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

by Tania Kupczak

On the Boards’ 25th Anniversary NW New Works Festival got off to a great start with the opening weekend’s studio showcase. The show began with Faith Helma’s Undine, an intense and provocative solo performance inspired by Baron de la Motte Fouque’s 1811 text by the same name. With steampunk costuming by Harmony Arnold and set by Drew Foster as the backdrop, Helma embodies different aspects of Undine through spoken and sung text of her own creation. Her use of a laptop computer for layering and looping her voice live to sing over was impressively unobtrusive and used to great effect. Varying both her singing voice and effects on two different mics (as well as multiple costume changes) provided clear delineation of her characterizations. While I remain a little uncertain about aspects of the storyline – largely as I was not already familiar with the story of Undine – Helma’s work brought me into her fairy tale world with both beauty and anguish.

Next on the bill was Left Field Revival’s To the Core, which chronicles two explorer’s adventures to the center of the earth through dance, video, still photography, and spoken word. The two performers, Heather Budd and Jody Kuehner, have a brief self-reflective conversation mid-way through the piece in which they state,  “cool x us = infinity cool. ” They definitely got the math right with that! Their piece was fantastic: excellent choreography and dancing, fun costumes (both the ones we see onstage as well as a hilarious series of still shots of the intrepid explorers in a wide range of adventure gear), great kooky premise and on-stage attitude, and good pacing of the various elements throughout the presentation. They had Saturday’s audience laughing out loud, and I’d say that they certainly accomplished their mission (from the program) of  “[creating] a world that engages the audience into a space that welcomes play, laughter, and experimentation. ”

Following a brief intermission was another modern dance offering – Early Sunday Morning – choreographed (primarily) by Maki Morinoue of Esse Aficionado, and performed by Morinoue, Suzanne Chi, and Erin Simons. The costumes by Rene Commons were lovely – simple, elegant, and a delight to watch in motion – and Scott Masoner’s soundscape of birds, rain, and urban field recordings was an enjoyable backdrop, but to my eye both the choreography and the dancing fell a bit flat. This may owe somewhat to the program notes explaining that the piece  “reveals moments of a person’s vulnerable state of mind when ”¦going through big life changes. ” I know that state through personal experience, and I did not see anything approaching it on the stage. Perhaps without the built-up expectation from the program, I would not have been as disappointed.

Wrapping up the Studio Showcase was The Half Brothers with Things Have Never Been the Same, a wonderful selection of bluegrass-flavored songs written and performed by John Ackermann, David Nixon, and Rick Miller. Their entertaining lyrics describe a small town between I-5 and the Pacific Coast by turns humorous (of Harley bikers getting chili dogs at the Tastee Freez) and reflective ( “time to fix the world over again ”), but it wouldn’t really have mattered what they were singing about – their tight 3-part harmonies were a joy to hear, and the mandolin and banjo pickin’ was fantastic. (Nice guitar too!) Ackerman and Nixon’s other musical project  “Awesome ” will be featured on the Mainstage during Week #2 of the festival, so be sure not to miss it!

- Sabine Foster