Guest Blogger: Beth Thompson

From the dancing brain blog by Beth Thompson:


Beth in Orlando at Profile Theater (photo by David Kinder)

Beth in Orlando at Profile Theater (photo by David Kinder)

RISK/REWARD:

A wonderland of sun and clouds intermittently warmed my face on the way to the theatre today. A fresh breeze to compliment the click of my boots – a literal breath of fresh air – and with the freedom of the breeze I became aware that I was free from any expectations as to what I would see at the opening night of Risk/Reward 2016. I had no expectations of the subject matter or mediums I would see. And, I had no expectation that I needed to like what I saw. I was free of any need to ‘get’ something out of these creations.

From my humble perspective, the work created by this year’s Risk/Reward artists is intelligently structured, clearly delivered, and rooted in an appreciation for that special gift of live performance; the simple fact that 100+ human beings are in a room together, each having an individual experience of a shared moment in close quarters surrounded by strangers. Ahhh, the audience, my favorite thing about live performance, and it’s delightful to watch several very different styles of performance rooted in that interest.
Milton Lim’s work okay.odd., demands the most from this special relationship. His work opens with a quietly intimate and professional ritual acknowledging his ancestors and ours. He exits and a video/sound installation guides the audience into a meditative awareness of their breath. From this intimate place of meditative awareness, Lim throws us into a visual onslaught of seemingly random words which command the entire space while the beat drives and shakes the theatre. Observing my breath through the brutality of light and language, I could feel the subtle tightening of my shoulders and ass. I was present with the tension that sneaks it’s way into the never-ending stream of stimulus that greets me daily. At the end of this exhausting immersion (Lim’s description notes that we are experiencing a short length session), Lim comes back on stage to connect and invite the audience to end the experience by sharing a ‘tender touch’ with the artist. The work is passionately ritualistic. Lim believes he can truly connect with his audience and isn’t afraid of pissing them off with a form that is, frankly, uncomfortable. After Lim’s piece I realized my heart was racing and I was out of breath, his strobe affect had sent me into a kind of adrenaline state. Lim’s relationship to the audience is certainly the most demanding on the audience, though other works acknowledge this special gift of audience in their own ways.
Anthony Hudson (Carla Rossi) is using some of theatre oldest forms remade through his dance-drag-song-comedy-multimedia extravaganza. He speaks directly with the audience, sharing and responding.  He reveals himself to us as he strips away his wig and white face, he leaves his ‘mask’ behind and his identity becomes more complex. Revelation, comedy and culture are his tools. As he makes us laugh, we want him to be our friend so he can call us out in the midst of this mess of a racist culture we were both raised in.
Comparatively to Hudson’s ease of style, Vanessa Goodman’s solo dance work is marked by a trapped and tortured movement quality, the few moments of release are flung out through barrels of explosion. At the top of the piece her gaze is fixed and searching towards the sky. It is only as she slowly (oh, so slowly) becomes willing and able to hide her torture under a mask of socially appropriate gesture, that her gaze lowers towards the audience. She smiles. She is more accessible to the world and yet further from her self. This simple, slow change in her gaze took my attention away from my empathy for this character putting on socially acceptable mask and toward the question, “Am I complicit in the self-injuring performances given by others around me simply by agreeing to be their audience?”
Aside from my own fascination with how different artists are driven to engage with their audience, it was also simply wonderful to see five deeply disparate forms on the same stage. Goodman’s dance and Hudson’s drag narrative are followed by Lim’s violent ritual of meditation and connection. And, after a brief respite, we sink into Portland’s SNKR and their visual sonic landscape. I was immersed in the color, rhythm and vibrancy of their video creation and struck by the artistry of how they were able to co-mingle the architecture they created on stage with the architecture of the video media. I had no sense of “This piece is about…” and I didn’t need it. I was simply drenched in the moment at hand. Their work gave me new hope for how video and live performance can work together. Finally, Ilvs Strauss’ Doin’ It Right dived into my home vocabulary. Weaving subtle gesture, dance and relationship through a score of music and pre-recorded text, Strauss narrative simply and honestly invites the audience to peer into her personal exploration of that never simple question, “Is there such a thing as right and wrong?”
Thematically, this year’s Risk/Reward line up is all wound up in the experience of where we come from, how we’re negotiating that history, and the immediacy of sharing these questions with the people in the room today.
I walked into the theatre calm, free of expectation. I walked out riled up. Riled up with questions about and appreciation for these artists, the structures and media they created to share with this unsuspecting audience. An audience who didn’t know what they came for. Who didn’t have to enjoy every moment of it. An audience just has to show up and be willing to offer their presence as generously as the performers do each night.

