TO EXPERIENCE the Northwest New Works Festival is to revel in the thrill of possibility.
Northwest New Works Festival
On the Boards April 5-21
"Northwest New Works just feels very wide open," says Dayna Hanson, one-third of the creative force behind dance company 33 Fainting Spells. She ought to be a good judge of the Festival's vistas: Her homegrown troupe—which also includes Gaelen Hanson and Peggy Piacenza—got its start at the annual On the Boards event and has since won a loyal following with New York audiences. The group's Studies for Film, in the final week of this year's festival, could well be a highlight (and Piacenza has a promising excerpt from her own work debuting, too), though predictions just aren't the point of an occasion so lovingly beyond prediction. Fifteen acts divided into six different shared programs over three weeks leaves a lot of room for the unexpected.
"Each year you think you know going into it which are the surefire guaranteed successes and which are higher risk," On the Boards' artistic director Mark Murphy says. "And each year I'm pleasantly surprised because sometimes emerging artists that you're not that familiar with will end up doing something that really stuns you."
After a call for proposals in the fall, Murphy and an official committee reviewed the applicants, and final interviews further whittled down the prospects until the mainstage and studio selections were made. (This year, happily, both programs can be seen in one night each week.) They're looking for quality and capability, certainly, says Murphy, but also for that something extra often missing in young works.
"It's not just artistic quality in the sense of the slickest or most professional, but also the freshness of the proposed idea," he explains.
It's this devotion to a sort of conscientious vitality that makes the event the touchstone for singular local talent that it—and, in fact, On the Boards itself—has been over the last 18 years. Unlike, say, the Fringe Festival, which admits applicants on a first come, first served basis and so often suffers the artistic consequences of that earnest democracy, the meticulousness behind the New Works blitz insures if not always absolute triumph then at least aesthetic honesty. These aren't frivolous displays of vanity or pretense but genuine attempts to grapple with an Idea through collaborative and often boundary-crossing theater, movement, or dance. The rare freedom that the festival provides without charge—a great space, publicity, a technical director—frequently unleashes in the participating artists the capacity to surprise even themselves.
"We've really had a chance to start from scratch," performer John Kaufmann says of the work that he and director Andy Jensen have done with Kaufmann's second-week solo piece, Linger. "That was, for me, a real goal: to use the New Works Festival to take [the show] someplace where it could not have gone without that support."
"[Northwest New Works] really does represent a rare opportunity to get a sort of survey or snapshot of interesting developments in the performing arts in this region right now," Murphy says, "the chance to see, to gauge, what kind of movements and trends are being explored by artists in the community."
Kaufmann's piece, a loopy, unusually charming work-in-progress now in its fifth incarnation (the first with a director), explores, in his own words, "how a moment affects future moments and what it means to be 'in the moment.'"
As each new work reveals its promise to On the Boards audiences in the coming weeks, that may be the perfect summation of the festival itself.