The Pick List: The Week’s Recommended Events

Gender Tender

Syniva Whitney has been making smart and smartypants work since she came to town a couple of years ago, mixing visual art, performance, and writing in different ways—all of it an ongoing inquiry into gender identity and sexuality. As co-leaders of Gender Tender, she and Will Courtney bring a light touch to serious issues. In Sync or Swim, their latest work, they turn their attention to families—in sitcoms, romantic comedies, and that most mysterious place, the real world. In all those spheres, Whitney aims to be “testing the fluidity of relationships and identity.” (Through Sun.) Calamus Auditorium, 517 E. Pike St., $12–$15. 8 p.m.

Friday, Jan. 17

Karen Russell

Author of the acclaimed 2011 novel Swamplandia!, the Iowa-based Russell continues to startle, unsettle, and enchant with her latest collection of fantasist short stories, Vampires in the Lemon Grove (Vintage, $14.95, new in paperback). Though the worlds she creates are supremely surreal—young Japanese women are sold into silk-making slavery, their bodies turned into thread-reeling machines; fans of “food-chain wars” travel to the Antarctic for gruesome tailgating parties as tiny krill take on giant whales—there exists a terra firma beneath her dreamlike sequences. Historical references to the Meiji restoration, political innuendo, and critiques of the Iraq War are embedded throughout, bringing necessary gravitas to what might otherwise be just strings of beautiful imagery: for example, “hunks of real ginger are unraveling in the broth, like hair.” You will—and should—get lost in these words, but Russell will finally and expertly bring you back home, dazzled yet aware. Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave., 652-4255, $5. 7:30 p.m.

Nordic Lights Film Festival

Sponsored by Ballard’s Nordic Heritage Museum, this weekend program offers 10 features and two packages of shorts through Sunday. Prominent among them is the Danish A Hijacking, not seen by many last July, but which I think is a better, prior telling of essentially the same story as in Captain Phillips. Without the Hollywood budget or Tom Hanks, it’s a small, tense, and thoroughly claustrophobic drama of negotiation between a shipping-company executive and the Somali pirates who’ve seized his ship and crew. The CEO’s sole weapon is his satellite phone. Meanwhile, we follow a humble frightened cook onboard the MV Rozen, and there’s never any question of his going Bruce Willis on his AK-47-wielding captors. Instead, this is a waiting game, a slow series of bids (beginning at $15 million), rejections, and counteroffers while the human poker chips grow sick and possibly insane. There’s even a suggestion of Stockholm syndrome when the hostages catch a few fish for a communal meal. They and their captors share the only festive song they all know: “Happy Birthday.” (Tobias Lindholm’s film screens at 4 p.m. Saturday.) Beginning the fest tonight, following a reception with director Mike Magidson, is his Inuk, a coming-of-age tale filmed in Greenland with an all-Inuit cast. SIFF Film Center (Seattle Center), and $8–$10 individual, $50–$55 pass. 6 p.m. reception, 7 p.m. film.

Whim W’him

Olivier Wevers comes from the ballet world, and even though his own choreography often ranges far from that practice, he still makes references to the “greatest hits” of the classical repertory. This time he’s taken on Les Sylphides, a staple of the Ballet Russe from its origins in the 1910s through its American touring repertory in the ’30s–’50s. Back then, it was a romantic essay to a piano score by Chopin, with a poet and a group of sylphs. Now Wevers transforms it into a polyamorous dinner party, in what’s becoming his trademark slippery style for his Whim W’him company. The balance of the program is considerably darker, including Wevers’ Instantly Bound, about gun control, and an untitled new work by emerging European choreographer Juanjo Arques. (Through Sun.) Cornish Playhouse, 201 Mercer St. (Seattle Center), 800-838-3006, $25. 8 p.m.

Saturday, Jan. 18

David Koechner

One of the small pleasures of the Anchorman sequel was seeing Ron Burgundy’s old gang reunited. Since the first picture, Paul Rudd and Steve Carell have cemented their stardom and typically get to play the lead in a big comedy (Anchorman 2 being the obvious exception). But what about Koechner, who plays doltish sportscaster Champ Kind? Too bald and bulky for leading-man material, he’s never going to get the girl in a modern American rom-com, but for me he’s always a pleasure to watch. When Ron finds Champ running a cut-rate chicken shack that actually serves deep-fried bats (or “chicken of the cave,” as he keeps insisting), Koechner gives Champ an oafish yet genuine sense of desperation. Though on the surface a bigoted, sexist, homophobic lunk, he just can’t stop hugging Ron—there’s an ardent passion suggesting something hidden deep in his cave (well, closet). Koechner isn’t a stand-up comic per se; he started in improv, did one season on SNL, and is essentially a creator of comic characters, often sourced from his Missouri roots. Since he hails from the sticks, Koechner has a special affinity for playing hicks and hayseeds. (One of his regular bits is The Naked Trucker & T-Bones Show.) Rather than us coastal elites making fun of the flyover states, he’s inviting us to laugh at yokels he knows—like Champ, who’s just too dumb to be despicable. The Neptune, 1303 N.E. 45th St., 877-784-4849, $26.50. 8 p.m.

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