Artist Profile: ilvs strauss

ilvs strauss (Seattle, WA): Doin it Right
Dance/Theater/Performance Art

Photo by Tim Summers.

Photo by Tim Summers.

ilvs strauss brings her critically-acclaimed theatrical wit and imagination to a work investigating text based movement (Dance Narrative) in depth. Playing with layers of TEXT/SUBTEXT/ SUPERTEXT, she explores forgiveness, loss, and the sometimes complex meaning of the said vs unsaid with help from four dancers and Daft Punk’s Doin it Right.

BIO

ilvs strauss is an analytical chemist turned multi-disciplinary performance artist and theater tech living and making work in Seattle. Her art ranges from Dance Narrative performance to anamorphic outdoor sculptures, illustrated storytelling (aka Slide Shows) to haiku poetry. As Technical Director / Lighting Designer she has worked for Pat Graney, KT Neihoff, Salt Horse, and Cherdonna, and is currently the TD at Velocity Dance Center. She also teaches workshops on writing, movement and performance. Her solo piece, Manifesto (last seen at Risk/Reward Festival 2014), now an evening length show), was listed in Dance Magazine’s BEST of 2014 list.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

Five dancers (ilvs included) are in matching pedestrian outfits: grey shirts, black pants, sneakers. A Voice Over narration (ilvs’s voice) plays throughout the piece – this is the TEXT. The dynamics of the performers onstage dance-interacting with each other and with the VO serve as the SUBTEXT – highly scored, improv-based movement. The movement is derived and inspired by words, with partiality paid to subtlety, facial expressions, and repetition. The final layer, the SUPERTEXT, is set unison choreography to Daft Punk’s Doin it Right that plays repeatedly and intermittently throughout the piece. In addition to Daft Punk, there is an instrumental sound scape of looped clips from songs off of PJ Harvey’s album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. As it stands, the story is about loss, sunshine, and saying goodbye.

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Artist Profile: SNKR

SNKR (Portland, OR)
Sound/Video/Movement/Performance Art

 

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Against a backdrop of architectural video and location sound, Rauer moves, taps and interacts with microphones and found objects. Sitting onstage, Nehil treats the live sound and triggers samples of scratchy LPs. Actions are mirrored between past and present, sounding in remote sites and the space of the snkr_still1stage.

BIO

Seth Nehil is a composer, video artist and performance-maker. His distinctive sound pieces feature manipulated acoustic recordings, voice and granular synthesis in unlikely combinations. He has created original scores and sound designs for dance and theater productions, has directed large-scale performance pieces and has released over 15 albums of experimental music on international labels. Seth currently teaches sound and video at the Pacific NW College of Art, among other schools.

Kelly Rauer merges video and movement studies to form large-scale, multi-channel video installations where the body serves as the main subject, object and device. Intimacy and proximity are guiding principles that shape the way she approaches, frames, deconstructs and reconstructs an experience of the body. These video installations are highly planned and choreographed experiences, typically designed to immerse the viewer in uncommon perspectives of the body and its movement not possible in a live performance context or in our day-to-day social interactions.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

SNKR is the duo of sound/video artist Seth Nehil with video/movement artist Kelly Rauer. In performance, they bring together video, sound and movement; Dance is a form of sound-making, and making sound is a way of interacting with places. We sent impulses into schoolyards and rail yards, we created feedback inside Portland’s oldest building, and we explored angles inside a semi-abandoned Soviet-era grain mill in Southern Estonia. In performance, we layer action on action and sound on sound. Kelly is swinging and coiling microphone cables, dragging and rubbing the mics, exploring the simple sounds of paper, wood and metal. She reflects and contrasts with her former self, which is multiplied on the large screen at the back of the stage. A raking light focuses her concentrated body-listening in front of the projected image. Seth is watching, changing and adding in the moment, twisting knobs and triggering digital sounds. SNKR finds an intersection of movement as sound-making and sound-making as movement.

