This is AU Collective, a Queer/woman/POC-centered dance group. I watched them turn into a flock of birds, a skeleton bird, and a human river.
This is Au Collective, a Queer/woman/POC-centered dance group. I watched them turn into a flock of birds, a skeleton bird, and a human river. Brad Coleman

Now in its 33rd year, NW New Works Festival gives you snapshots of all the performance/theater/dance you're going to be talking about a year from now. Some stuff is in-progress. Some stuff is close to done. Some stuff is the best. Some stuff is ???. But part of the joy of the festival is figuring out which performance has the most potential to become the next mind-melting, genre-altering thing that will emerge from this region and conquer the rest of the country.

You'll find the intimate shows downstairs in the studio. They start at 5 p.m. The performances that need more elbow room happen upstairs on the main stage, and they start at 8 p.m. On Sunday I watched eight 20-minute shows. If you missed it, allow me to tell you what missed out on. If you saw it, here's the one-liners I would have offered to you in at the bar after the show.

Studio Showcase

Kaktus Kolache by Paris When it Sizzles!

Two floating cacti flanked Paris When it Sizzles!, Coley Mixan's one-person band, while she performed a kind of live music video that had a house show feel. Behind her a video collage reminiscent of early MTV branding (neon, TV snow) showed footage of what looked like the American west layered with trippy images. She sang two songs and passed out a homemade batch of kolach in-between. The songs sounded like Pavement and featured sharp/funny-sad lyrics such as "holy hangover in the silence of the toaster" and "all my art's become a competition" and "Oh, Nebraska, I'm baskin' in ya." The poppyseed treats tasted like the desert.

One-line review: Songs were great but too big for the space, and all the extra stuff felt extra.

When We by Allie Hankins with Rachael Dichter

Deadpan contemporary dance comedy about dependence starring the two women mentioned supra. First thing that happens is Hankins pulls two whoopie cushions out of her shirt and performs a slow-mo scarecrow dance. Hankins and Dichter mirror each other in movement and occasionally speak in overlapping abstract poems. Both women share one shirt, and so they're topless at different points in the show. The choreography might appear disjunctive, but a witty, associative logic clearly governs the movements.

One-line review: I thought When We was a hilarious and touching and intelligent piece about the way power dynamics fuck up communication, but I didn't hear other people laughing.

Doin' it Right by ilvs strauss

A comedic dance-essay on the topic of right action. In the essay, strauss weaves a self-described "lesbian melodrama" about infidelity with a complex story of familial acceptance, and stitches both narratives with moments of philosophical reflection. A recording of strauss reading an essay plays while she and a handful of dancers wearing t-shirts with a moon on them move in ways that more or less correspond to the emotional content of the story.

One-line review: The dance element seemed redundant considering the fact that many of the gestures were already contained in the sentences of the humorous and tonally perfect but philosophically lite essay on ethics.

Wonder Full by Britt Karhoff

Karhoff kicks out a rug and carries in a kitchen table on her back to create an apartment of the stage. She anxiously counts up to 30 and appears to be having a one-sided phone conversation that involves a long narrative and a lot of details, all while she performs awkward and occasionally sexual strength poses on the table. I think it's about a single woman dealing with news of a pregnancy.

One-line review: Good mix of subtle and slapstick humor, and the displays of physical strength in a domestic space reminded me of Dana Michel's Yellow Towel, but without the racial overtones.

Mainstage Showcase

TL;DR, an opera by Mallery Avidon/Jeff Aaron Bryant

The band Pollens plays a chunk of Avidon's and Bryan's opera about finding love in the time of smartphones. Musicians stand in front of microphones and belt out lines like "there is no social media for the socialist luddite anarchist" and "I wrote most of this opera on my phone!" The music stutters forward, almost like indie carousel tunes, and reflects the awkwardness of the characters.

One-line review: A little meandering in this early stage of the piece, but the highly stylized operatic gestures mixed with the deeply confessional and contemporary content is as enjoyable and hilarious as the language.

Container by Vanessa Goodman

A visceral solo dance bursting out of a starkly abstract stage and costume design. Goodman's character is born into a rectangle of light, moves powerfully but haltingly through the darkness, and then returns to the light.

One-line review: Goodman moved to the industrial-ambient music like one of its notes made flesh in a way that elicited from me an audible and unbeckoned "damn" at the end of the performance.

Sophia -or- The Series by Sleep Nod

Dreamy ballet/modern hybrid that involved a lot of doubling and mirrored dancing. There may have been a narrative that involved sisters hanging out in a forest, but I couldn't quite catch it. At the end, Christopher Jones stepped onstage and performed Leonard Cohen's, "Suzanne." Before Jones sang, Nils Frahm's spacious song, "Corn," provided a pastoral soundscape through which the dancers gamboled, looking like quantumly entangled electrons.

One-line review: Graceful, sharp, spunky, and all around pleasant—sort of felt like the dance equivalent to taking a shower in a waterfall.

Bayanihan: A Collection of Physical Tales by Au Collective

Bayanihan's five parts feature mythic stories which, as the program notes, are derived from personal experiences. Music by Beyonce, Drake, James Blake, Kanye, and Radiohead with bold lighting design by Meg Fox. The pieces showcase individual and collective talent, seeming to draw inspiration from everywhere. I saw voguing, Kalaripayattu (Indian martial art influenced by animal movement), hip hop, and many other styles. At one point, the ensemble became a flock of birds. At another, they became a human stream and somehow also the fish in that stream while Radiohead's "Motion Picture Soundtrack" played.

One-line review: Darkly whimsical choreography + athletic and precise performances + good music choices = best in show.