NEW ORIGINAL WORKS (NOW) FESTIVAL
REDCAT Theater, Los Angeles
July 30 – August 1
What are you doing for the next three weeks? This year’s edition of REDCAT’s 12th annual New Original Works Festival (NOW) looks to be a colorful debutante ball, with several stunning Cinderella arrivals in the mix.
In three program over three weeks, there’ll be nine premieres from some fascinating, well- established L.A. artists as well as first-time stage appearances by a few of the city’s singular new residents.
Program One, which opened last night, featured three acts. L.A. dance/theater artist Sheetaal Ghandi, who previously appeared at NOW in 2009 with her one-woman show “Bahu-Beti-Biwi,” performed this time with Ulka Mohanty and Mark Gutierrez in “In|Expiration,” an enchanting 21st century invocation conjured with spoken word, song, dance, and cello — all woven with extraordinary rhythm. Using the theme of breath, “In|Expiration” traverses the Big Bang, lung biology, personal emigration history, racial and cultural discrimination, arriving with sinking eventuality at the center of current U.S. criminal justice scandals. Steadfast and supple, the piece is borne by terrific physical force: neat turns and brave accelerations of body and voice feel to do as much direct transmission of meaning as the nimble rhetoric and storytelling.
Dancer Nguyen Nguyen makes his choreographic debut at NOW in “Bloom,” a collaboration with award-winning Maria Gillespie (now a Wisconsin resident) whose own choreography debuted in 2003 on the very first NOW festival. A treatise on memory and process and perspective, “Bloom” features taped and live video projections by video artist Fabio Altenbach, recorded and spoken word from various personal and historical sources, taped and live movement — everything doubled and layered, echoing and blurring. The subject is the spectre of Vietnam, with the details of each of the choreographers’ Vietnam histories rendered only in rather ghostly, suggestive ways (Nguyen’s family fled their homeland; in Gillespie’s family, someone — her father (?) — was a soldier). The piece is overlong, and the process-oriented text (“Is this a good place to begin?” repeats again and again) doesn’t feel specific to this content material, just an unnecessary layer in a palimpsest so busy and indistinct that it often dulls the power of the movement.
That these NOW Festival evenings reverberate with so much ambition and reach — for better and for worse — surely contributed to the audience’s relief and mesmerization with the uncomplicated, exquisitely crafted musical yearnings of Zac Pennington’s eager and besotted chanteur/poet in “Crying,” a concert of four original songs written and performed by bass-player Jherek Bischoff and Pennington, with onstage backing by an all-female string quartet. Lithe and thin-voiced, Pennington has cool stylings that ride the swells of Bischoff’s romantic orchestration and come out ahead, evoking a Bryan Ferry or Bowie, for starters. But there are also layers of lyrical intelligence and poetry here, a la Stephin Merritt, as well as a delicately crafted choreographic stance created by Steven Reker that has Pennington moving haltingly around the stage, manipulating an over-long microphone cord to mysterious and cartoonish ends. Within this subtle, yet tremendous portrait, the yearning that lies at the core of performance is both harshly exposed and precisely whittled. With his trembly, reedy body tilting and gazing and primping, Pennington measures out the most delectable soft rhymes and fresh vocabulary as he sings:
“And the host of those dreams
cut down from the crossbeams
and wait for the sound of his house keys,”
It wasn’t surprising how many people rose to their feet for an ovation. Bravo to week one!
WEEK TWO, Aug 6 – 8
The L.A. debut of Sweden’s Stina Ahlberg in “Sammanfläta (intertwine);” a collaboration between multi-media composer Mint Park and choreographer Hee-Eun Jeong, “BIT;” and director Robert Cucuzza’s “Circle Jerk.”
WEEK THREE, Aug 13-15
A feminist pop/rock music project called Cassandra in “Stellar Tears;” choreographer Takao Kawaguchi, writer Jonathan Hall and artist Deanna Erdmann in “Touch of the Other;”
dancer Kevin Williamson in “Trophy.”
The New Original Works Festival runs July 30-August 15. Tickets and information at redcat.org.