VIEW A VIDEO SAMPLE OF SNKR’S PREVIOUS WORK

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Artist Profile: Hong Kong Exile

Milton Lim/Hong Kong Exile (Vancouver, BC): okay.odd.
Multimedia/Theater

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okay.odd. is a multimedia meditation session centered around facilitating a stream of consciousness encounter through use of associative language and image. Based on the tenets of concentration, mindfulness, contemplation, and visualization, okay.odd. exists between thought and perception; knowing and unknowing; real and imagined. Breathe. Don’t think.

BIO

Hong Kong Exile is a Vancouver-based interdisciplinary arts company comprising of three artists: director/performer, Milton Lim; choreographer/dancer, Natalie Tin Yin Gan; and composer/media artist, Remy Siu. HKX strives to push the boundaries of interdisciplinary process and creation. As members of the Chinese diaspora, they investigate cultural politics in an era of globalization, and have created thirteen original works since 2011. Company highlights include an inaugural five-month residency at New Westminster’s River Market, Hive: NEW BEES 3, CanAsian Kickstart Festival in Toronto, CanAsian International Dance Festival, Seattle International Dance Festival, Dancing on the Edge Festival, and Gateway Pacific Theatre Festival.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

Part spiritual retreat and part commentary on our image-inundated affect-obsessed society, okay.odd. is an invitation to encounter the version of you that you feel, but do not know. okay.odd. engages with the topic of curiosity by loosely borrowing the form of a meditation session using recorded text, eventually spring-boarding into stream-of-consciousness word association via projection and persistent rhythmic sound. Outwardly, the use of projected text in the piece is an exercise in duration, attempting to track and presume a certain train of thought that audience members may be having as they move from word to word. However, the secondary and more significant goal is to inundate observers with associative weight, leaving them with an overwhelming awareness of their subconscious thought and beliefs about how they situate themselves in local/global contexts, and why. This allows the piece to bring up socio-political perceptions around race, ethnicity, privilege, gender, sexual orientation, representation, history, and general otherness, without distilling the whole piece to any singular discussion point. The project was born out of a desire to experiment with delivery of content that would normally illicit association and tangential thought, but at a frequency that is implicitly felt, rather than cognitively activated.

VIEW VIDEO SAMPLES OF HKX’S UPCOMING WORK

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Artist Profile: Vanessa Goodman

Vanessa Goodman/Action at a Distance (Vancouver, BC): Container
Dance

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Photo by David Cooper.

Leonard Cohen wrote that “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” When everything else has been taken from a person, is that light that keeps us human something as simple as a memory of our past?

BIO

Vanessa Goodman is a Vancouver-based dance artist who is Artistic Director of Action at a Distance Dance Society, is Co-Artistic Director of The Contingency Plan dance collective and is an artistic associate with Small Stage. She received her early training in Toronto from Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre, PBJ Dance Projects and Etobicoke School for the Arts. Vanessa holds a BFA from Simon Fraser University and continues her training locally and abroad, including intensives with the Batsheva Dance Company in Israel and the Hofesh Schechter Company in England. Vanessa was the recipient of the 2013 Iris Garland Emerging Choreographer Award from the Scotiabank Dance Centre.

Photo by Ben Didier.

Photo by Ben Didier.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

In a broad sense the title of this solo is a reference to the body as the container of identity and the cultural past it inherits. Most cultures throughout history have experienced life on either side of oppression at some point, and that collective history informs a muddy fabric of guilt and victimhood that exists as part of the human condition. Beyond this, there is also a more literal meaning which can be clearly discerned through the movement where the container represents an actual lack of freedom. How the mind and body copes with incarceration, especially in unjust cases, is fascinating to examine. What parts of ones self can be retained under these circumstances?

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