One is held in a long-decommissioned steam plant. The other looks to the skies. This weekend, catch unique work by two dance groups: MALACARNE, inspired by and in one particular vast space; and Diana Cardiff and Sara Jinks, inspired by the vastness of space itself.
MALACARNE: this is concrete II
“What do we do with all these structures that were built to outlive us all?”
Saturday & Sunday
The cavernous Georgetown Steam Plant has a long history in the Seattle arts scene, but it remains one of our most mysterious venues — if not local fixtures, period.
In 2016, a play by ARTBARN and the Satori Group undertook to portray some of the plant’s history, through a fictionalized story of three workers left to maintain its obsolete technology (in We Remain Prepared); the award-winning graphic novelist David Lasky and writer Mairead Case are working on a book about the plant; and the punk band Big Black turned it into a makeshift rock venue for their final show. (Filmmaker Debra Geissel chronicled that 1987 show; you can watch the video here.)
Now, in its new chapter, the long-decommissioned steam plant will open its doors more regularly to performances. Sam Farrazaino, of the nearby Equinox Studios, became a caretaker of the storied building with a new restoration organization through an arrangement with Seattle City Light.
On Saturday and Sunday, dance group MALACARNE performs this is concrete II, a site-specific, durational work, with two shows running five hours each.
Unlike the performers enduring the stretch, audience members are welcome to come and go as they please. And confirming Seattle is hungry for the return of art to this space, this weekend’s performances quickly sold out — though the event page says some tickets will still be sold at the door.
Creative producer Clare Hatlo explained the experience of the durational work, for both creator and observer. “For MALACARNE, it’s less about endurance and more about relationship to space and trying to remove hierarchy between audience and performer. Site-specific work often asks for more time in the space, both in terms of development time, but also for performance time. Five hours means audience members can let their attention wander, get curious about the various mechanical structures, and see the space illuminated in new ways by the performers.”
It’s a return to the site that’s been long in the making for MALACARNE founder and choreographer Alice Gosti, who served as movement director for the 2016 show, We Remain Prepared. The place leaves an impression; and ever since working on that show, Gosti has wanted to create a dance piece in and of it. Its unique level of detail also made it a prime choice for durational work. Notes Gosti, given the space’s architecture, history, and beauty, “You can spend days building material in the space and continue to find new ideas.”
In creating the work, Gosti and company dug into the history of the place. They looked into the plant’s design, engineering, and architecture; the history of the Duwamish River area; industrial engineer and psychologist Lillian Gilbreth, plant designer Frank Gilbreth, and time-motion studies. (For those interested in exploring the plant and its history, Gosti recommends the public tours, held on second Saturdays when they resume, or the online resources and virtual tour in the meantime.)
They also considered more conceptual questions: about long-term costs of antiquated technologies, permanence, obsolescence. And, of particular importance in the time we now find ourselves, the question, How do we come together again?
Thematically, this is concrete II explores terrain that is similar to, albeit on a different physical site than, MALACARNE’s dance film this is concrete (currently in editing). That film, shot over the summer, had the company exploring historic buildings of Fort Worden in Port Townsend. Describes Gosti, “Both works are responding to man-made monuments that were built to last forever, with what at the time were cutting-edge technologies, but that quickly became outdated. What does it mean and what do we do with all these structures that were built to outlive us all?”
Performances of this is concrete II feature dancers Alyza DelPan-Monley, Aja Green, Margaret Luxamon Hotchkiss, Lorraine Lau, Kaitlin McCarthy, Nia-Amina Minor, Dominique See, and Madison Shorter.
Monika Khot composed music for the show and recorded it last week; it will play along with live performances by several musicians. Of the sound design inside the plant, Gosti says, “Sonically it’s a very live space, which has been a lot of fun” working with Khot and the live musicians. Inspiring the compositions, Khot says, was “the awe accompanying the witness of something on a grand scale — all of the emotions cycling in that period.”
Special venue note:
This is a long performance in a raw, industrial venue, so preparing is wise. The first floor is accessible by wheelchair and other devices, but the upper level (with catwalks) is reached only by steep stairs. Wear good shoes, comfy clothes, and layers. Limited concessions will be available; you might want to bring your own. Pack light. And note that the only bathrooms on site are Honey Buckets in the parking lot.
Despite the invitation extended for a long stay, Hatlo, the creative producer, emphasizes there’s no requirement to watch the whole thing. “There is no expectation that someone would stay for the entire show — we love it when they do, but also love to see audience members taking care of themselves either by stepping away and coming back or choosing to leave after a certain amount of time.”
this is concrete II performs 4/30-5/1 at the Georgetown Steam Plant, an industrial site in Seattle (Georgetown). Tickets ($25) are sold out online, but a limited number available at the door each day; show info here.
Diana Cardiff & Sara Jinks: Space 50
“Outer space is infinite”
Where this is concrete II celebrates the audacity of imagination in one space built over a century ago, Space 50 is an homage to imagining our relationship with outer space itself, in the present. The variety show includes space-themed film and music alongside its lineup of short dance works. It’s envisioned by Diana Cardiff and Sara Jinks, two producers of the wildly popular Buttcracker, an irreverent slate of seasonally themed modern dance works set to the classic music of ’80s rock bands.
For fans of Buttcracker, Cardiff promises some satisfying tie-ins: subtle nods to running gags over the show’s five-year run; the fun party-like vibe in the lobby, this one featuring live music and a faux decontamination room; encouragement of audience members to dress up in theme. And while Space 50 will maintain that fun, informal vibe, she notes the show won’t live only in that realm: “Space 50 will have some gorgeous, emotional moments full of wonder along with moments of humor and ridiculousness. It has something for everybody.”
The works will also proceed from a variety of perspectives. Many make space or futuristic connections in their music, plots, or stagecraft, and look outward into space from an Earth perspective. At least one will do the opposite, gazing upon the Earth as the “other” and descending on the cityscape below. Another navigates celestial bodies through traditional Japanese dance and mythology, looking back rather than with a futuristic lens. Notes Cardiff, “Outer space is infinite …. Everyone in the show creating work has their own take on what space means to them.”
Why a show about space? Cardiff says it’s been simmering forever, and credits her dad for instilling an early space obsession in her. Says Cardiff, “Space 50 is a love letter dedicated to my Dad, Ed Cardiff, and all things outer space. It is through his eyes and mind that I first got my true appreciation of the beauty of science and the universe. … When I look up to the sky I feel a sense of wonder, fable, magic, curiosity, and hope.”
Although it’s all around us, space can feel intangible, too distant to resonate in the here and now; but Cardiff points to the connection of the futuristic with our present. “There is so much innovation going on in outer space technology currently. Every day there is a new article out with updates on things such as newly discovered and photographed solar systems, renewable rocket fuels, diversity amongst the astronauts going to space, new exoplanets and stars, etc. One cannot help but think of the future when we are literally looking into space and seeing the past.”
A list of the show’s performers and works can be found at SeattleDances, here.
Space 50 performs 4/28-5/1 at the Erickson Theatre in Seattle (Capitol Hill). Tickets are $35.50, here.
View shows by day on the Performance Calendar here.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.