Transparent strips of pink, orange, and yellow plastic line a cube structure in the middle of the stage. Theater lights shine through the plastic, creating sunsets on the marley floor. Three industrial ladders stand inside the cube with dancers suspended between the steps. Musician Andy Zacek plays the concertina, informally seated on the floor.
This pre-show environment is part of Kara Beadle’s work for Next Fest NW: Rupture/Reverence, presented by Velocity Dance Center. Beadle is a Seattle-based artist, but the program also featured Sophie Marie Schatz from Tacoma, as well as Portland-based artists Danielle Ross and maximiliano. The festival focuses on experimental new works. This years’ artists represent a wide range of approaches to movement, spanning from choreography-heavy to movement as solely a byproduct.
The pre-show introduction to Beadle’s work Inspect Before Use is arresting. It’s functional as a way to initially draw in the audience and seamlessly transition into the performance, but I appreciate it beyond its practicality. Dancers nonchalantly insert themselves amongst the rungs, eventually weaving between multiple ladders. It looks effortless and eluded by gravity; not once does a performer readjust their hand because they placed it on an uncomfortable ridge nor suddenly let a limb go and break the suspended magic. What works so well about it is there’s this sense that this scene has been casually going on all day and we’ve just now entered it as an audience.
Inspect Before Use is the highlight of the festival. Beadle takes us through a well-developed journey with moments of both thematic and physical levity (no ladders were dropped in the making of this work). The piece has its own logic. References in the works’ recorded safety PSA are a helpful jumping off point to poke at other concepts. Inspect Before Use is brilliantly danced by Beadle alongside Tiffany Bierly, Lisa Kwak, and Symone Sanz. This strong cast shoulders the abrupt changes in the work with ease– floating, chugging, and emoting through it all. In a particularly stunning moment, Kwak lies face down on top of the ladder, creating a triangle with outstretched legs. Beadle rotates in a circle, contrasting Kwak’s stark pose while housed in between the hinges of the ladder.
Murmurs from the back of the theater mark the beginning of Danielle Ross’ work, Lineage (Solo). Ross transverses behind the audience seating, whispering phrases such as “bodily spills,” “bodily tupperware,” and “bodily bones.” This phrasing becomes a choppy audio recording, playing over the speakers in the fully dark theater. The recording culminates in Ross discussing the idea that at any given time in the world, a thousand bodies will be completing the same movement at the exact same time.
Next, Ross performs a series of repetitive movement vignettes. The lights flash on, the movement repeats in a loop, and the lights flash off. The foundational movements of the loops are brief, such as circling the arms backward while jumping, or pitching to the side of the body with one leg in attitude. There are many vignettes, lasting for a good chunk of the piece. After the first few the others didn’t introduce anything new to the work. It feels tedious to watch as an audience member, especially following the verbal text dictating the concept. Later in the piece, Ross watches a video of four people dancing in unison. Ross then performs this choreography as one of the dancers, and when the phrase ends Ross moves to another dancers’ place on the real-life stage, re-performing the same movement in this place. Similar to the vignettes, this is highly predictable to watch and didn’t develop the work further. The choreography appears marked at times, leaving a desire to see the movement performed more fully. Ross’ use of lighting is one positive in the work. The variation within lighting (an onstage flashlight, spotlights in the audience, full stage lighting from above) enhances the spatial bandwidth of the solo dancer.
Obsidian Cherub by maximiliano began by inviting the audience to join them in a breathing exercise. They guide us to breathe in a typical fashion, then maximiliano integrates text about the work as nature sounds fill the space. Though it seems simple, this intro mimics the artists’ approach to sharing work. The piece is intense, featuring contradicting overlaid music, dark lighting, and acts of physical discomfort. Yet, there is a softness to the presentation of it. At one point the artist asks two audience members to swaddle them in black shrink wrap, rounding the artists’ body until their arms are fully encased. It looks extremely unpleasant, but the choice of execution from the audience members softens it. The chosen members commit fully to the task, even though one of them is wearing heels and the stage is covered in empty trash bags that have to be avoided with every circle. In this way, maximiliano guides us to witness the work with a low-key edge, inviting us to perceive its entirety.
In Sophie Marie Schatz’ work Jumping Jacks, four dancers transverse through moments of stillness, calm, and support. The program notes explain,“Disability is a transition, a transformation. It is joy and relief as well as pain.” In part of the work the dancers utilize canes to balance, and then the choreography transitions to using each other’s bodies as a means of support. Later, a dancer brushes their hand along the bottom of their leg in assistance of a battement, then allows the leg to fly into the air in a moment of freedom. The intentions of the work are well illustrated in the movement choices, and arrangements of the dancers in space kept the piece fresh over time.
NEXT FEST NW 2023 offers a unique look into experimental work. The combination of new works and the inclusion of performers from multiple cities make for a distinctive sampling of artistic choices.
Presented by Velocity Dance Center, NEXT FEST NW 2023: RUPTURE/REVERENCE ran December 7, 2023 – December 16, 2023 at 12th Ave Arts. For more information, visit https://velocitydancecenter.org/events/next-fest-nw-2023/