In the myth of Narcissus, a short film about lives lived virtually directed by Olivia Louise, a character states, “I am how I want to be seen and nothing else.” It’s a tragic declaration—the words of someone who has so carefully calibrated their soul that they barely exist.
The opposite is true of the 2021 Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance, which has been reborn as a drive-in movie extravaganza and will screen the myth of Narcissus on a 50-foot-tall screen at Oaks Park Hangar this weekend. With a lineup of description-defying films, the festival is trying to be how it wants to be seen and everything else.
“We were looking for a good mix of emotions, because I think we’ve all gone through the gauntlet in the last year,” says Risk/Reward producing artistic director Katie Watkins. “So there’s going to be joy represented and exploration—all kinds of stuff.”
The featured films, which will be screened after performances by musical guests, including the Major Tomboys, are sometimes dreamy and sometimes direct, but always enlivening. Here is a preview of what audiences can look forward to, from euphoric dancing to post-pandemic meditations.
Distancias (Hand2Mouth and Moriviví)
When Distancias first debuted in April, it set a towering new standard for COVID-era art. With vignettes both absurd and anguished, Geo Alva, Robi Arce and Michael Cavazos (Hand2Mouth company members and among the founders of the Latinx theater company Moriviví) showed that it was possible to create comedy in the midst of crisis without trivializing grief and isolation.
Risk/Reward is presenting three excerpts from Distancias. Audiences will be able to bask in the surrealist spectacle of Cavazos transforming into a mummy covered in magazine clippings, the elegant daredevilry of Alva’s skateboarding and the haunting images of Arce drifting through an underwater bedroom and living room.
Each scene is driven by the production’s rejection of hip pessimism and easy answers. Distancias doesn’t try to “be” anything. It reflects a moment in time—a creative act that is deceptively simple and demonstrably miraculous.
First Laugh (Princess Bouton)
No one who watches First Laugh will be shocked to learn that its star, the Black Transfeminine filmmaker and performance artist Princess Bouton, has a background in modern dance and ballet. As she moves through her production space, Last Laugh Studios, you marvel at the athleticism and fluidity of her movements. She owns the space and makes it beautiful.
First Laugh is a compendium of some of the first performances that Princess Bouton produced at Last Laugh—and a showcase for some snazzy costumes and animation. Shiny purple boots and eyes that transform into fiery baubles are among the highlights of the film, which revels in the kind of visual invention that cries out for the splendor of the big screen.
the myth of Narcissus (Olivia Louise)
In Greek mythology, Narcissus was enamored with his own reflection, but the myth of Narcissus is more interested in the dehumanizing power of computers. Tiana Garoogian stars as Narcissus, whose face we only see on screens or in reflection. The character has their mythological predecessor’s vanity, but the film feels like a meditation on how the internet both liberated and imprisoned us during quarantine.
Penny—The Conduit (Kelly Nesbitt)
Kelly Nesbitt could have made a film about clowning, being a healthcare worker during the pandemic, or the death of their father. Instead, they made a film about all three. Penny—The Conduit is an emotionally overwhelming odyssey filled with indelible images, like the brutal contrast between a brightly colored coat and a black-and-white beach or a false eyelash being painfully peeled off. Yet it seizes your attention because its depiction of grief and endurance is personal and universal—a tale for 2021 and for the ages.
Tidal (Wobbly Dance)
It’s biological and it’s cosmic, it’s galactic and it’s intimate, it’s dance and it’s visual art. In Tidal, Wobbly Dance, a multidisciplinary company renowned for celebrating the work of disabled performers, unleashes a cascade of brilliantly bizarre images that leave you in a hypnotic state. You may not be able to figure out whether the film is thrusting you into the deepest parts of the ocean or the most distant corners of the universe, but you don’t have to. All Tidal demands is that you watch.
SEE IT: The 2021 Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance takes place at Oaks Park Hangar, 7805 SE Oaks Park Way, Thursday-Saturday, June 24-26. 7:30 pm. Tickets are available at risk-reward.org. Pay what you will, but $30 is suggested per car, $20 for individuals standing or sitting.
HEATWAVE UPDATE: The Risk/Reward Festival is shifting from mostly car spaces with a smaller section for individual seating/standing to mostly picnic tables and with just a few spots for cars due to the forecasted high temperatures.