Comix Literature Performing Arts

Things I Did Not Write About in 2012, Part 1

Seattle Star offices at 7th & University
As publisher of The Seattle Star, I can safely say that the magazine does not currently make money for any member of the staff to do much more than buy a book or take oneself out to dinner twice a year. In spite of our glamorous appearance and rising reputation, in spite of what you may have been told, everyone at The Seattle Star holds down a day or night job because she must. Finding time to write remains the eternal difficulty of the writer’s life.

I am optimistic enough to believe that someday relatively soon the reader support for The Seattle Star will grow to a point where the staff writers can make an acceptable living wage with their writing alone. That day will arrive. That problem will resolve. What will not resolve is the most fundamentally important problem of our staff writers: not simply finding the time, but rather choosing what to write about.

What one writes about, what one includes and excludes, reveals one’s vision of the world. To write about something implies that it is more important than something not written about, and in fact makes it more important. As a publisher I am always extremely conscious of this. Everything I publish defines our ethos and our aesthetic. So does everything I do not publish.

As publisher, for the most part I have been happy with our evolving aesthetic and our presentation. As a writer, however, certain things have resisted publication not by design but by oversight or simply through lack of time. While everyone else in the world is assembling fairly meaningless lists about the past year, I figured this would be a good time for a redress. What follows are brief “non-reviews” of things that deserved inclusion and, though they are no longer timely, nevertheless merit some discussion.

***

Co-LAB 4, 11-12 March, Erickson Theater. I love the Coriolis Dance Collective. I also love Rainbow Fletcher and Ezra Dickinson and their Offshore Project, so the prospect of them teaming up was quite delicious. Ms. Fletcher and Mr. Dickinson provided all the choreography for the evening, while Coriolis’s usual choreographers Natascha Greenwalt Murphy and Christin Call took a break from their vision so that they could simply dance.

I was a bit surprised that the collaborative piece, Too Many to Recount, with both the Offshore Project and Coriolis companies together, did not impress me too deeply. The imagery was occasionally quite striking but oddly lacking in progressive structure. The prison uniforms suggested something more distinct but, despite the beautiful dancing–especially the duet between Rainbow Fletcher and Marissa Quimby–I never felt the piece cohere. The other pieces struck me as much stronger, perhaps because they were less ambitious. Rock Paper Scissors, the duet between Ms. Fletcher and Mr. Dickinson, was quite witty and delightful to watch, augmented further by Dylan Rieck’s gorgeous cello music. Ms. Fletcher’s piece Frenchy, Texas, Fritzy and Helga, for the quartet of Coriolis ladies, was equally strong. Ms. Call, Ms. Greenwalt Murphy, Ms. Quimby and the exquisite Andrea Larreta obviously enjoyed themselves throughout the dance, and their combination of languor and affectation was humorous, but with a dagger inside the laughter. It was nice to see the Coriolis troupe in a completely different mode and a good display of their willingness to expand and grow in different directions.

Point of Departure, 11-12 May, Velocity Dance Center. Strange as it might seem, I am a chemistry graduate and I have never found the fashionable dichotomy between the arts and sciences to be anything other than lazy and provincial–C.P. Snow be damned. This false dichotomy seems to be almost exclusively a product of European education after it moved away from the traditional Trivium and Quadrivium. Before then no such division existed, and recently in the last fifty years some Western artists have begun to recover the idea that the sciences and arts are the same. Often artists who have strong science backgrounds themselves (Hollis Frampton in his films, for instance) or who pursue scientific ideas with aplomb (Iannis Xenakis, Vibeke Sorensen) are the most interesting artists around.

Karin Stevens Dance continued to prove this to me with their newest piece, Point of Departure. As Ms. Stevens explains, the piece is an investigation into the visual similarities of Islamic architecture and the Large Hadron Collider, comprised of four different sections, “Neo-Prehistoric,” “Point of Departure,” “Genesis/Evolution” and “Sub-Atomic.” Islamic art has traditionally prohibited representation. It naturally tends toward abstraction, no less than Mondrian or Kandinsky, only in a much more thorough fashion and has always had mathematics at its core. Industrial design, too, has tended in this direction for different reasons. This piece is all about finding the commonalities between the two.

