A review of the first week of the annual two-week showcase of new works at Seattle’s On the Boards. A highlight: Lauren Edson’s dazzling “Barbarian Princess,” featuring the Boise, Idaho-based troupe LED.
For 32 years, On the Boards’ annual two-week spring showcase of new works by Northwest artists has offered a mixed bag of shows. That’s to be expected given that many of the performances are works-in-progress or opportunities to try out new concepts.
Usually, however, there is at least one gem of a fully formed work; this past weekend, that was clearly the case with Lauren Edson’s pure dance “Barbarian Princess.” Appearing on OtB’s Mainstage, “Barbarian Princess” offered a dazzling display of pyrotechnics by Edson and her month-old Boise, Idaho-based dance troupe LED.
A former dancer with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and the now-defunct Trey McIntyre Project, Edson is also an accomplished choreographer, and the athletic, twisty “Barbarian Princess” skillfully blends riveting movement, intense emotionality, beautiful video projections (some of them resembling Rorschach patterns) and a sophisticated original score by Andrew Stensaas.
NW New Works Festival
Studio Showcase, OtB studio theater, 8 p.m. June 12 and 5 p.m. June 13-14; Mainstage Showcase, mainstage theater, 8 p.m. June 13-14; On the Boards, 100 W. Roy St., Seattle; $14 for one showcase, $20 for two (206-217-9888 or ontheboards.org).
“Barbarian Princess” is one section of a full-length ballet LED will premiere in Boise later this year.
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Inspired by what Edson says is the “life and art” of Zelda Fitzgerald, the section on view at OtB opened with a spellbinding solo by Edson in which her limbs appear to be pulled in many directions at once. Presumably this is a reference to Zelda’s battles with mental illness, but having that background is not necessary. The solo stands on its own as the physical embodiment of a tortured soul.
Later on, Edson engages in several fraught duets with Jason Hartley, also a Trey McIntyre alum, in which the two dancers alternate between tenderness and near-violence. An especially compelling section features Edson being manipulated by several male figures who may or may not be preparing for a sexual assault.
Besides Hartley, Edson is supported by a cast of powerful dancers, and if “Barbarian Princess” is any indication of what this new company is capable of, it will be an important addition to the dance scene in the Northwest.
If “Barbarian Princess” was the diamond on the first weekend’s programs, Faith Helma’s monologue “I HATE POSITIVE THINKING” might be considered a garnet, although with more polished production design it could easily become a ruby.
Helma performs with Portland’s Hand2Mouth and also as a solo artist; here she took center stage in the intimate studio theater with wacky, stream-of-consciousness musings on why positive thinking is bad. Using New-Age psychobabble to deconstruct the meanings of the four words in the work’s title, Helma concludes that what the world needs is to celebrate failure rather than success.
To prove she’s ready to put her money where her mouth is, Helma ends the performance with a 3-minute improvised dance that she warns us will be awful. Claiming that she’s uncoordinated, Helma prances around the stage with flailing arms and legs, sorely out of time with the music. Far from demonstrating her failure as a performance artist, however, Helma’s hilarious finale reveals an original and compelling talent, no doubt her intended effect.
Next weekend’s festival lineup features an entirely different group of artists and companies. Among them are dancer-choreographer Andrew Hallenbeck, recently arrived in Seattle, who will offer a deconstructed ballet piece based on “Sleeping Beauty”; and Tim Smith-Stewart, who will provide a clever theater piece on art, funding and artistic integrity.