It wasn’t until after the red curtain lifted to reveal the opening act of Trent Moorman and Lusine on stage at the Cornish Playhouse on Saturday night that I had any idea what to expect. The room hushed as lights bent over the collaborators’ faces. The duo began performing “Arterial,” a mixture of live drums, electronic beats and samples that had Moorman switching from brush to stick to tambourine while keeping time with vocal samples helmed by Lusine.
None in the near-capacity 400-person crowd knew what was coming—no one but those performing in this, the Genre Bender showcase. I’d read the names of the 10 artists chosen by the event’s producer City Arts and its creative director, Jennifer Zeyl, but the details of their work had been kept secret. What I did know was that 10 of the city’s most innovative artists had been paired together: Moorman with Lusine (aka Jeff McIlwain), trumpeter Ahamefule Oluo with writer and performer Ilvs Strauss, singer Kaylee Cole with dancer Jessica Jobaris, actress Marya Sea Kaminski and designer Mark Mitchell, and director Shaun Scott with street performer Ezra Dickinson. Saturday night was the unveiling of their new collaborations with an encore performance scheduled for Sunday.
Genre Bender debuted in 2011 as part of City Arts Fest. That yeat it combined a poet and chocolate maker, a cellist and lighting designer and a dancer and filmmaker, among others, but, since the dissolution of City Arts Fest last year, is now being produced as a stand-alone event twice a year. For Saturday’s performance, each of the five collaborations ran about 20 minutes, with only a few precious minutes between to allow for breakdown and setup.
The second act, titled “A Hug In The Dark,” featured the towering Oluo and the diminutive Strauss, both in suits, reading angry letters they’d written to strangers. Oluo, using a looper, composed ethereal music on the spot, featuring electronic drums, clarinet and bass, concluding with a soaring trumpet solo. The third act, “The Thing Worth Fighting For,” created by Cole and Jobaris, culminated, surprisingly, in a group of 16 laughing and dancing nude performers. This after a beautiful dance solo from Jobaris who moved on her toes in bare feet, spinning and falling to the stage.
The highlight of the showcase came after intermission, with designer Mark Mitchell (here, an actor!), tattoos along his arms and over his face, strutting down the steps of the theater from the uppermost row, dressed in an aquamarine gown. Photographers shot him, videographers taped, and he met the sweet and acerbic Kaminski, dressed in a similar gown, on a pristine white sofa on stage. Makeup artists brushed rouge on their faces while the cameras kept rolling. The two bickered back and forth about their “ludicrous, overbearing love,” drinking spirits while admitting that they “don’t know the difference between truth and illusion, but we must carry on as if we did.”
The night ended with director Shaun Scott displaying black and white grainy film of Civil Rights activists, groundbreaking athletes including Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali, and people performing in black face all while music from Kanye West and Jay-Z blared between lengthy silences. Street performer Ezra Dickinson, dressed only in white long johns, stepped and gyrated across the stage as Scott’s over-dubbed vocals told us that while “the mask may grow tighter or looser, it will never change the perennial truth: that masks don’t actually exist.”
The red curtain fell once more as the 400 people in the Cornish Playhouse applauded loudly. When it rose for the final time, we saw these 10 artists (without artifice), this small but skilled slice of the Seattle creative community, take their well-deserved bows.