The first weekend of this year's Northwest New Works began and ended with screaming. On Friday, an hour before the first showcase, a pack of people crowded onto the corner in front of On the Boards for a mock protest of performance art. They chanted, yelled at passersby, and held a variety of picket signs: "Performance Art Is Unsustainable," "This Is Not a Protest Sign," and "Keep Art Where It Belongs—ON THE WALL!" One large board, held by micro-etch artist Ben Beres, was covered in writing so small it was indecipherable.
The protest was announced by Greg Lundgren as part of his series of arbitrary art grants (unaffiliated with On the Boards); one lucky protester, selected at random, won $500. "I was just talking to this pretty girl," the winner said afterward, sounding a little dazed. "And she just handed me $500." Not everybody realized the protest was a joke. One resident of a nearby apartment building descended and told everyone to shut up, and a short, elderly man with gray hair accosted one protester, loudly asking, "What's so un-American about performance art?" The protester didn't have an answer.
For the past 26 years, Northwest New Works has introduced the world to new names and new projects—it's an annual survey of things to come.
The protesters picked up their tickets, settled into their seats, and the weekend of performance began: Byron Au Yong sang a solo operetta about a Chinese deliveryman stuck in an elevator. Headwaters Dance Company danced about Montana, with stylized lassoing and squeezing of water from their shirts into glasses. Helsinki Syndrome began its piece about moving overseas in an ominous mood (stories about doomed travelers, a woman smearing herself with a blood orange) and ended with goofiness (dancers in sparkly unitards mugging to "Come Sail Away" by Styx).
Best performance by a company you've never heard of: Home Bodies, a gorgeous and tender pas de deux about a confused love affair by Umami Performance. The score, by Amy Denio, piped in sounds of public buses, giving the dance an urban, transitory undercurrent. The two dancers met and tangled with deadpan ease, gently lifting and falling over each other. Theirs was a melancholy and uncertain affair of push and pull, fusing and breaking, not knowing how to be with each other. Awkwardness has never looked so graceful.
Meeting high expectations: Local dance companies Salt Horse and SANDSTROMMOVEMENT, both led by well-known local dancers (Beth Graczyk and Corrie Befort in the former, Ellie Sandstrom in the latter). Both companies performed meditative, enigmatic, and haunting pieces—and closed out the weekend to shouting applause.
Dragging me, kicking and screaming, into liking it: Queen Shmooquan, who, until last weekend, I had thought of as a cheap-shot artist who relied on scatological shtick—bright leotards, rubber chickens, regurgitated Twinkies, and homemade strap-ons. The poultry and penises were fully represented, but the Queen revealed new depths of flagrant pop-culture weirdness—she might be an heir to Dina Martina and Klaus Nomi. Shmooquan stuffed her performance with exquisitely surreal video (Mister Rogers, cheesy hand-holding on the beach, kaleidoscopic underwear) and antics. She rode a bicycle, danced on roller skates, and smeared her face with lipstick before chewing off the tip. At one point, the audience applauded her for simply eating a Dorito. Shmooquan's heart beats pure entertainment—glittery, gaudy, and shameless. God save the Queen.