The first week of REDCAT's 16th-annual NOW Festival presented three works: a one-woman play by Sola Bamis, a toy-train-set-staged play by zach dorn and Danielle Dahl, and choreography for nine dancers by choreographer Katherine Helen Fisher. I enjoyed zach dorn's piece the most but found things to like in all of them.
Sola Bamis' performance features her acting a series of characters; a stressed black woman, the white host of a racist TV show, a TED-talk presenter selling newly invented tea "that washes down white guilt and priveledge with every smooth gulp." (I'm paraphrasing.) It was enjoyable to watch Bamis... she's dynamic and versatile. The audience laughed at every pointed joke and nodded knowingly at the most pointed comments. I laughed too, and was surprised by cleverness and creativity, but I wasn't moved by the work. What's underneath all this? Much of the acting was exaggerated and gestures felt like pantomime. The work incorporated shocking images of racism -- I assume to pose the problem of commodifying black trauma as entertainment -- but I didn't feel like I learned something eye-opening about Bamis' experience or about my own privilege.
zach dorn's Lionel train set performance was the most technically impressive. dorn moves about within a diorama of an imaginary Florida town, directing cameras to show us miniature buildings and characters as he narrates a meandering, imaginary (I think) biography. The train drives a camera around the set, which dorn artfully uses to create interesting frames on the town. He's constantly busy... turning on miniature street lights to illuminate the scenes, switching the camera feeds, and conducting the train. dorn's narration was natural and adept. He artfully dodged a headset mic issue, asking the sound engineer to mute while staying within the context of the story. For all that technical ability, however, the story wasn't weighty enough for me. Similar to Bamis' performance, I wanted to apply the performer's amazing skills to a more cohesive story.
The third work was choreography to music by Helado Negro. The costumes were striking -- each dancer had a unique and bold visual statement -- and while I appreciated seeing the dancers' bodies, I was often distracted by the overt sexuality. Tights over g-string underwear flattered the shape of the legs but I wanted to be able to focus more on the movement. Many of the movements were delightful, and the arrangements of the many bodies compelling. But like the other works of the evening I didn't understand the story-telling parts; a spoken tale about a cat bringing home a dead rat to the kitchen floor of a Malibu home. Perhaps I need to push myself to search more deeply for the meaning here, but I couldn't help but be disappointed when the dancing would stop.
I've come away wondering just how clear my own compositions are. Would someone say, "what's the point?" after seeing my naname choreography?