Flinging torsos, a buffoon, and a hint of English punk

The Northwest New Works festival wraps up with a trio of high-concept dances at On the Boards
Crosscut archive image.

Lingo's KT Niehoff and Alia Swersky in “Embracing the Inevitable” at On the Boards.

The Northwest New Works festival wraps up with a trio of high-concept dances at On the Boards

As a dance writer for Crosscut, I am fortunate to have a day or two after attending a concert to digest what I have seen before submitting my review. And digest is the right word, because the day after a concert when I conjure up some of the previous night'ꀙs magic it is a visceral response that often seems to trump a visual or intellectual one.

Last Saturday I went to the second weekend of the Northwest New Works Festival at On the Boards. Now in its 27th year, the event is an indispensable part of the local dance scene, offering support to local choreographers to develop new works that premiere at the festival.

What struck me in the gut the day after my Saturday viewing was a small mystery of a dance by Lingo, entitled 'ꀜEmbracing the Inevitable,'ꀝ conceived and performed by KT Niehoff with Alia Swersky, with themes of intimacy, pain and separation. The two women looked like twins in black clinging mini dresses, bare feet, similar hairdos, and painted bodies that emphasized their musculature and through their cadaverous look hinted at mortality.

Their movement was tightly controlled and repetitive, their undulating torsos upright and then whiplashed over, stomachs clutched as if they were in some terrible pain that could not be exorcised. They stayed in sync for most of the dance, closely together the whole time as they moved from the rear of the stage, down across the front and back again, until they separated and fell to the floor. As they rolled about they seemed still connected, yet painfully apart.

Their passage through the stage space was viewed through a dramatic lighting design (its creator not credited on the program) that sometimes had them fully visible, sometimes obscured. An evocative score by Scott Colburn, with a beat that drove the dancers, was interspersed with human sighs. If I heard correctly, the very first sound of the score was the spoken word "enough."

I first saw Niehoff dance in the late 1990s and became an immediate fan. Technically accomplished, very present in her physicality, and with a marvelous instrument of a body, she was creating an intriguing movement vocabulary that emphasized how a dancer could work in multiple planes with wonderfully twisty, turny movement.

Over subsequent years she created Lingo, a project that 'ꀜexpands and contracts depending on the work,'ꀝ often exploring the relationship of spoken word and movement. It was refreshing to see her in a piece that focused exclusively on movement as metaphor, and the big discovery for me was the taller Swersky, whose length complemented Niehoff'ꀙs more compact attack.

The strongest parts of the dance were the contained movements that carried the duet around the stage, particularly the flung torsos, and the accumulation of power they generated. Once down to the floor, much of the force of the dance was dissipated.

A day later, and even as I write, I still feel that energy at the core of their bodies and the suffering it seemed to be expressing.

A mystery of a different kind was the delightful and well-executed dance/theater piece 'ꀜThe Buffoon,'ꀝ created by The Offshore Project with choreography by Rainbow Fletcher and music performed live by composer Dylan Rieck and five others. The eponymous buffoon was portrayed by Offshore'ꀙs co-artistic director (with Fletcher) Ezra Dickinson, a small, bare-chested harlequin figure in white skullcap, white tights, and broad white belt.

An innocent with his exposed torso making him seem even more vulnerable, the buffoon was intimidated throughout by a haughty and sinister band of four dancers who chased him, manipulated him, and caused him much distress, though somehow he continued to survive, as demonstrated by his trademark prance across the stage, lifting one small, white-shoe-clad foot after another.

Two props acted as bete-noirs for the buffoon: a plush chair that he manipulated in one section of the dance, or perhaps it manipulated him; and a stout pedestal table on which our hero ended the piece perilously balanced but still around.

'ꀜThe Buffoon'ꀝ has a distinct European feel, reminding at least one viewer of the work of the German dance/theater artist Kurt Jooss, choreographer of the great anti-war ballet, "The Green Table.'ꀝ Adding to it was the sonorous chamber music supplied by Rieck and musicians, with a special nod to the micro-tones of violinist Teo Benson, and the deep, resonant sound of Evan Flory-Barnes'ꀙ bass.

The continental sense also took on a little English punk with the wonderful costumes by Dani Blackwell for the four tormentors in gathered waistcoats for the men, and a feathery top for the one woman, Fletcher. I'ꀙm not sure I would have wanted to meet any of them in a dark alley.

'ꀜSakura Rising'ꀝ created and directed by Laura Garcia, closed the evening'ꀙs concert and was a crowd pleaser. Garcia and collaborators developed a mythical Japanese-influenced video game, 'ꀜSakura Rising,'ꀝ acted out in all its fantastical glory by a cast of fighters, my favorite of whom was Bi-Polar Bear. With two 'ꀜplayers'ꀝ commenting on the game from a downstage corner, the choreography of combat was danced out on a game floor, with ingeniously coordinated music and visual effects by Eli Hetrick, Anne Czoski, and Gaelen Sayers, among others.

A high concept, and often very funny, the whole work had a certain predictability to it. In its later stages I spent much of my time not wondering what surprise might come next or how the choreographer might develop her materials, rather letting the coordinated lights, sound, and danced action play themselves out.


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