REDCAT NOW Festival takes final bow in closing weekend performances

by Christina Campodonico


From creeping creatures to dancing gym rats, the third and final weekend of REDCAT’s New Original Works Festival kept performers and audience members on their toes.

In an unexpected move, the evening began more like a rock concert, than a performance art showcase.

Laurel Butler (center) and ensemble in “Cassandra: Stellar Tears” | Photo by Rafael Hernandez

Opening with “Stellar Tears,” Laurel Butler channeled her inner Lady Gaga to sing lead for her pop-rock-feminist band, Cassandra. But once the lyrics turned to legends of the Greek prophetess of the same name and back up singers turned out their palms to reveal hand drawn eyes, you knew that something more than punk preening was afoot.

The band’s music fiercely confronted hot-button topics such as sexual assault, but the ensemble’s performance was not always as powerful — drum beats lagged and back up dancers in silver ponchos seemed more lackadaisical than motivated when moving indiscriminately across the stage. Yet Butler was a strong and bewitching vocalist, even if her crew was not always up to the task.

Takao Kawagachi delivered the most disturbing, yet engrossing performance in “Touch of Other,” based on the observation sheets of doctoral student Laud Humphreys on male-male sexual encounters in the Forest Park section of St. Louis, Missouri in the late 1960s.

Hunched over a toilet seat, Kawaguchi becomes a veritable Gollum, sucking on the supposed sewage inside this commode with relish and spewing poetic, yet abstruse ramblings from under his mop of greasy hair. His musings have the effect of hearing Shakespearean text spoken aloud for the first time — sounding almost like a foreign language at first, the intricate twists of tongue and turns of phrase sink in seconds later.

That almost indecipherable language seems to be about the dangers and divine quality of forbidden love. Kawaguchi’s lovesick musings communicate a yearning for someone off limits — alluding to a time when longing for someone of the same sex was more like a disease than a signifier of sexual orientation — but his movements also articulate a far more agonizing truth. As Kawaguchi worms his way through a labyrinthine tangle of chicken wire, one’s skin can’t help but goose bump at the thought that these pin-pricking wires are indeed scratching against a human body only a few a feet way. The fourth wall here is very thin.

Takao Kawaguchi in “Touch of Other” | Photo by Rafael Hernandez

In the world that Kawaguchi, Jonathan M. Hall and Deanna Erdmann have co-constructed, giving in to the temptations of the flesh is not simply a sin with a painful penance, but an entrapment. When Kawaguchi stands and spins slowly in his crumbled orb of chicken wire, he looks like a bride modeling a ghastly organza gown, but also like a caged and tortured animal. Kawaguchi, literally and figuratively, appears a prisoner of his own desire, especially as other men fidget, roil and roll sensually in the leafy beds nearby. It seems the grass is truly greener on the other side.

Takao Kawaguchi (right) with ensemble member in “Touch of Other” | Photo by Rafael Hernandez

This push and pull between punishment and passion that Kawaguchi, Hall and Erdmann present is both awful and awe-inspiring. Able to captivate and rattle all at once, “Touch of Other” lingers in that titillating zone between horrified fascination and disturbed dismay. There’s a sense of relief when the lights fade but also a touch of sorrow.

No regrets, however, with Kevin Williamson’s “Trophy,” which brought to mind the competitive culture of sports and gyms. Ultimately, the piece, with video art by Cari Ann Shim Sham, was a winning number from start to finish.

Jasmine Jawato (right), Kevin Le (center) and Barry Brannum (right) in “Trophy” | Photo by Rafael Hernandez

From the minute Jasmine Jawato, Kevin Le and Barry Brannum sprung onto stage in shocking white jumpsuits, it was impossible not to fixate on their meticulous moves. Robotic, like master street poppers, yet smooth, like svelte athletes in elite training, the top form trio rendered Williamson’s clever choreography brilliantly. With “Trophy,” Williamson not only shows his eye for dance talent, but also his delightfully subtle sense of humor. When the dancers take dramatic bows, but with deadpan faces, or when they nonchalantly unzip their jumpsuits to reveal melodramatically metallic boxer shorts, you get the sneaking suspicion that some cryptic joke is being executed at your expense. But the prank is forgivable because Williamson has couched his punchlines in such bemusing understatements and virtuosic phrasing.

With the conclusion of 2015’s NOW Fest, some stumbled, some startled, some sprinted victoriously to the finish line, but all were bravely on the move.

The New Original Works Festival (NOW) ran from July 30 through Aug 15 at The Roy and Edna Disney/ CalArts Theater (631 West 2nd Street) in downtown Los Angeles. For more information about REDCAT visit www.redcat.org.

Contact Contributor Christina Campodonico here.