It all sounds very abstract. It is not. Or, rather, it is abstract but it is impossible to notice or care. This is an extremely beautiful piece. Craig van den Bosch’s visual imagery is stunning and his accompanying score has incredible subtlety and effectiveness as accompaniment and as music on its own. Some have called architecture “frozen music.” Here, in Ms. Stevens’ choreography, the goal is to free the music from its frozen form and give it shape. It is a brilliant piece and completely refreshing in the sometimes sterile world of Seattle dance. If I had any complaint it would be that any given section could be twice its length. The density of the piece is extraordinary and it surely requires and rewards repeated viewings.

The Crackle of the Frost by Jorge Zentner (author) and Lorenzo Mattotti (illustrator), published by Fantagraphics Books. Artists and critics often assume that readers know how to read a comic. But it is not a skill one can take for granted. The level on which many people read comics is quite primitive and sometimes one needs to teach an audience how to read.

The Crackle of the Frost is visually gorgeous. But its visual beauty might hide the fact that this is a masterpiece of simplicity and elegance. Zentner and Mattotti originally wrote the story for installment in the Frankfurter Allgemeine, an eight-panel page each week. For the book edition, they have reduced each page to two horizontal panels–an excellent move. Where eight panels might require a certain knowledge of comics grammar for an initiate, two horizontal panels are impossible to read incorrectly; they establish their rhythm almost subliminally. As a result, Zentner and Mattotti can get down to the business of storytelling without distraction.

The star might seem to be Mattotti’s artwork, but truly Jorge Zentner’s script is a bit of genius. It follows the protagonist’s quest to recover his dreams, his sense of sight and his love for life. By turns it is frustrating and heartbreaking–exactly as one would expect from two mature humanistic artists who continue to probe the world beyond the obvious. And it is always delicate and warm in the best possible sense. The interplay of the poetic text with Mattotti’s imagery spans the range from simple to oblique, literal to symbolic. It is an exceptional work, worthy of anyone’s reading list.

Antigone, 14-25 August, The Vera Project. As is well-known, I love watching student work for many reasons. The greatest though is that even when students crash and burn it is far more interesting than watching some boring old hacks in their latest vanity showcase. They are, at the very least, willing to try. Since there’s nothing to lose, one might as well gamble.

Largely a student piece, Antigone is certainly a gamble and, fortunately or unfortunately, it is a crash-and-burn piece if ever was. It is a “generative theater” piece and as such suffers from a complete lack of direction. The text, such as it is here, has been largely ignored. As in many collaborative efforts with no firm guiding vision, the group here indulge in their roles to the absolute exclusion of interpersonal meaning. They are so interested in the superficial aspects of character that an overall theme never emerges.

In either Sophocles’ or Anouilh’s version, the Antigone story is fundamentally about the role of the individual in a political society. To perform this one must have a firm belief in the nature and role of politics in life. The politics in this play are virtually non-existent and where they do exist the play becomes naive in the extreme. One wonders why they bothered to choose Antigone at all.

The basic conceit of the piece–Look Ma! We set a Greek tragedy in Seattle and moved it to a sci-fi setting!–is archetypically foolish, an inept attempt to make it “modern and relevant” as the director says in her notes. It is worth discussion for that reason, because it is an example of beginners imitating the worst aspects of alleged professionals. Anytime someone mentions “relevant” in the theater, I reach for my wallet and two aspirin. Relevance is not something tacked on to the outside of a play like a new uniform of a Betsy McCall paper doll. It either comes from within the text or it does not. Students need to avoid going down this path, for that way madness lies. If one is going to gamble, gamble that one will be misunderstood, not that one will appear “relevant,” whatever the hell that is.

Omar Willey was born at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Seattle and grew up near Lucky Market on Beacon Avenue. He believes Seattle is the greatest city on Earth and came to this conclusion by travelling much of the Earth. He is a junior member of Lesser Seattle and, as an oboist, does not blow his own trumpet. Contact him at omar [at] seattlestar [dot] net