by Shango Los
Attending the On the Boards 2010 NWNW Festival weekend #1 was a real thrill for me last night. This Festival can always be counted on for some exciting and surprising performances. One new twist this year was that in the weeks approaching the Festival, I was able to overhear the chatting between performers on Facebook as they went though their final changes, dress rehearsals and, most fun of all, good lucks and “go get’em girls" in the last 24 hours. As someone who is a “professional audience member" like myself, I felt warmly and happily somehow included. Let’s get one thing off the table at the outset. I do not consider my role on this blog as a critic at all. I’ll leave that to the misanthropy of the local papers. I am an artist’s booster. I am there, yes, to watch with the experienced eye I have developed over 10 years of attending and being engaged by performance but the “critical" part was already taken care of by the OTB selection committee. I am merely writing today to give a glimpse into some of the shows, help you reminisce if you were there and encourage you to go if you have been silly enough to not go already. Tonight is your last opportunity to see these performances and last night was a sell-out for both stages. Next weekend is 8 all new performers. And so we begin.
5pm – Studio Theater Venue – 4 Performances The Mint Collective Daughters of Air Entering the studio theater had a more ethereal and mysterious vibe than it usually does as gauzy material hung from the ceiling in the darkened room. Bits of lights blipped here and there to let me know that there was some powerful technology hidden in the shadows and the simple look of the staging was deceiving. The only object for focus was a single drum that reflected surroundings in the gleaming chrome. The performance was very haunting with a slow build of sounds and wisps that reminded me of the early 90s music of Cranes. It brought a smile to my face to realize that really good lighting technology is now within the hands of ordinary artists because the staging was wonderful, engaging and dare I say psychedelic. Similarly, the sound production taking place was crystal clear and the tones were strong and moving, especially for such a small venue. This was good too because the highlight of the show were the pipes on lead singer Kelli Frances Corrado who sang with a fullness and range that really stood out. I suspect she actually had to reign in her voice for this particular production and would love to hear what she would do with a bigger hall with proper acoustics. Paul Budraitis Not. Stable. (At all.) This performance is a one man monologue of what I can only interpret as a soul on the verge of suicide who takes a moment before such act to speak with us directly about the beauty and despair of trying to keep our families and selves safe and create some sort of stability in our lives. He focuses a great deal on the emptiness many of us feel in our mundane lives in trying to obtain some semblance of “normalcy ” which he then pretty much tears down. The piece itself is well written by Paul and his performance is very engrossing. The stage is very sparse and yet he turns it into a rooftop, a kitchen, and office and makes very creative use of the vertical spot lighting the stage. It seems to be a meditation on the de-evolution of life and he does that quite well. So well in fact that I was uncomfortable with some of it and I would think that would mean he was successful. So much so, that with his shock ending, I even felt a tad physically unsafe, which I can only say is to his credit. Mike Pham I Love You, I Hate You This was my first time experiencing Mike Pham as a solo performer. He is one half of Helsinki Syndrome as well. In the program, Mike quotes Eric Ader saying “If he were to verbalize it, he would have been a writer ” and that is all he gives. I understand why. Everything I would want to say about Mike Pham says zero about the performance itself and would be packed with hyperbole. Mike’s performance was unexpected, without genre, shocking, sexy, funny, morbid, retro, futuristic and well hung. (snicker) It consists of a series of small sections where Mike cobbles together this and that wondrous action to create a pastiche of totally engrossing Dadist art in the truest sense. Japanese commercials, Bowie inspired costuming, dead bodies, tin foil, guns and Olympic ice skating all come together to create a package (snicker again) that you simply cannot miss. Mike Pham is now on my short list of creatives whom I will never miss a performance. The Cherdonna and Lou Show It’s a Salon The big close was the performance I was most excited about seeing in the Studio part of the evening. I am a long time fan of both Jody Kuehner and Ricki Mason. I had been a bit hesitant to go see their cabaret show on its long run on Capitol Hill because cabaret, I thought, was not my thing. However, when I saw the brilliant You Tube clips of what they were doing I realized I was a fool for missing their extended run. This was finally my chance to see them in these stage personas in person. I was not disappointed. The performance was jokesterism at its best. They have quickly become masters of physical comedy, situational comedy and improve. I will also go out on a limb to say that they have the best comedic duo timing of anyone in Seattle. Ricki is the suave Lou Henry Hoover extolling the need “to move beyond the limiting definitions of postmodernism in contemporary art ” while Jody becomes Cherdonna with her too much make-up, slapstick hostess skills and gratuitous and hysterical crotch shots. There really isn’t much of a storyline here except that maybe we are attending a salon at their home or maybe on TV and (drunken?) hilarity ensues. Very much like the Mike Pham piece, Jody and Ricki have the skills to be able to move into more experimental theatre without leaving us behind. It would be an incomplete telling of this story though without pointing out that this is not a thrown together performance. These artists are highly adept stage crafters in the dance world and that is very evident. Their use of the entirety of the stage, the masterful use of their bodies for non-verbal communication and the style in which a haphazard scene suddenly finds them moving in sync from different parts of the stage all belie a clear control of the insanity taking place. I was disappointed when Jody and Heather Budd dissolved their Left Field Revival project but if this is the natural evolution for Jody, I am alright with that. Whew! So that was all before dinner. My companion and I stepped out for a snack and made it back upstairs for the Mainstage performances. 