NW New Works | Week 1, Mainstage showcase May 15, 2008

by Tania Kupczak

Kicking off Week 1’s Mainstage Showcase was a quirky piece called Pants. It can best be described as a collection of vignettes, and while many were quite enjoyable, the overall presentation seemed a bit disjointed. That said, the opening piano solo (and other keyboard work) by Jose Gonzales was great, as was his dance duet with Peter Dylan O’Connor. The dueling dance-off between the disembodied pants (puppeteered by Margaret Savas) and the young girl (Charlotte Francesca Thone) was hilarious, and the story about and live sketching of the mom demon  “Dadikitus ” (sp?) was another standout. (A line used to describe the drawing -  “sketchy but kind of detailed ” - seems applicable to the piece at large.) Bonus + confession: I learned a new vocab word during the performance – defenestration: the act of throwing someone or something out of a window. Lastly, Thone’s live painting of lime green pants was a charming way to conclude the piece.

The program’s second performance was a modern dance duet entitled Eden Between the Lines: Chapter 1, by Catherine Cabeen and Shaneeka Harrell. As one might guess just from the title, this performance was steeped in religious, political, and personal narratives about (and against) homophobia, with excerpts from The Bill of Rights, the Bible, Martin Luther King Jr., and many other sources. A friend commented during intermission that they made their point halfway through the piece, and that may well be true ”¦.however, had it ended any sooner, we would have missed so much gorgeous dancing and some stunning visual metaphors. Cabeen and Harrell are a study in physical contrast – Cabeen, very pale, tall, and lithe; Harrell, dark-skinned, shorter, and more muscular – and this was echoed in the costume and set design by Michael Cepress. Both dancers wore simple dresses perfectly matched to their skin tones, and the modified  “Twister ” rug employed the same palette with the addition of vivid red. The red sashes (see photo by Tim Summers elsewhere on this blog) were another nice visual/symbolic touch, but the highlight for me was seeing the wonderful partnering of these two fantastic dancers. A MLK Jr. quote I’m particularly fond of was repeated several times:  “The time is always ripe to do right. ” The closing image of Cabeen leaping and being held high overhead by Harrell to the words  “The Time is Now ” was especially moving ”¦.and I couldn’t agree more.

Following intermission was Holcombe Waller’s Into the Dark Unknown: The Hope Chest. The opening title song, written and performed by Waller and Ben Landsverk (and others), was poignant ( “whether you’re married or alone, you’re on your own ”) and full of great harmonies. The casual introduction Waller gave from the front of the stage with the curtains mostly closed made the rest of the performance something of a surprise. Following the first song, the curtains opened to reveal the rest of the musicians/singers (viola, french horn, cello), and Waller transitioned into bouncing about the stage, singing a French song by Jacques Brel with fast-paced video and supertitles behind him. Very fun! His final song, Shallow, an original, was sung from atop a stack of boxes, while video of the interior of a dated home in muted colors slowly and smoothly panned across the screen behind him. His singing on this somewhat melancholy song was truly exquisite. Perhaps best of all, this performance was an excerpt from a larger work which will be part of On the Boards’ NW Series in October – I highly recommend it based on this preview!

Last in the Mainstage Showcase was Northwest Dance Syndrome’s excerpt of Junknation, which will be performed in full in March 2009 at Broadway Performance Hall. I’m curious to see the complete work to see if it more fully addresses the questions and context provided in the program notes (among them,  “How can we re-invent our things, ourselves, and our environment? ”), but the various elements presented here were certainly a good start. An intriguing set of two large sculptures by Paul Haugland framed the stage, and the scene opened with a woman inside the elongated egg-shaped wire sculpture removing debris from the floor and throwing it out the window. (defenenstration!) The sculpture is revisited later, but the bulk of the offering was modern dance performed by 6 women, which I found quite enjoyable to watch. A special treat was seeing co-artistic director/choreographer Anne Motl performing while pretty far along in her pregnancy. While I suspect there wasn’t an intentional correlation between her pregnancy and the sculpture, the relationship does provide one answer to the serious questions that fueled their creative output.

All in all, a very strong opening weekend for On the Board’s 25th Anniversary NW New Works Festival! I’m not yet familiar with half of Week #2’s artists, and that is all the more reason to attend the shows: this series has long been an early step in the careers of amazing performers (among them Mark Morris, a fact highlighted by a photo display in the lobby), and this is a great way to be introduced to local artists’ work at very affordable prices. Hooray for On the Boards!

- Sabine Foster