12 Minutes Max: The Test Results Are In

Josephine’s Echopraxia. Photo by Tim Summers.

A house of fans, friends, family, and the merely curious filled On The Boards’ Studio Theatre Monday night for the 2011-2012 season’s fourth and penultimate edition of 12 Minutes Max. This OtB institution offers twelve regional artists a twelve-minute slot of lab time for testing new material on audiences, and “testing” is no euphemism. While the crowd was enthusiastic there were no obligatory standing-O’s at this show; the performers earned the responses they received, and more often than not those responses were positive.

The evening was heavy on dance, light on theatre and music, and featured a pair of performance pieces incorporating movement and declamation. Sarah Burgess provided the musical act playing low-key pop piano under a smoky Norah Jones knock-off vocal. She’s a pleasant and comfortable performer who, one hopes, may aspire to greater achievements in her future lyrics.

Dances included a solo, a duet, a trio, and a quintet. Kaitlin McCarthy and Kiplinn Sagmiller danced McCarthy’s choreography using a precise vocabulary of movements to create a narrative of tenderness and aggression that escalated steadily with acts of kindness subverted to violent ends, resulting in the total division of roles between the empowered and the subjugated.

Shellie Gravitt gave the audience a go-go dance by way of Beckett (perhaps that’s go-go of Godot’s Didi and Gogo). The clown act consistently resolved into a vainglorious reassertion of dignity, enacted in the astonishing beauty of the dancer’s torso slowly rising up over squatting thighs, perched on massive high-heeled shoes only to launch once more into the impossible and ludicrous contortions of the act. After an unperformed transition, masked only by the proscenium wall, but revealed in shadows and the unmuffled sounds of costume and prop transitions, Gravitt reemerged, freed of footwear and with a therapeutic rocks glass at hand. This dance was free and easy, instead of striving to achieve an impossible task.

The other dances included one of transitions between mechanized and organic qualities in a nuanced dynamic of encounters received and compelled within Vancouver’s three-woman ensemble Triadic Dances Works. The other involved Geoffrey Johnson’s ensemble of five performers in athletic and grounded movement, often arranged around a still center with a motif of hand flutters punctuating the sequences. The costuming was remarkable for including a variety of faded t-shirts printed with lettering and images, which helped place the experience of the dance in a very accessible and informal world.

William D. Brattain, or TIT: The Irrealist Theatre, gave the audience a strong performance piece spiraling off from the Fibonacci sequence and conceptions of gender and language that was supported in the physical work with well-integrated form and content and enough authentic personality to win the audience’s sympathy. Meanwhile, Joyce Liao’s Llevame Contigo was a more obtuse piece involving childlike play and ruminations on horses, intermixed with prerecorded voiceovers and followed by primitive and simple dances.

This sort of an evening can be a technical nightmare and the transitions between scenes deadly. I’ve long been of the opinion that scene changes must be totally fascinating or completely invisible. Given the large percentage of dance pieces in the evening, the transitions were relatively smooth and quick, but the slow transition into The Town Theater’s Missed Connections was slow and fascinating, a dance piece unto itself. Unfortunately, the rest of this piece didn’t compare as favorably. The set consisted of a pair of triangles in blue painters’ tape laid out on the floor in a formal choreography seemingly borrowed from the preceding dance.

Nick Hara and Ciera Iveson performed their composition derived from Seattle Missed Connections postings, a forum with which other groups, such as NYC’s Royanth Productions and Ars Nova, have had success. The performance of the text was often engaging. Iveson and Hara committed to their characters, calling out into the theatre for affection and connection, though never so much to suggest that they expected a response. This was all very nice, but the actors were locked onto those triangles. What might have happened had they broken free and had an interaction with one another?

At the end of intermission, The SunBreak’s Arts Intern Emeritus Leah Vendl’s name was chosen out of a glass vase full of entries, which won her the responsibility of guest-curating the next edition of 12 Minutes Max (April 8-9, auditions March 11). If it’s anything like this latest edition, there will be plenty to like—and anything you don’t like will be over soon enough. That and the $8 admission are a small price to pay for the chance to contribute to local performance development and possibly to be the first to see the next big thing.