NW New Works Festival Winds Down Cool, Colorful, Meditative, and Teasing
The most attractive audiences in Seattle are at On the Boards but even the few who seem to be there just for the look of the event can’t help being swept up in the excitement and affect of the NW New Works Festival. The four acts that wrapped up this year’s offerings last weekend offered nothing if not variety ranging from the cool and clean to organic mess, to tense and precise high art, and finally, pure performative indulgence.
Richard Lefebvre’s Expecting Bad News was all cool: a punk-rock, beat-poem film narration. An initial scene projected on a screen before the curtain established the aesthetic with a scene of barmaid daily grind played by Erika Mayfield. When the curtain opened it revealed Mayfield fronting a three-piece band with a story about her character’s father in Alaska. Behind the band a larger screen filled with a film of Richard Lefebvre as the father or a similarly ne’er-do-well sort.
The bass (Mike Henderson), guitar (David Bucci) and drum (Erin Jorgensen) repeated a driving riff under Mayfield’s recitation. The music changed and Bucci and Jorgensen took up the narration with a conversational piece between a couple briefly featuring the narrators in on-screen roles. Another transition brought in Lefebvre as narrator. Finally, as the video story brought together the Mayfield, Bucci, and Lefebvre characters the verbal duties became a call-and-response and sometime duet between Lefebvre and Mayfield. They stalked about the stage repeating the choruses including the titular line.
All told it was a well-integrated piece that entertained without asking much of the audience. It posed without pretending it wasn’t posing. It was angry and defiant without politics. It was very rock and roll.
After a short intermission the second piece of the evening slid into view with a large ensemble improvisation. Vanessa DeWolf’s Score For An Unrehearsed Ensemble involved about 40 performers moving and speaking. They began clustered stage right looking like refuse swept to one side of a preschool. Rough, paper-outer-layer costumes, tiny chairs and tables, and an overhead projector on a rolling stand suggested a playful, creative spirit. Phrases spoken into a microphone while a typewriter clacked suggested the communication of an idea from though to written word to spoken language to enactment as the words often echoed in the movements. There were even moments of spontaneous scene playing among the performers. The whole scene suggested the enactment of a Bruegel painting, capturing all of life simultaneously.
The generalized activity encouraged the audience to notice specific performers and moments, especially those downstage—the ensemble had a tendency to drift upstage a bit—and those involving the overhead projector. The finest achievements of this piece included the fact that the vocal levels remained fairly consistent. The performers listened to one another well and while a phrase might establish itself above the others there was an overall unity. This was true of the movement as well. The performers also fit their form achieving clear choreographic chapters within the piece and concluding in near-unison before the reinforcement of lighting changes.
From the improvising throng the space was cleared for a 20-minute version of Cacophony for 8 Players, a work in progress by Danish icon, Torben Ulrich in collaboration with Seattle choreographer, dancer, and scientist, Beth Graczyk (Mark Haim’s X2), composer, and improviser, Angelina Baldoz. The bare space was dominated by four gut skin sculptures by Micki Skudlarczyk and Steven Berardelli.
The piece began with Baldoz playing trumpet from the back of the audience along with a trumpet playback. When the curtain opened it revealed Graczyk and Ulrich kneeling up center, dressed in black while Allie Hankins stood stage right in white and Peggy Piacenza stage left in a green dress. Hankins often moved in more linear ways, leaving the vertical only to crawl backwards. Piacenza was more curvilinear. Graczyk moved in mostly abbreviated arcs, leaving Ulrich closer to the floor where he occasionally rattled a box and murmured into a microphone.
Baldoz played bass, trumpet, flute, and other instruments. She also initiated sounds emanating from the sculptures. The dancers danced with one another on occasion but their strongest relationships were with the sculptures. The structures were tawny, vertical pieces rising out of black pedestals on casters and suggested a chair, a woman, a tree, and a pair of wings in a double helix. The latter felt fragile and airy while the rest seemed taught and sinewy.
Cacophony for 8 Players is a work in progress in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign that wraps on Sunday, June 24th. Their Kickstarter description suggests that the eight players of the title are artists and philosophers whose works inspired the piece. Seeing the line between inspiration and expression requires no small amount of expertise and creativity but the piece is effective even without this context.
The evening, and this year’s festival wrapped up with crowd favorite Waxie Moon who appeared in a red cotillion gown—all feathers tulle and crinoline with endless evening gloves (by Mark Mitchell). Moon’s striptease was performed to Ravel’s Bolero with extraordinary precision, irresistible charm, sparkling humor, and well-played assistance.