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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 29, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 26
On The Boards' NW New Works Festival an exciting evening of dance
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On The Boards' NW New Works Festival an exciting evening of dance

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN Contributing Writer

NW NEW WORKS FESTIVAL 2018
SHOWCASE 4
ON THE BOARDS
June 16


If you want to see really intriguing new works, trust On The Boards to present them - in dance, performance art, new music and experimental theater. I was fortunate to attend the final showcase of new works by rising choreographers in the NW New Works Festival - a series started at OTB in the 1983/84 season to encourage the creativity of Northwest artists. The four performances in this showcase were what we expect of dance - bodies moving to music or soundscapes - except for one work of performance art that was a combination of video and monologue. All four creations were excellent, moving, and highly professional.

Charles Smith, Director of Program Management at OTB, told the audience that these artists were chosen out of 65 applications and that the quality of work over the years has steadily grown. My dance buddy and I were both impressed with the originality of the works and the high quality of performers. 'I didn't know there were that many good dancers in Seattle!' he said as we walked out - but I wasn't surprised. Seattle is the hub of a whole world of classical and modern dance companies and training schools. Choreographers have no trouble finding dancers who can execute whatever they're called on to do - and as a result we are the lucky audiences who get to see new works presented at the highest professional levels. Here are the works we saw in the order presented:

'Reina' ['Queen']
Choreography by Alicia Mullikin + Dancers

Alicia Mullikin is a Chicana choreographer, and this dance for four women began with the inimitable voice of Chavela Vargas singing 'Ella,' the classic Mexican ranchera about unrequited love. As its slow, passionate regret for the loss of the singer's beloved unfolded, the women danced together in close unison to express the romance and heartbreak in Vargas' tremulous voice. If that had been the whole dance I would have been very satisfied since the simultaneity among the four dancers - with their long tresses, varied heights and races, dressed in identical blue tights and red tops - was like a watching a wave of tears gather and flow across the stage. They embraced all women of all types in a universal expression of love and suffering. Yet it was just the first section of a work that explored what it means for a person to express their queenship in a variety of times and settings, moving from Vargas to disco to a percussive soundscape in which the four dancers used their spread fingers to make crowns for their heads as they moved in increasingly assertive and unexpected movement - clever, wild, and exciting to watch. The dancers, Cheryl Delostrinos, Randy Ford, Ivana Lin, and Elizabeth Sugawara, were splendid queens in every sense - it would be hard to imagine this dance without them, though Mullikin is clearly a choreographer whose work can translate to any setting for reinas of all types.

'desert/DESERT'
Writer, Performer, Sound and Video Design: ilvs strauss

I can't remember the last time I've laughed so hard at a live performance of anything. ilvs strauss combined video, voice-overs and live monologue to describe what she calls 'a solo journey into the desert in search of god, self, happiness. Drugs were involved.' This mushroom-laden pilgrimage in search of identity rang a bell for most of the people present, judging from the waves of familiar laughter during strauss' enactments of substance highs. But even I - non-user that I am - laughed myself silly through many episodes, including the elaborate, extended effort it took to get a hand through a sleeve while tripping. My buddy - one of the 'familiar-with-the-drug-scenario' types - thought strauss' subject matter was 'sophomoric,' to use his word, simply because it was so very commonplace. For myself, however, it seemed wonderfully clever, and a great deal of it was news to me. And I was as amused by the audience's reaction as I was by the performance itself. strauss has a comedian's face - simultaneously attractive and flexible, cycling through a dozen expressions a minute and using silence - including a couple of bogus computer glitches - to great advantage. Hey, I'm a fan. I love comedic drama in any form that makes me laugh, and 'desert/DESERT' made me laugh. 'Tequila Con Miel Y Limon'
Choreography: Cheryl Delostrinos and Fausto Rivera

These two super-energetic dancer/choreographers are members of the Au Collective - a group of (to quote their website) 'dance artists of color, womxn artists, and queer artists ... [who] create dance that celebrates the voices and visions of our artistic family. Together we are realizing the world we want to live in.' So cheers for that - and cheers for the very complex and heartfelt dance performed by Delostrinos and Rivera. As the music changed from hip-hop to percussion to - again, so welcome - Chavella Vargas, the couple moved through a catalogue of dance styles, as though ballet, tap, modern, and fly were metaphors for stages of life. (They probably are).

The title, translated as 'Tequila with Honey and Lemon' suggests a dance of mood and cultural expression rather than message or abstract expression. I can always tell if a dance is memorable based on how well I remember it a few days later - and I'm sorry to report that while I have a vivid memory of the dancers themselves, and their relationship to one another, I can't see the dance in my mind's eye. I don't think this means it's not excellent - I know it held my attention throughout - but for me it wasn't especially memorable. I wasn't sure where it was going and what it meant. It wasn't a dance that intended to avoid applied meaning - clearly there was a through-line - but it's meaning could have been more clearly communicated, at least for me. Perhaps the desire to 'celebrate the voices and visions' of their artistic family was the meaning - in which case - Yay! I'm all for celebrating the artistic communities, and the Au Collective has a vision I endorse completely.

'Eleven Eleven: A High-Energy Meditation on Coincidence'
Choreography: Rainbow Fletcher

Speaking of abstract expression: this work for ten dancers against a video of faces has the quality of true abstraction. Don't try to make a narrative - there is none - simply a sequence of movements that form an impression on the mind. I say 'simply,' but this dance was not simple. Beginning with a man in shoulder stand, absolutely still against a video of a woman's face gazing around the stage (she had a blue dot painted over her eye), we have no sense of a message, but are encouraged by this strange landscape to give up on meaning and just watch.

Rainbow Fletcher (don't you just love that name? If I were to name myself I would like to have thought up something as good as 'Rainbow Fletcher') has the ability to manage a force of ten dancers throughout this 'meditation on coincidence.' The order of dance had a lot to do with colors - dancers moving through patterns according to their combinations of primary colors, whether solids or combinations of tops and bottoms. Trying to find meaning in the combinations was defeated by kaleidoscopic shifts of color, numbers, and gestures accompanied by changes in the video setting of ornamented faces. While the videos were marginal contributions, in my opinion, the really hard work is choreography, especially with a large force. Rainbow Fletcher managed the troupe with confidence and finesse - an excellent harbinger of works to come.

Dance and performance fans can thank On The Boards for a festival that fascinates audiences while encouraging regional talent. The NW New Works Festival is an incubator for great things to come. Kudos to OTB and the contributors, audiences, and artists who support it!

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On The Boards' NW New Works Festival an exciting evening of dance
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