Tuesday, September 16, 2014

REVIEW: NOW Festival Week 1

Saana/ the Foreigner - photo by Steven Gunther
I have participated in REDCAT's NOW Festival several times as an artist, and have probably gone as an audience member every year since moving to LA. I'm not sure there is a comparable festival-style incubator for performing arts in LA. For many artists, it is the perfect stepping stone up from self-funded, zero-budget projects to projects of the scale that a festival like Live Arts Exchange (which just started, BTW) might present. This is a key step to make. Sometimes a piece will be part of the festival one year, and presented in its fully-realized version the following season.

This year, I went to the first of the NOW Festival's three programs, featuring work by Wilfried Souly, Rosanna Gamson, and Overtone Industries. Wilfried Souly's Saana/ The Foreigner started the show, and it was the sort of piece in which the act of collaboration itself was at least as important as the final product. It is notable that this sort of statement IS in fact still important to make, and the integration of well-defined creative personalities is a tricky sea to navigate. Souly entered the lobby from outside in a dramatic solo entrance that was an effective use of that underutilized space. Following him into the theater, Souly was then accompanied by two fine musicians - Tom Moose and Julio Montero. One got the impression that the three had worked on the piece in a rehearsal space that was considerably smaller. A barren stage seems capable of dimishing the presence of a powerful performer if they don't know how to approach it. Despite this particular translation of space, it was an entertaining performance of dance and music around the theme of US immigration.

Still - photo by Steven Gunther
That was followed by another dance project of drastically different content. Rosanna Gamson's Still was the most finished piece of the evening. Gamson clearly had a mastery of space, with three rows of movable scrims chopping the stage into 3-dimensional coordinates that she investigated one by one. Her exaggerated movements accentuated her dancers' athleticism, which they seemed happy to employ. The lighting by Tony Shayne was used quite creatively, and to great melodramatic effect. The music, though entirely predictable, served the piece dutifully.

While Saana/ The Foreigner was a great first draft and Still was a stellar final draft, Overtone Industry's Iceland was an excerpt cut straight from the cloth of Los Angeles musical theater. The program notes describe the performance as a workshop for a piece to premiere in 2016. With such a huge cast, a singer descending from the catwalk, and a barrage of emotive arias, I imagine that they were able to get some great documentation to facilitate future support. Though titled Iceland, cast member David O's Lopapeysa seemed to be the only clear direct reference to the country. Otherwise, the narrative of this excerpt consisted of a very heartfelt trip to the airport. I found myself wondering if the final product would include more direct references to the fascinating country and burgeoning musical culture that exists there, or if it would remain an abstraction of LA exoticism.

Iceland - photo by Steven Gunther
I was sad to miss the rest of the NOW Festival, as there were plenty of other acts I was enthusiastic about. It is great to see so many different local artistic communities represented in the NOW festival. I look forward to seeing what crops up next year.

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