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Performance Review: NOW Program 3

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The closing program of the fifth annual New Original Works Festival (NOW) ended this weekend atREDCAT with a trio of works-in-progress. Composer Anne LeBaron with librettist Douglas Kearney, choreographer Rosanna Gamson and performance artist Kristina Wong presented excerpts from projects they’re currently working on in all their not-fully-edited, let’s try this, and I-wonder-if-this-belongs-here glory.

Not surprisingly, the results were both good and not so good. Are they teasers for REDCAT’s next season? No comment offered.

LeBaron and Kearney wrote the song cycle Sucktion that the music group soNu performed. Directed by Nataki Garrett, vocalist Nina Eidsheim took the lead role as the abject housewife transforming her life through a relationship with a vacuum cleaner (looked like a high power latest model). Percussionist Gustavo Aguilar went from marimba to trap set to unconventional sound sources and Philip Curtis played his laptop and other sound processors.

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The six songs had titles like "Soap Aria," "Sucktion Remix" and three others, culminating in "Cyborgasm;" these titles being the most accessible elements of the work. Though the libretto was included in the program, it was difficult to read, watch and listen, but I did manage to catch a few comic cryptic lines in the music's text and was easily able to understand Eidsheim's cleaning/stroking of the microphone stand and chairs. And no one could miss her climactic positioning of the vacuum cleaner tube/tool between her legs and angled to the ceiling. The story was aided by the taped male voice of our heroine's coming-home-from-the-office husband (Kearney), a clear plastic apron (costumes by Elizabeth Brooks) and additional props (designed by Merrianne Nedreberg). Eidsheim's near screeching moments matched the whirr of the appliance noting the two characters coming together. All instruments--human and other--were cleanly, expressively and articulately played.

Moving from what I can only call a high art experience to something much more (wo)man-on-the-street, Kristina Wong talks, jokes and shows us live video (by Wes Kim) of cat and people drawings (by Cindy Pop) as she espouses Cat Lady on the stage. Directed by Nurit Siegel and assisted by stuffed cat tossers/shadow dancers Ova Saopeng and Lidet Viravong, Wong relates this feline alliance to all sorts of human interaction. Bonding with her pet as the two watch reality TV, seeking guidance from an animal psychic and using her observations of Oliver (her cat)'s spraying patterns to direct her as-yet-unfulfilled yearning for a close physical and emotional relationship with a man, Wong allows us to laugh at her desperation and at the comedy inherent in the actual real life situations. At times consulting her lesbian friends on the best strategies for training Oliver--"who else would know more about pussies?"--she asks us to enjoy her easily relatable West LA experience. Wong's fifteen minute set was amiable yet incisive, more stand up comedy than eye-opening revelation, at times surprising and always friendly.

Rosanna Gamson/World Wide, a collection of dancers, singers, actors and other artists from eclectic backgrounds and diverse countries presented a new work that they'll continue to develop in the US and Poland. Tov is inspired by Gamson's personal ancestry in Eastern Europe and by the tarpan horse, a genetic recreation of an original wild breed that existed in that area before its extinction in the late 19th century. Her twenty-five minute dance theater draft included some voracious dancing, elegant singing in several languages (by Timor Bekbosunov and Paul Outlaw), boxes of salt poured onto the stage floor (denoting body outlines as well as a linear grid), snow falling under the lights and an almost in-your-living-room narrative--clear and casual (delivered by Outlaw). There was a lot going on at all times (too much?), but the moments that resonated were two women's dance solos--Lilia Lopez referencing the equine and Alexandria Yalj thrashing herself across, through, above and under the salt on the floor.

This was an evening of glimpses into the future and, though I'm happy for the artists to workshop their processes with a live audience, I'm not sure why this major minor experimental performance festival chooses to highlight work that's not yet ready-to-go. Perhaps we'll know more when the 2008/09 season is announced, but closing the three week series of innovative interdisciplinary productions in this way left me a little less than satisfied. Now what?

photo of Anne LeBaron and Douglas Kearney courtesy Cal Arts Photography