Risky business

Seattle's avant performance showcase On the Boards celebrates its 20th anniversary with a move into a new (and still unfinished) 380-seat space and one of its most ambitious seasons ever, with return engagements by artists well-known locally considerably outnumbering debut presentations by less familiar names. The eight-show subscription line-up—a fixed program of seven events plus one audience choice from a sublist of four—features the likes of monologist Spalding Gray, Portuguese choreographer Clara Andermatt, experimental videographer Gary Hill, and dance projects by companies led by Rennie Harris, Meg Stuart, and David Rousseve. There are only two total dark horses: a one-man bio-critique of superstar director Robert Wilson, and a collaborative multimedia extravaganza based on the recent translation of Dante's Inferno by US poet laureate Robert Pinsky.

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The Pinsky project is an even bigger shot in the dark than it looks; the show doesn't even debut until September, at New York's 92nd Street Y (hence the generic graphic in the classy-on-the-cheap brochure by longtime OTB graphic designer Phil Kovacevich). But the rest of the programs lined up by artistic director Mark Murphy are not as safe bets as they seem. The Andermatt piece was commissioned for Lisbon's Expo 98 and only opened this month, so Murphy had to buy into the project sight-unseen and returned from its premiere in Portugal last week visibly relieved.

Likewise David Rousseve's Love Songs: Last month, Rousseve held a 10-day workshop for the 20 Seattle performers who'll take part when it plays here next February, but the piece itself doesn't actually debut until November, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Likewise Meg Stuart's Appetite: Members of her Brussels-based company, Damaged Goods, are sure to dance their asses off, but with environmental artist Ann Hamilton (the lady who filled the Henry Gallery with canaries a few years back) a full collaborator on the project, what the show will look like is anybody's guess.

Murphy acknowledges the risk in programming a subscription season of works-still-in-progress, but says that's just what OTB should be doing. "Over the last 10 years we've moved from seeing our role as presenter as just another stop on the road. We've more and more begun to take an active role in the financing and shaping of the work we show, and our audience has bought into that; they'd rather see work that still has some rough edges. It makes them and us more active participants in the whole creative process."

As one of the node sites in the young but growing National Performance Network (NPN), Murphy and company are in a position to put money where they think it will do the most good: behind the individual creative artists who, by congressional mandate, the National Endowment for the Art is now forbidden to support. And some of those artists are home folk: The NPN helped fund creation and rehearsal of one of the most eagerly awaited programs on OTB's upcoming season: the full-evening version of Maria the Storm Cloud by Seattle's 33 Fainting Spells and Peggy Piacenza, seen in tantalizing excerpt at OTB last April.

Cocktails in the park

One more hurdle surmounted for Teatro Zinzanni, the One Reelsponsored Euro-style dinner cabaret slated to open on the shores of Green Lake at the end of October. Last week, the city's Parks Board gave its approval for the venture to serve alcohol on city park property. This week, another essential piece of the package is slated to arrive in town FOB Antwerp: two international shipping containers of jigsaw bits, which, when assembled, will form the circular wooden shed and tent (originally built to serve as a portable dance hall for small-town Belgian fairs) to house the production.

Out of Africa?

The Seattle Art Museum's big visiting show of Egyptian art doesn't open until October 15, but it's already making waves by proxy. A small show of Egyptian material from SAM's own holdings has been on view since July 30 in the museum's third-floor African-art area. Geographically, Egypt is in Africa, but historically Egyptian art has always been exhibited in museums beside Greek and Roman work as part of "art of the ancient world." (See Tom McTaggart's "Cleopatra Was Black," SW, 8/6.) "It's been an awkward point for us ever since our galleries were designed that all the Egyptian work was up on the fourth floor with the classical art," says Pam McClusky, curator of SAM's marvelous Katherine White African collection. "Knowing this big show from Dallas and Pennsylvania was coming up in Special Exhibitions, we decided to experiment with another way of looking at our own Egyptian material, see how far we can push this."

Knowing the showette might be controversial, McClusky and company actively solicited public input providing comment forms and a box to stuff them in. Most of the comment so far, though, has come by voice mail, and it's been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, most of the negative or dubious input has come from other museum types, who see the dispute over whether Egypt's culture has deep African roots or not as at best irrelevant to the actual art and at worst politically and culturally divisive, which can only divert attention from the proper goals of research. Drop by SAM for a look and make up your own mind.

Related Links:

Ancient Egyption website by Jacques Kinnaer


Life in Ancient Egypt website



Thanx to Prof. Scott Noegel of the UW for assistance

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