable to control their bodies’ movements, and making bizarre over-exaggerated facials in a show of embarrassment. Throughout the piece, a rotating cast of characters (Meredith Horiuchi, Jan Trumbauer, and Rosa Vissers), all with poufs of tulle around their necks, stood in the back doorways of Velocity’s studio. Each displayed a different attitude: haughty, horrified, or indifferent and making phone calls, but all in the paradoxical vein of light-hearted bleakness that characterizes the piece. At the end they all entered slowly to stand with Moore and Stewart, raising their arms as the lights dimmed, they became a forest of shadowy trees blowing in the wind.

In a strong showing, Erica Badgeley’s (earthworm) expanded on themes seen in her installation at Velocity’s Big Bang, with its use of paint, both covering her body and on paper taped to the floor, though this iteration had more serious undertones. Entirely clad or painted in silver, her body seemed mechanical; only her face, palms, and the soles of her feet remain exposed and human. When the movement becomes full-bodied it constantly surprises, direction changes and weight shifts are imperceptible until they’re over; the effect is elegant and captivating. Suddenly, she becomes curious about a pool of red paint in the corner of a paper runway taped to the floor. She greedily dips her hands and feet, then walks backward on all fours leaving droplets of red. Though evocative of blood, it seems more life-giving than life-taking, and she eventually lies down in it and scoots sideways on her back, her body smearing color. Her hands and feet, pulse gently, like beating hearts finding life in a mechanical world.

TRE (2nd movement) is a fitting companion for Markeith Wiley’s first installation, seen at the Men in Dance Festival this fall. A trio of women instead of men, Jamie Karlovich, Molly Sides, and Calie Swedburg seem introspective, lost in their own world. There is a vaguely competitive air; they often look warily at each other while repeating their individual phrases, unison sections are intermittent. Though well executed, the work felt spare and a bit disjointed. Hopefully when TRE is presented in its entirety it will give each individual section more context.

Raja Feather Kelly rounded out the evening with his solo work: 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy, or Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, or How Can You Dance When Every 7 Minutes Human Conversation Lapses Into Silence. Though neither cats nor conversation appeared in the piece, it did share its title’s schizophrenic nature. Kelly ranged across the space in a red T-shirt and blue briefs, sparkly lips and a neon wig. His long frame is exquisitely mobile, his legs folded fluidly and elegantly under him in quick floorwork and he bounded of the floor in floating and jumps. The piece veered toward the melodramatic, with aria-like music and pauses where he looked plaintively at the audience, but gained momentum again when he abruptly began tracing a grid-like pattern to a schmaltzy show tune.

Velocity’s continued support of growing artists and their ability to engage viewers with well-curated programs like NextNW is vital to the dance community. This year particularly seemed to pay tribute to the ever-shifting choreographic landscape of Seattle, nodding to the fleeting nature of the moment, and imploring audiences to pay attention to the now as it happens.