A Glimmer of Skin or Hope or Light (Seattle 2010)

One more syndicated review, and then I’m done for a little bit.  What follows is a piece I wrote about a performance of an evening-length work by one of my teachers and mentors, KT Niehoff.  She runs a company called Lingo, and her work is among the best reviewed, attended, and known in the greater Seattle area.  She blends athleticism, gestural movement and witticism handily, creating a signature style that always pushes boundaries.  I greatly enjoyed this work when I saw it, and I recommend checking this lady out.  She often travels for performances and teaching, if you’re interested.

On May 8th I had the great pleasure of attending a performance of KT Niehoff’s most recent show, A Glimmer of Hope or Skin or Light, in the ACT Theater’s Bullitt Cabaret space. Upon entering the space, it was clear I had wandered into a universe of Lingo creation. Musicians played steadily on a small, slightly elevated stage, while performers dressed in variations on a blue cabaret costume slinked through the growing audience.

Four white costumes, all made to resemble a coat or dress, hung from the balcony overhang: first I noticed one with shredded feathers or wings protruding from the back; second, a garment covered with cards full of poetry and prose; third, a relatively plain, longer robe-like structure; fourth, a bell-shaped dress with large gaping slits in the lower half. Throughout the show, four core dancers named the Coven wore these garments on and off. Each garment seemed to lend a supernatural ability or strength to the dancers that translated into their interactions with each other and the audience.

The dancing began subtly. The slinky, blue-garbed “Showgirls” with fantastic airbrushed-looking makeup, belly-baring tops and huge headdresses met each other with sharp, isolated, and alluring movements each time they passed one another. They gave off an air of opulence but also depravity and loss. Throughout the night they invited the gaze of the audience and directed it to the moment of action. The universe clearly is their space and the Coven (a group of four with mystical powers, perhaps?) had better play by their rules.

The light design superbly illuminated the space and directed audience attention throughout the evening as well. The dance wound its way around the space, through the tables, up the stairs, around the balcony, in front of mirrors, and onto the stage, and at all times it was perfectly coherent. I had obvious visual and auditory cues directing me where to stand and where to look. At times this was incredibly necessary in order to avoid being smashed, as when two Coven dancers played out a super-powered fight around the balcony, disappearing down a corridor of light. At times this was simply a way to make sure the audience recognized when important events occurred.

The relationships that developed between the Coven dancers seemed to me to be very important and a driving force of the piece. The two female dancers became entwined as one right from the start. It was difficult to figure out where one began and the other ended, with the mix of skin and clothes, tangled and writhing on the floor. Connected at the hips, the dancers began to move as one unit, rotating in a circle. They became another creature, evolved past humanity. Though they danced separately for most of the rest of the dance, they later reprised their original duet and exchanged costumes, making me think of them even more as two halves of one unit.

The two male dancers took more unique character positions throughout the night, and fairly antagonistic ones at that. One fought first with one of the female dancers, a violent duet of physical versus emotional strength. He tossed her around the floor, brutally flinging her or dropping her, as she screamed to him “harder! faster! pick me up!” Perhaps he won that time, but she later owned him in the telekinetic fight around the balcony. The two males danced an incredibly physical and angry duet to a gentle song about not being afraid and offering up experiences to the greater consciousness. The dance and the song stood in direct conflict for me and I loved the juxtaposition. The dancers jumped on each other and threw each other around the space, each seemingly trying to get the other down for good. At times it reminded me of a wrestling match. Always it was a display of male aggression and dominance play. Even when one beat the other (the same one who beat the female dancer earlier), the beaten one kept at it.

As the dance progressed, it seemed to be full of places where the dancers took opportunities to beat each other, to ruin each other, to shock each other. “Life is a cabaret,” sang the band, with Niehoff, at one point. How true. The fancy, doll-like showgirl performers stamping in perfect, terrifying unison order the audience to look at the impending devastation of the Coven, the ancient Gods of the universe perhaps, who are trying desperately to hang on to the cabaret. In the end they are beaten, not just by each other, but by the energy it takes to hang onto a facade as deep as the one they have been engaging in. The facade is physically broken when one male dancer stalks around the balcony nude, screaming “fuck! shit! what the fuck are you looking at? I know exactly what I’m doing!” After that the whole Coven descends into semi-nudity, exchanging costumes, forcibly removing them from each other, and strewing them across the floor. At the end the Coven seems to be no more, and the showgirls stand strong, eating up the remains of the space as the lead showgirl flits around sticking feathers into what remains of her garments.

It is most important to remember that what I have written here is my personal reaction to and assimilation of Niehoff’s offering. I believe this dance treated me as an intelligent, artistically adept individual who could dedicate herself to watching an evening-length epic work. It did not tell me how to feel or how to interpret the events. If I were to go again I would see and experience more, and gain a deeper appreciation of the creation. This is a truly profound work of art, one that almost requires multiple viewings. It won’t meet everyone’s aesthetic, but that isn’t for works of art to worry about. It is for us as viewers to go to a show and meet that show with openness and candor, to let it make its mark on us and come away transformed. You have one more weekend to accept Lingo’s invitation. Go with an open mind and gain something by it; fail to meet the piece on its own terms and prove yourself more the fool.

Tickets are available through Lingo’s home page. The show finishes this weekend, May 13-15, 8pm.

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