Friday, August 9, 2013

Review: New Original Works Festival: Week Three

The NOW Festival held at REDCAT on August 8, 2013 was a night of far-out performing arts that rallied the spirit of NOW in the LA arts scene. 

The evening opened with a music work composed by accordionist Daniel Corral entitled Dislike.  The music began in swelling harmonies with the eight accordion players falling in and out of dissonance as they played the loosely structured score. This endless din of accordion harmonies, contrasted the verbal assaults by the readers including highly punctuated accusations taken from a 24 record of the most "disliked" YouTube video ever. The rhythmic disparity allowed for the listener to catch bits and pieces of the caustic language over the drone of the accordions. The challenge existed when the accordions and the readers voices synchronized in the same register and competed for the aural space. However, this sonic competition was just another layer of the conceptual composition. A similar competition existed between lines of the libretto and the voices reading them. It was frustrating and irritating at times, because one would hear the beginning of a sentence but miss the second half due to a sudden sweep of cacophony surrounding it. Each reader talked into the mic in a way that they were talking at each other (and at times at no one) rather than with each other.  The somewhat arbitrary timing of the piece provided a context for outrageous and humorous moments to stand such as "Obama loves Bieber" and "Baby baby baby, oooh" or "Learn some grammar Bro," not to mention the string of profanity and name calling throughout.  By the end of the piece, I hated YouTube; I hated the Internet, and I would have given anything to make it stop. But, my experience of discomfort was what created the power in the Corral's social commentary. It was uncomfortable listening to ugliness of it all, recognizing just how much people feel they need to say, to be heard (at all costs) about things that are ultimately irrelevant to their personal everyday lives. Yet, the need to define oneself by speaking up compelled these YouTube watchers to participate in the ugly stream of toxic thoughts. This 20+ min piece offered the time to viscerally experience the inane communication that is so prevalent in the online environment and gave us pause to consider our own role in this world of dislike.

After a brief intermission, the stage was reset for a dance work entitled The Other Thing, by Meg Wolfe and Morgan Thorson.  The piece opened with a walking pattern that each of the three performers followed in canon. The floorplan allowed for moments for the performers to regard the audience and each other with momentary interest as they passed.  The sounds of their heeled shoes echoed through the space, amplified by a floor microphone. This created a spaciousness to the piece that matched the large and empty performance space.  Fleeting moments of activity left the audience wondering about these three, very different women and their respective natures.  Overall, there was no evident overarching compositional structure or story telling.  The non-sequitur movement and disparate dance phrases created all sorts of questions but never answered any of them. This of course drove my thinking into the purpose of the choreographers' choices.  I first looked to the title: The other thing? Other than what? Tradition? Commercialism? This train of thought seemed to hold some water because this piece offered a whimsical study in the expected and the unrelated. A smattering of patterns, relationships and scenarios, this piece exuded a postmodern/ dance-theater feel that was extremely intellectual and kinesthetic without relying on an evident theme nor narrative.

The mere combination of the dancers on stage provided dynamic contrast that begged questioning. The tall and severe, Meg Wolfe, communicated an energy of seriousness and gravity. But, the slight stature of the sweet, hometown-girl, Jessica Cressey brought a lightness and play to the stage.  Morgan Thorson contrasted both with her feminine allure and long blonde hair. The interaction between these three were quirky if nothing else. It seemed like the piece was one big challenge made to the audience. "Dare to get me and dare to dislike me." This theme of challenge was supported in a stand-out compositional choice in which Wolfe defiantly held both arms overhead in fists for the duration of a song plus another few minutes. Staring down the audience and unwilling to relinquish her stance (despite the apparent fatigue developing in the arms), she crafted a lasting image of the work. 

The night wrapped up with my debut performance on kazoo! Well, mine and the rest of the audience who kazooed in harmony (as designated by the color of your instrument). The one act musical Toxikos directed by Deena Selenow was a bawdy, humor driven, pop music and Greek theater mash up that got the audience laughing out loud. The pop culture references and well timed comedy were just what the audience needed to finish the night on an upbeat note. The original Greek text by Sophocles was well delivered by the cast of women, but unfortunately the narrative meaning was largely lost amidst the mischievous and funny antics by the performers. However, the audience didn't seem to mind or notice and instead were rousted to feverish applause after the final song and dance performance of Britney Spears' Toxic. Although I missed exactly how the song tied into the Greek classic, I, too, enjoyed the fluffy entertainment value and parodic dance moves choreographed by Genevieve Gearhart and Deena Selenow. 

Overall the evening had something for everyone and gave me a lot to thing about as an audience member and artist. NOW Festival is a provocative acronym because it made me link what I saw to the here-and-now of today and therefore framed my experience within my concept of what is NOW and  the question of how each work related to NOW? I was able to bend my brain into various definition of NOW whether it be pop culture references, rejection of current trends or extensions of yesterday's avant garde. Had the evening been presented under a different heading, I may not have made these connection or interpretations. But, I am always grateful for any tidbit of insight into an evening of performance and found these three works excellent representations of the many directions and interpretations of NOW.

The show runs for two more nights. Click here for a link to the REDCAT website and ticket information.  And, remember if you go see it, be sure to come back here and leave your own comments for the performing arts community.


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