Northwest New Works 2017 has come to a close. Sad. But here I am to tell you about all the mainstage shows you were sorry (and not so sorry) to have missed!
Overall, this year's festival of brand new, in-progress avant-garde performances seemed to be above average: a couple standouts, a couple weird and moody ones, and a couple shows that should probably go back in the oven for another 5-to-10.
The standout this week: Earth and Ceremony, a new arts collective founded by Rachel Green and Daniel Salo, kicked off the evening with an excerpt from I Want to Hear the Sea, a contemporary minimalist opera about the myth of Sisyphus.
Salo's ambient, minimal piano and violin composition seemed to rise and fall like the sea it was trying to evoke. In the foreground, dancers Belle Wolf and Cassandra Wulff embodied crashing waves as they moved kinda quickly and erratically and rawly. Meanwhile, Green stood on a platform and belted out a beautiful, lonesome song that sounded as if it were being sung by the ghost of a captain's wife from the depths of a sea cave. Sharon Park's lower register swam beautifully beneath Green's soprano, and served as a gorgeous and necessary counterpoint to her almost overwhelming pipes.
Green's job seemed to be to sing and walk slowly from the left side of the stage to the right side of the stage. As she walked she revealed her lacy wedding dress's extremely long train, which was designed by Anna Telcs. The train was so long that stagehands had to prop up the fabric on giant hooks, which ended up creating a stunning image at the end.
The length of the dress might be a metaphor for the long train of myths humans leave in their wake. Or maybe it concretizes the myth's most important detail, which, in Albert Camus's estimation, isn't the pain and struggle Sisyphus endures as he pushes the boulder up the hill in vain, but rather, his determination to walk back down the hill to take up his charge again. "At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate," Camus writes in The Myth of Sisyphus. "He is stronger than his rock." Green's train was a physical manifestation of the path our hero takes up and down the mountain, a record of his trail in lace.
Also extremely excellent but in a more muted way: Wade Madsen's People continued the evening's theme of having one dancer walk across the stage very slowly over the course of 20 minutes. About a third of the way through the piece, I noticed a male dancer doing just that, clearly operating as a figure for linear time, a sort of living loading screen bar. As he walked, approximately 16 other accomplished dancers of various ages (Pat Graney was in there, as were Ezra Dickinson, Peggy Piacenza, and Chloe Albin) moved their bodies to two different kinds of music. Lovely compositions by Copland, Arvo Pärt, and Lele Marchitelli served as lyrical transitions between recorded sounds of daily moments: the sound of people watching a Seahawks game, the sound of a graduation ceremony, etc. In general, the piece felt like a performance art version of a Robert Altman movie, which was great.
Sweet and spunky but kind of aimless: Initially, no dancers stepped onstage for Petra Zanki's Pleasant Place. Instead, people in the wings rolled out increasingly larger spherical items. A small stone. A billiard ball. A Magic 8 Ball. Etc. The opening gesture was funny, and it set the piece's playful tone.
According to the playbill, the objects were supposed to be artifacts leftover from an apocalyptic event. The three dancers (Lorraine Lau, Jaclyn Mason, Tyisha Nedd) who eventually did tumble out onstage sort of presented them to us as they moved around athletically in bright clothes reminiscent of childhood: Keds, high-waters, t-shirts. Lau, Mason, and Nedd projected all kinds of earnest and believable sisterhood vibes as they essentially played a Fort-Da game with their interconnected pasts. It was easy to get swept up in the nostalgia trip of it all, and there were a bunch of fun surprises, but if I wore a watch I would have been checking it for the last half of the performance.
Fun, but okay, whatever: Syniva Whitney/Gender Tender's The Renovation was the performance art equivalent of complaining about all these damn condo-cubes taking over Seattle while drinking beers at bar that's only three years old. Many in the audience laughed warmly at the goofy and fun-loving choreography, but for me, the show's irreverence seemed too easy, especially within a genre whose overdetermined reverence is already a joke. There was a really excellent moment where an animated bathroom tile crept onstage, but that was the first and last of my pleasures.