Photo of Markeith Wiley and Danielle Hammer, by Tim Summers
For two weekends, the 4th Annual Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance will occupy the upper floor of Artists Repertory Theatre, featuring debut works from eight unique artists. Last night, the first batch was revealed. Markeith Wiley, Faith Helma, Nancy Ellis, and Eowyn Emerald & Dancers were granted full faith to produce brand new work, in other words, no oversight or thematic requirements from Risk/Reward.
The correlations between each, although they were blindfolded from one another, complimented one whole. There were enough direct similarities that a number of themes developed out of almost randomly chosen ideas. How could that be, if not for the psychic profile that attracts people to the same things?
Markeith Wiley’s 31 & Counting kicks things off. Keith White blasts off with loud music and bright lighting, and he continues scoring from the sidelines using his laptop. Markeith Wiley is seated in a chair at a school desk in the corner of the stage, he seems to be down, contemplating something. He gets up and in a butoh-like walk across the stage, establishes a weirdness factor that persists for the remaining fifteen minutes. These artists (including Lighting Designer Meg Fox) make up TBDFO, a Seattle rock band.
A shadow is introduced in the form of a person dressed entirely in black (other than the white lining on the shirt) and the face is obscured. There is more femininity about this shadow than Markeith himself — the shadow dancer is Danielle Hammer — and he later takes the metaphor out into the open by stating that the shadow represents his blackness, the thing that he carries with him as if another person is there, all the time. It’s the expectation of blackness that precedes him. But I suspect that it also represents his counter-ego, the Jungian Anima.
Markeith is acting out multiple personalities by using broken dialogue and movement. It gets more personal when he receives a call from his father, but aside from that, it feels like he’s trying to reveal himself but doesn’t know who he is, so I’m left a bit sad as I feel like I’ve been dished a number of cliches rather than an honest portrayal of what is in his heart. But he’s got my interest and I feel like he pushed himself out into new territory, an idea that connects to the next work.
Faith Helma’s I Hate Positive Thinking provided such a contrast in being very white by design, that it made me think about how my whiteness also carries an expectation, and I also had a difficult time thinking about a totally black audience enjoying her, however, a totally white audience was present. It’s something we white people just don’t worry about much.
Faith plays up the new age character with her dazzling 80’s one-piece pant suit. She describes the long process of manifesting this $12 costume as one of positive thinking, questioning the trickery of belief in the laws of attraction, that she actually sucked in or manifested that piece of cloth in the universe, from the ethers basically. We all like to indulge in that fantasy. She goes on a funny and insightful monologue about why she might hate positive thinking.
She reveals the personal event that spurred the whole question. It involves a psychic who may or may not have predicted something important in her life. This thing, which brought upon conflict and heartbreak, was also propelled by a certain positive thinking that could not evade the immediate events in her life. In light of this personal revelation, she seeks compromise, advocating that we accept paradoxical truths, and moreover, that we accept wrongs, stumbling, mistakes, and imperfection, to make room for growth within ourselves and perhaps throughout the world.
Intermission at this point and I’m curious about this pairing. I felt like they referenced each other with a nod, yet they had no previous clue about the other’s work. The similarities are subtle, if not subjective, but it didn’t end there, they both kind of pointed to the next pairing.
Nancy Ellis performs Nancy’s NANCY. It’s like that split personality thing again, only this time the performer offers a self-portrait in response to a portrait of her called NANCY, performed in New York, 2013, by long-time collaborator, Yanira Castro. The backdrop is a projected video, of Castro’s (FETUS)twin, and Nancy is performing in that as well. It gets a little layered and draws out a good deal of personal narrative.
She has a 21-year career to boast. Actually, I first saw Nancy only a few weeks back, at Linda Austin’s (Un)Made Solo Relay Series. I wasn’t sure what Nancy’s capability was, but I was intrigued with her. I see now that she does it all. Nancy recounts the story of her life as a dancer, certain milestones are demonstrated on the spot. She does the splits! She can be very adroit in that contemporary-abstract-movement way or she can be alluring and vulnerable.
Her look is fascinating, especially those bright big eyes and a smile that belongs in Hollywood. She looks timeless, but one cannot deny seeing experience and age there. She is the sort of performer that grows on you, and I suspect I’ll be seeing more of her work now that I’m familiar.
A specific story parallel occurs between this and Faith Helma’s performance, which really perked my ears. Spoiler, I want to avoid, so I’ll just say that the two women are mothers and each use that to drive the narrative.
Closing out the night, Eowyn Emerald & Dancers perform Will You Take This Balloon. This work can definitely be seen as the most straight ahead of the batch. It stood out for that reason like pop-art-dance, something non-threatening yet edgy. They might have a dance company that could work well with musicians who want to beef up their performance. In many ways, just watching a music performance isn’t enough anymore. Their brand of dance could bridge the mainstream over to more expressive, technical, and experimental dancing than the norm, without leaving it up to Lady Gaga.
It is a dance about the complexities, the emotions, the vulnerability of relationship, especially intimacy. I must admit that for me it comes across more mechanical than passionate. Maybe music with very clear cues has to be challenged a bit more, because the music is what gives the work its immediate appeal: steady and danceable. But when you translate that into choreography, you begin to see the steps rather than the dance. They are a young troop and I appreciate their new work, I liked watching them, knowing they have a lot of room to grow, purely from an artistic place. Technically, they are very skilled. To be fair, the work is rigorous and well-executed. It just needs to reveal more of itself.
These four performances continue tonight and tomorrow. Risk/Reward will debut four more new works next week, July 17-19. Another contributor will be in attendance and please return for that review. More information can be found from the links below.