A spotlight on original works at REDCAT

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Women artists are center stage at the sixth annual New Original Works Festival, which opens Thursday at REDCAT, CalArts’ downtown theater. Women created or perform in seven of the event’s eight pieces, exploring topics such as sexual politics, self-identity and the vagaries of life and love.

The strong female presence is a result of natural selection, says Mark Murphy, REDCAT’s executive director. These days, experimental material is often dance-based, he explains, “and a lot of the most interesting choreographers in L.A. happen to be women.” He adds that women also are producing “some of the really interesting interdisciplinary proposals.”

The festival begins with the exception to the trend, “Abacus” by Lars Jan’s art lab, Early Morning Opera. The elaborate multimedia work riffs on PowerPoint presentations, R. Buckminster Fuller, televangelism and what Jan describes as “people making arguments to other people by visualizing information and putting a spin on it.”

Also appearing in Program 1, which runs Thursday through Saturday, are “Bahu-Beti-Biwi” (“Daughter-in-Law, Daughter, Wife”) — in which Sheetal Gandhi blends traditional North Indian music into a contemporary vocal-movement piece about women’s evolving familial roles — and Ayana Hampton’s sexy, subversive cabaret send-up of celebrities and celebrity worship.


Two music-media projects make up Program 2 (July 30-Aug. 1). Using live-feed video, layered projections and multiple scrims, Carole Kim’s “N1” immerses the audience in a dreamlike re-imagining of the Narcissus myth that features butoh master Oguri and the acoustic work of instrumentalist Dan Clucas and percussionist-composer Alex Cline. The band Jennifer the Leopard — the creation of the performance art-inspired punk collective of Lauren Fisher, Stephanie Hutin, Lana Kim and Marissa Mayer — offers up a post-punk mix of feminism and macho glam rock.

In Program 3 (Aug. 6-8), choreographer-dancer Meg Wolfe presents an intensely physical solo on a bare stage accompanied by Aaron Drake’s electronic collage music. Multimedia artists Zackary Drucker, Mariana Marroquin and Wu Ingrid Tsang stage a meeting of “Politically Involved Girls” (“P.I.G.”), taking on transgender politics and other issues with a nod to the Andy Warhol-Paul Morrissey satiric film “Women in Revolt.” And solo performer Lauren Weedman tells tales about how being an expectant mother affects her view of life, whether she is working in a hospice or visiting the tattoo parlor.

“Besides the number of female artists, “ says Murphy, “it’s interesting that so many of this year’s works share a very personal and entertaining response to social and political issues — as opposed to using a sledgehammer approach.”

REDCAT — the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, which is tucked in the southwest corner of Walt Disney Concert Hall — is one of the few venues in L.A. that regularly produces works and works-in-progress by local artists both through the NOW Festival and Studio, its quarterly lab series.

“We look for vitality and quality,” says Murphy, who runs the festival with George Lugg, REDCAT associate director. “By vitality, I mean the originality behind what is being proposed and not just the slickest, most advanced proposal.”

Another consideration is the importance of giving a career or project a chance — or, in some cases, a second chance.

“Abacus,” for instance, was set to debut at a Fuller exhibition last year at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. But, says Jan, that plan was thwarted by financial and other problems. His company couldn’t find a space for this kind of public showing until the NOW Festival.

“There’s hardly any opportunity for the creation of new work unless you self-produce,” says Murphy. With festival honorariums topping out at $2,000, he adds, “we can’t make anybody rich–but if we can remove the financial as well as practical issues of space, design team and so on, we can allow people to focus on what they have to say and they are more likely to take greater risks.”

Jan, an L.A.-based director and media artist, calls REDCAT “the absolute nexus” of the city’s burgeoning live-performance community, given its technical resources, CalArts’ devotion to interdisciplinary art and “an audience whose literacy is very high.”

“We get students and skate punks and intellectuals,” says Murphy, as well as artists whose interests range from animation and computer graphics to traditional dramatic forms. After a show, performers often drop in on the theater’s crowded lounge. “Everybody comes early and stays late,” he says.

The NOW Festival, which will present its 50th production this year, is especially attractive to the growing number of artists who love to merge new technologies and genres. “Some of them really tax our abilities,” Murphy admits happily. “We’re well-equipped, but it does take a lot of effort.”

He notes that Kim’s “N1” requires specialized lighting and an unusual variety of projection points and surfaces and employs nearly every inch of REDCAT, including the loading dock. “It’s quite complicated. And after a 15-minute intermission an entirely different piece has to share the stage.”

Kim, who lives in Pasadena, began as a visual artist and now tries to marry video installation, music and movement: “I’ve been pulling the moving image off the screen and into space to create three-dimensional environments for live performance.”

She says she and Murphy have talked about her project for several years. “This is the first time an established venue is allowing me to do what I want to do,” she says. “I’m grateful they are going for it.”

-- Karen Wada

New Original Works Festival. Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, 631 W. 2nd St., L.A.; 8:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 8:30 p.m. July 30-Aug. 1, 8:30 p.m. Aug. 6-8.; $14-$18; festival pass $36; (213) 237-2800 or

Photo, top: Jennifer the Leopard. Credit: Greg Smokler. Bottom: Abacus, courtesy of Lars Jan.