New and Used

On the Boards' annual festival of Northwest works shows novelty isn't everything.

The 19 works featured in On the Boards' Northwest New Works Festival are indeed all new, but some feel decidedly newer than others. While a fair number of artists in this year's edition are laboring in established styles, others are striking out in different, more untried directions. All of it holds promise, and some makes good on it.

Opening week one of the festival, Donna Belmont Isobel's and Melanie Kloetzel's works are in the long and distinguished tradition of modern dancemakers. Isobel starts Compromise in one of those twisted positions that looks like a lost moment from Martha Graham's repertory, and her emotional intensity reinforces the sense of high drama. Kloetzel's two works with clarinetist John Masserini have a relationship to the music that links to early moderns like Isadora Duncan and Doris Humphrey. In both Caper and Icarus Fried, the movement helps us hear the score clearly, while in its turn, the music shapes the time we spend watching.

Day Helesic and Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg are animated by the energy in rock music, but it is mostly a soundtrack for the characters they inhabit in a pair of intriguing solos. In Now Hear This, Helesic rides Mars Volta's guitar score like a tornado, approaching the microphone planted downstage center to take a solo, but flashing away in a series of precisely thrashing poses, never straying far from the spotlight. Friedenberg, initially looking small and slight in military fatigues, bursts onstage in bANGER, bulking herself up, denying that she's practicing gender appropriation while applying a peel-and-stick soul patch to her chin. "I'm half-man on my father's side—descended from a line of pure-blooded males." Her solo is a tour de force of male stereotypes, ranging from air-guitar adept to high-school history geek deep into World War II.

For The Cody Rivers Show (Mike Mathieu and Andrew Connor), the obsession is Baseball, the world of the very minor leagues seen through a lovingly skewed lens. The two are players, fans, announcers, owners, and umpires romping through the game on the field, in the front office, and in the stands. There have been almost as many performance works about baseball as there are teams in the U.S., and this is an affectionately wonky addition to that census.

Now that 33 Fainting Spells has closed up shop, Gaelen Hanson has turned to writing country music lyrics with some of the non sequitur oddity of her previous work. Betty Crump: Know Her, Love Her is both an introduction to a mediocre country music singer and an oddball "making-of" documentary about her work. Betty's lyrics come from classic 33 Fainting Spells territory ("My heart is aflame with the scent of your brain"), as is her out-of-sync harmonizing with her prerecorded self. But once we "know" her, we're not too sure what to do with her—the work closes with Hanson as a filmmaker chasing an interview subject down the street, leaving us behind and Betty nowhere to be found.

Week two of the festival is another marathon. Among the offerings, Alex Martin, who has been wearing the same brown dress for almost a year, will report on her fashion-free journey and alter clothes for audience members as she gets close to the end of this lifestyle experiment in The Brown Dress Solo & Guerilla Alterations. Maureen Whiting will employ her gift for the absurd and nonlinear in Bear Dance With Gust, a collaboration with composer Gust Burns (Whiting as "Bear" and Gust as "Bird").

The photos alone should be enough to get people into the theater to see the Offshore Project's Karyotype 46/XY, its five men deployed as architectural elements in a study of cantilever and counterbalance. Choreographers Ezra Dickinson and Rainbow Fletcher are "attempting to find beauty in the feats and limitations of the male body," but this should be more than a feel-good version of Iron John. The "new" in this year's Northwest New Works may refer more to the copyright date than the style in several pieces, but there's a wealth of material in the festival, whatever the provenance.

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