The First Weekend of the NW New Works Fest at On the Boards

Amy O’Neal’s “In the Fray,” part of the NW New Works Festival this weekend at OtB. Photo by Grabrielle Bienczycki.

This weekend is the opening of one of my favorite performance events all year: the Northwest New Works Festival at On the Boards. Over the next two weekends, sixteen artists or companies will be presenting 20-minute pieces that speak to the vibrancy and diversity of performance in Seattle and the greater Northwest region. It’s a smorgasbord of cutting-edge arts, and while you’re bound to hate some of it, you’re also bound to have something blow your mind.

The festival is broken up into two spaces over two weekends. Here’s the breakdown for the coming weekend; tickets to the festival are $14 for one showscase, $20 for two, $24 for three, and $30 for four.

Studio Showcase (Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. & Sun. 5 p.m.)

Daughters of Air. A new work by avant-garde musician and composer Ivory Smith, Daughters of Air reinterprets Hans Christian Anderson’s classic fairy tale “The Little Mermaid” as a polyphonic vocal symphony. But beyond the musical component, Smith and her collaborators Kelli Frances Corrado and Joseph Gray, have created a beautiful piece of multimedia art that evokes the story’s setting beneath the sea. Using re-purposed videogame controllers, the performers will be generating digitally projected imagery live during the performance.

Daughters of Air, part of the NW New Works Festival starting this weekend at On the Boards. Photo by Tim Summers


Paul Budraitis, Not. Stable. (At all.). Budraitis is one of the most interesting theatre artists in Seattle. His production of David Mamet’s otherwise unforgiveably bad play Edmond this winter at the Balagan was one of the most accomplished pieces of fringe theatre I’ve seen in years. His singular accomplishment as a director was getting world-class performances from his actors, proving a point I’ve long maintained that Seattle theatre’s greatest weakness is not its actors, but its directors. Not. Stable. (At all.), Budraitis’s first solo performance piece, directed by Sean Ryan, was a stand-out at SPF 4 earlier this year. In it, through a series of schizophrenically varied characters, Budraitis explores anomie, paranoia, and solipsism, and as he continues developing the piece into an evening-length work (which will have its premiere at OtB in February 2011), he’s presenting a new set of monologues at NW New Works, so the performance will not be duplicative of the SPF show. (Click here for TSB’s previous coverage of Paul Budraitis.)

Mike Pham, I Love You, I Hate You. In this piece, Pham, one-half of the creative due behind Helsinki Syndrome, continues his evolution away from theatre towards visual and performance art. In a text-free movement and video-based solo performance, Pham uses the rise and publicly humiliating fall of a figure skater to explore ideas of the public and private self, acceptance and rejection, and the narcissism and self-loathing-inducing struggle to maintain an idea of self. Which is all a pretty wordy and vague description of piece in which Pham pirouettes himself into a painful downward spiral, brutalizes some body bags, and drowns in an identity-destroying sea of glitter.

The Cherdonna and Lou Show, It’s a Salon!. A cabaret act by dancers Jody Kuehner and Ricki Mason, the Cherdonna and Lou show is a gender- and sexuality-bending take on Sonny and Cher-style showbiz relationships performed for a public. The duo have been developing Chardonna and Lou for a while now, with popular performances at the Century Ballroom among other places, and the characters have become richly developed enough to have taken on a life of their own.

The Mainstage (Sat. and Sun. 8 p.m.)

Amyo/tinyrage, In the Fray. When I asked dancer and choreographer Amy O’Neal about In the Fray a couple months ago, she told me flat out that in part, her motivation was simply the challenge. After nearly a decade as the choreographer behind Seattle’s Locust dance company, with its large-scale music and video spectacles, O’Neal had concluded that for simplicity’s sake, she needed to have a simple solo piece she could tour to alleviate the hassle. So In the Fray was originally conceived as an exercise in DIY self-sufficiency, designed and executed by O’Neal alone. The work promises to explore ways in which we fight with ourselves. And ninja lore. (See here for TSB’s previous coverage of Amy O’Neal.)

Danny Herter & the Invasive Species, with “trek (couloir)”. Photo by Tim Summers.

Danny Herter & The Invasive Species, couloir (trek). This is one of those pieces I struggle to describe. Based partially on photographic documentation of snow fields in the Cascades, couloir (trek) is a dance theatre piece that uses mountainclimbing as a metaphor for space travel and enlightenment. Or maybe we need to rearrange some of the words in the last sentence. Whatever the case, Herter’s developed a concrete choreographic language in the piece, which suffers for its description, because it’s both funnier and more moving than an abstract explanation of its themes communicates.

Josephine’s Echopraxia, stifle. Inspired by both personal loss and a near-death experience, choreographer and dancer Marissa Rae Niederhauser has crafted an intensely physical dance piece about the primal drive to survive. The performance, by Niederhauser and four other dancers, is performed to a live accompaniment by three musicians, led by Murder City Devils frontman Spencer Moody. (See here for TSB’s previous coverage of Marissa Rae Niederhauser/Josephine’s Echopraxia.)

Mark Haim, This Land Is Your Land. The response I’ve heard from everyone who’s seen this piece in rehearsal is similar to the same stunned response I had when I first saw a video of an earlier version. As a choreographer, Haim thinks well outside the box. A troupe of ten performers, some of whom are professional dancers and some of whom are not, simply parade across the stage to a soundtrack of country music, as subtle changes occur. It’s the sort of piece you watch with a slightly stunned and slowly widening grin as it unfolds–thoughtful, clever, genuinely warm and original, This Land Is Your Land is easily one of the pieces I’m most excited to see.

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