Journal

NWNW 2012—second weekend Jun 17, 2012

by Bret

Seeing the Studio and Mainstage Showcases, punctuated by a hastily gobbled slice of pizza in between, makes for a long night of artistic exploration.

STUDIO

Erin Pike opens with a piece that is half endurance art, half erotic fetish.  Centered in the stage is a white floor, piled with white boxes, a white table, a white chair, a white vase, and a white flower, every surface covered in black scribbles.  Hanging clocks festoon the rest of the space, all marking the current time.  Erin Pike—lanky and angular, spiky red hair, dressed in white underthings—proceeds to meticulously, obsessively clean every surface while a voices counts down the minutes.  The piece could use a few more surprises, but it's more about the accumulating immersion in the activity than about an unfolding.  As you watch your mind closes in on itself and it's hard not to shout out "You missed a spot" when a black smudge still lingers on a table leg.  [Full disclosure:  I'm currently directing Erin in Kittens in a Cage by Kellen Conway Blanchard, opening at Annex Theatre at the end of July.]

Next, Maureen Whiting and Ezra Dickinson, dressed in furry pelvises, scrappy white tops with flowers emerging from their shoulders, and their own flesh, become semi-human creatures enacting their courtship and mating rituals.  One of my favorite dance experiences ever was in this same room several years ago, when Maureen created a series of dance vignettes that seemed piped in from an alien world; it's great to see her return to this approach, where activities that don't literally resemble human behavior nonetheless evoke, grippingly, human emotions. 

Again with the white outfits, this time white dresses with hems spattered and stained!  Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble presents three women (Amber Whitehall, Rebecca Tobin, and Paige McKinney, directed by Jacob Coleman) run through a series of seriocomic dialogues about death, alchohol, and extinct flightless birds, interspersed with ululations coming out of gaping mouths, forced laughter/tears, and spilled wine.  I was resistant at first, and the ending seemd to be trying too hard, but overall I was charmed by the spare immediacy of the troupe, and the show had the most viscerally startling moment of the entire evening.

Finally, zoe / juniper & The Feath3r Theory closed the Studio Showcase with a duet that managed to be both sinuous and robotic—no white costumes, but lots and lots of flowers.  This piece has yet to be distilled down to a clear essence, but the technical prowess is impressive (dancer/choreographers Zoe Scofield and Raja Feather Kelly are intricate and intimate) and there's some potent stuff gestating here. The soundtrack featured way too much academic spoken word (critical commentary on Anne Sexton, among other things) and Velvet Underground songs that are probably familiar to much of the audience for alternative dance; this piece would benefit from either original music or the source materials being more digested into something denser and less obvious

The (presumably) accidental recurrances of themes and images and the predominately female-driven creativity gave this Showcase a surprising sense of cohesion and richness.  Why can't there be a Monday performance for the Studio, or have it open on Thursday?  These works deserve the opportunity for more of an audience.

MAINSTAGE

Opening with a snarl, Richard LeFebvre, Erika Mayfield, and David Bucci perform a sort of spoken-word song cycle that celebrate a drug- and booze-fueled edge-dwelling lifestyle, accompanied by fuzz guitar (from Mike Henderson) and tribal drums (from Erin Jorgensen) and video of the performers shaving, driving, and doing pull-ups—which sounds mundane but it's all pretty entertaining because the trio have the cranky, gritty personalities to pull this off, at least up to the point where you start to wonder if this wouldn't be more effective in a claustrophobic club (or the Studio) instead of the spacious stage of OTB's Mainstage...and at just that point, wisely, the performance ends.

Then Vanessa Dewolf brings out forty people in costumes made from brown paper and black light paint to engage in a free-flowing group improvisation.  The program has a lengthy note from Dewolf, who is a total sweetheart and a mainstay of the local arts community, discussing autonomy and multiplicity and asking "Can a group improvisation be rigorous while encouraging simultaneous ruptures to agreement...?"  Well, maybe, but this performance wasn't.  Doubtless there were rehearsals and conversations about the goals of the piece, but the results couldn't have been much different if all the performers had assembled for the first time mere moments before the curtains parted. This also would have benefitted from a smaller space; I imagine these forty people crammed into the Studio and that could have been amazing—compression might have turned this floundering improvisational interaction into something vital and seething.  The front rows probably had a more interesting experience than I did from the back of the house, but from a distance, this looked slapdash—all idea, no execution.

The next work was also improv-based (or seemed to be) and I probably would have liked it more if my tolerance for spontaneity over structure hadn't been so strained by the previous piece. This is a talented bunch—Beth Graczyk and Angelina Baldoz are part of Salt Horse, perhaps the most exciting dance group in town; Peggy Piacenza and Allie Hankins are marvelous dancers; and Torben Ulrich, whom I'd never heard of before, is apparently an eminence grise of Denmark.  But the piece, though intriguing in flashes (Graczyk's muscular back, criss-crossed with straps, was pretty amazing), felt incohesive and frustrating. 

But the evening concluded with triumph and delight: Focused and simple in every moment but complex in its totality, frivolous and comic in tone but subtly serious underneath, a masterpiece of orchestration. Waxie Moon (aka Marc Kenison) turned Ravel's Bolero into a transcendant striptease, played out with such wit, ingenuity, and verve, that it left camp in the dust and became mesmerizingly beautiful.  Just fucking great.  If OTB doesn't seize on this and produce a full evening of Waxie Moon sometime soon, something is very wrong.

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