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Next Fest NW 2013 All About the Audience

In an opening night introduction to the 2013 edition of Velocity’s Next Fest NW live performance series, Mark Haim noted that each piece had its own world. Indeed, each of the six choreographers created a different terrain connected to the year’s theme of Touch, and some branched out into an exploration of other senses. In a sold out weekend December 13-15, 2013, Nathan Blackwell, Syniva Whitney (of GENDER TENDER), Dylan Ward, Matt Drews + Coulliette (of Pendleton House), Alana O Rogers, and Coleman Pester presented work that challenged the traditional elements of audience participation. In an already long evening, the variety of audience interactions and seating changes were a tad fatiguing. Nevertheless, each change framed the work in a new lens, creating multiple audience experiences.

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Nathan Blackwell’s “#selfie”
Photo by Tim Summers

Nathan Blackwell’s work, #selfie, was built on repeated gestures and the premise that self-absorption makes it difficult to connect to other human beings. The performers wore dark glasses, which gave them a closed-off air. In a moment when they removed the glasses they were tentatively curious about the world outside their own bubbles, but the work’s conclusion suggested that interpersonal interaction is too difficult for a generation for whom hashtags and selfies are a daily form of communication. While #selfie did not suggest any new answers to this oft-posed question, it portrayed the experience of 20-somethings’ anxieties in a fairly straightforward manner.


Go/Long was a continuation of GENDER TENDER’s explorations of sports movement, metaphors, and regalia. GT Co-Founders Syniva Whitney and Will Courtney performed the work (with Whitney as choreographer) wearing identical red letterman’s jackets over yellow jerseys. Additionally, Courtney appeared to be wearing a basketball net around his waist, and the deflated latex balls covering Whitney’s fists served to exaggerate punches and act as microphones (GT often works with latex sculpture in their performances). There was no coherent center or arc to the work, but many moments focused on making an unrecognizable object suddenly clear—like when an elastic object used for counterbalance revealed itself to be a jockstrap. There were satisfyingly humorous parts, too, such as when Courtney gestured and lip-synced while Whitney recited absurdly long coffee drink orders—but realistic ones, as any barista will sigh.

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“MELODY NELSON” by Dylan Ward
Photo by Tim Summers

Seventeen people filled the stage for Dylan Ward’s MELODY NELSON, a piece which showed some promise but ultimately tried to do too much in one evening. In fragments and repeated mantras, the performers told a brief story about Melody Nelson, a teenager who had a rendezvous with an older man and soon after died in a plane crash. Between dance breaks, the performers quibbled over semantics and choreography, repeatedly bringing the narrative to a crashing halt. In the second half, the narrative fragments were dispensed of and the choices seemed increasingly random, making the piece more unwieldy. It’s great when a choreographer connects all elements into a coherent whole, and it’s also satisfying when a choreographer throws a bunch of things up on stage in such a way that nothing seems connected, but then suddenly you realize that it all co-exists in the same world. It seemed that Ward was chasing the latter—a potentially smart choice—but the second half of the piece lost sight of it. He deserves much credit, though, for directing such a large group on stage: the alternating chaos, order, and frequent cacophony added considerable visual interest.

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Matt Drews in ||bardo|| by The Pendleton House
Photo by Tim Summers

The audience filled Kawasaki Studio for ||bardo||, by choreographer/performer Matt Drews and multimedia artist Couliette, both part of Pendleton House. ||bardo|| was the evening’s most fully realized piece, presenting a world whose aesthetics, movement, sound, and performance wove themselves into a single transporting experience. Drews, powdered white and wearing a long, tight, movement-restricting skirt, moved meditatively in the middle of a black mesh column suspended from the ceiling. Moving images projected a golden light onto Drews’ body as well as the filmy black walls that housed him. As he moved, the landscape moved on top of him, and he looked like a marble statue coming to life in some alternate reality. On his belly, he exited the column, slowly skirted its edges, and ended curled at the feet of an audience member. While he stood tall and regal inside the column, it was as if he could not survive outside its walls.


The audience re-entered Founders Theater to find seating in the round, the floor covered with a white tape grid, and a few blindfolded dancers covered head-to-toe in body paint. Alana O Rogers’ SIGHT created a world of discovery for its rainbow-hued performers (credited in the program by their colors rather than names), as they intuited around the space without sight and then explored a world beyond their blindfolds. Rogers’ work was the most traditionally movement-centered of the night, and the dancers pointed feet, kicked legs, turned, and vaulted to the ground with high-level technique. The journey from start to finish was not entirely apparent, as the tone remained similar throughout the work and blindfolds were taken off and put back on without clear reason. However, the performers, their colors, the stage design, and Rogers’ interesting phrasework made SIGHT one of the more engaging pieces.

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Alana O Roger’s “SIGHT”
Photo by Tim Summers

Closing the show was Coleman Pester’s 30 unsure steps to my seat, which began by making dance into an auditory exercise. The audience sat blindfolded, listening to performers breathe and crash to the ground, and sometimes they felt a rush of wind as a dancer flew past. The blindfold period lasted longer than necessary, but the dance that followed was engaging. Erica Badgeley threw herself around the space in an endurance exercise, and the other performers came in and out of their own seats and danced in uncommonly close proximity to the audience. A series of duets followed, with an especially lovely contact-improv-based pairing between Victoria Jacobs and Fausto Rivera. 30 unsure steps felt largely like a compositional study—an odd choice to close a program, but a pragmatic one given the technical elements. However, Pester’s straightforward approach, pared down aesthetics, and full physicality are enough to recommend him as a choreographer.


For more information on Velocity’s Next Fest NW program, visit Velocity’s website.