8 pm - Mainstage Theater – 4 Performances Danny Herter and the Invasive Species couloir (trek) This was my first time seeing Danny Herter at the helm of a show that was his brainchild. I can tell you right away that his is a creative and sharp wit. The staging is spare and the razzle dazzle is kept to a minimum so all of the focus is placed on the incredible well thought out dialogue and blocking. I could not help myself from thinking of the movie Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead where the rapid fire and brilliant dialogue comes so fast that you often want to hit rewind just to hear the verbal acrobatics again. This script is packed with puns, double entendres, fanciful plays on words and simple silliness. It is very finely crafted and it is obvious that Danny worked his script to a razor-sharp point. What makes his script shine though is the love, fun and enthusiasm that it is delivered with by his team of intrepid space explorers. Their delivery, timing and freshman enthusiasm is professional, lighthearted and dare I say snuggly at times. The crew consisting of a General, a Captain, an Admiral and a Commander are practiced to the point that the very detailed movements and dialogue hit spot on every single time. With a script moving this fast, I am not making a light comment. This is truly practiced skill. Special note needs to be made of Danny’s soliloquies as the Captain which are substantial, highly intricate and very much parallel what we think of as rapping. His abilities with a pen and rhyming are self-evident and he is to be applauded for repurposing that style in such an effective way for the stage. AmyO/TinyRage In the Fray Gosh, where do I start with this. How about I start with the fact that both my companion and I cried from the sheer moving intimacy of the piece. It is unlike anything I have ever seen on stage and has set a new standard for me of what can be done with movement art. Amy O’Neal starts with what seems like is going to be a rather traditionally built presentation; some mysterious lighting, movement on the floor and a blindfold. However, she segways soon onto a red rectangle stage right and launches into some rather fierce krumping to a bombastic and huge soundtrack. This is very reminiscent of her small 4 x 4 foot stage pieces of hip hop that she is known for. If you don’t know these pieces you simply must find them on You Tube for they are important. Throughout the krumping, I could see that Amy was beginning to cry and that was very unsettling because the force of her dancing was bringing real tears out and not stage tears. Something mercurial was happening. Amy moves again from the rectangle to a lighted basin on stage, cleans herself, reveals a wonder woman costume and moves back to center stage for the most vulnerable 8 minutes of movement performance I have ever witnessed. It would feel vulgar to me to describe it in detail. Do know that it involves Amy claiming her own power as a woman, a surprising amount of nudity and a hot pink Japanese ninjato sword. This was the first time this piece has been performed in front of a live audience and that was very evident. Amy was visibly emotionally shaken but fully present. Not a sound came from the audience. Everyone was transfixed until Amy herself broke the ice with some humor and owned the audience. We were astounded. Audience members bounced out of their seats for a standing ovation and Amy O’Neal had shown to all of us what it is like to truly step through fear. Josephine’s Echopraxia stifle Whomever had final say on the order of performances was wise to place Marissa Niederhauser following Amy O’Neal. Hers was the only piece of the night that could follow Amy without flagging. Indeed, Marissa’s powerful choreography and production direction created an extended crescendo for the deep emotions now in the chest of the audience. The piece begins with rather angry looking dancers bracing for battle. As they fade upstage, S.O.S is being thumped into their chests setting the tone that this is fully a performance of emergency. Like a huge blast, the dancers throw their pelvises at the audience and it is on. Live musicians grind away at electric guitars and live drums bang out a Black Snake Moan southern gothic that creates the dust devil of movement that Marissa evokes from her dancers. The dancers are flailing and crawling and seemingly breaking themselves in half in unison. There is so much to see and it is all happening so fast. From earlier interviews, I know that this piece is about an onstage choking experience that Marissa has had and so I know the urgency and life threatening choreography are very visceral to her. I have seen Marissa communicate and direct her dancers and can see that she has imbued them with this same energy. Suffice it to say that it is powerful and caused me to sweat. A special nod is in order for the live musicians. Spencer Moody from Murder City Devils, Cameron Elliott from Battle Hymns and Mongrel Blood and Ryan Crase bring a throbbing music that provides an urgent structure that pushes the choreography forward. This piece proves that Marissa is a solid maturing force in dance and if allowed the right resources can deliver a breathtaking and meaningful spectacle. Mark Haim This Land is Your Land No meal of delight would be complete without a palate cleansing dessert at the end. Mark’s delightful finale to the evening is colorful and easy going down. Mark utilizes a variety of performers in various shapes colors and sizes to have a romp with diversity. I must say that I believe there is a narrative in here but I cannot for the life of me make out what it is. The performers are repeating a singular piece of choreography again and again...and again for the entirety of the 20 minutes with subtle changes to clothing and accessories. Happily, these subtle changes are very thoughtful and humorous and were accepted with delight by a engaged and laughing crowd. For myself, I had a difficult time transitioning from the prior two intense performances but by the middle had calmed down enough to get into the repetition of the piece and enjoy it and giggle along. As far as programming goes, it was a very good idea to place this piece as the finale because instead of leaving the Mainstage Theater shell shocked, the audience left smiling and laughing and in good cheer. Eight vastly different artists are a lot for one evening and at the same time it was like being at a buffet of everything I love about performance. I am grateful to the creatives for all of the emotions I experienced and the education I was given on what can be done though drive, desire and a sincere need to make something that matters. Well done to all.