Memory in the Northwest Sep 15, 2012

by Kyle Loven

Maps. Nature. Overcast. Memory. Me me me.

Neo-Fiction, Christian Rizzo's new collaboration with filmmaker Sophie Laly and cellist Lori Goldston, had me continually reflecting on my own history in the Pacific Northwest. In the 23 hours of footage that Rizzo and Laly shot, what made it onto the stage is imagery that most local residents have (hopefully) seen. Driving along an evergreen-lined road, sitting on a beach on the Pacific ocean, walking through the forest, and laying in the grass are each given their moment. What I was conscious of, however, is that all of this imagery was filmed by two people who don't live here and (probably) haven't ever been to any of these locations previously. As a person who moved to Seattle without knowing anyone or having ever visited the state before, I could relate to Rizzo and Laly's outsider explorations of the mountains and water and roads in between. So I was in my head for most of the show. But I have a hunch I wasn't the only one. And when I was in my head, I wasn't thinking about what I need to do this weekend or what happened at work today, I was thinking about my connection to those environments shown on stage. I was remembering the time I went to La Push, or the last hike I made into the mountains or the many long drives through the woods.

The piece moved along at quite a slow pace and seemed to be encouraging my reflective journey. What the piece revealed for me though is the openness with which we can approach a new environment. Before we've added on layers of personal history and references, we're able to more easily experience the present and take it for what it is. In a new locale we can experience the moment (as I imagine Rizzo and Laly did while filming). Going back to that same locale, we experience the new moment but with layers of memory mixed in (as I recount my first encounters with these environments I am once again seeing). I acknowledge that this is my brain adding the process of the project onto my audience experience as Rizzo and Laly don't appear as filmmakers in the footage.

While they don't appear as filmmakers and while most of the footage used lacks any human presence, a hooded figure does appear that we then follow for the second half of the piece. This hooded figure is first introduced by Laly who moves from her offstage computer table onto the primary playing space. Rizzo next puts on a similar costume. Eventually Laly exits and Rizzo sheds his matching costume and leaves the remains onstage. Who does the hooded figure represent?  Laly? Rizzo? Anyone? Everyone? Outsiders? Me? Encountering ones past? The few times in the show that I stopped thinking about my personal connection to the environments and focused on the new history being created onstage, I became confused. Not a frustrated confused, just an uncertain confused.

The minimalist scenic design, with its multiple geometric playing spaces and large projection screens, worked well for the fractured footage and the vast environments of the Northwest. The white balls (and single black ball) that Rizzo placed throughout the primary playing space functioned for me like little pins on a map, marking where we have been, where we have made memories. Goldston's sparse cello was a satisfying presence that further supported my introspective experience.

The piece was best summed up for me in the moment when the larger projection screens showed a still frame of a rainy windshield while Rizzo and Goldston stopped and silently watched the trees on the other side of the windshield. That moment is what life in the Pacific Northwest is for me.

What I appreciated most in Neo-Fiction was the specificity of every movement choice, every frame, every note, every prop placement. Rizzo is clearly a talented artist that I'm excited to see more from in the future.