Dance review: Katie Scherman at BodyVox

Katie Scherman's retrospective at BodyVox includes the world premiere "To Have It All," which continues her investigation of the lives of contemporary women

The title of Katie Scherman’s new dance, the last piece in her retrospective concert at BodyVox this weekend, is To Have It All, and reading through Scherman’s bio, your first thought might be, hey, she does have it all! Multiple degrees, an ongoing list of repertoire work and companies she’s danced with, guest artist residencies, her 2009 Princess Grace Award, the multiple commissions that have taken her around the world—performing, teaching, and creating.

The first work takes us back to 2014, with a duet titled Assez, created while she was at the University of Oregon. For those of you who haven’t brushed up on your high school French lessons or checked in on your Duolingo app recently, the word simply means “enough.” Performed by Scherman and San Francisco-based artist Alyssa Puleo, Assez was enough and more. After a few minutes of movement ruminations, Scherman was the first to speak, saying, “I remember when you told me I was beautiful.”

Katie Scherman in "Complicated Women," BodyVox Dance Center, March 22, 2018/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert+Artists

Katie Scherman in “Complicated Women,” part of her retrospective at BodyVox Dance Center this weekend/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

The silence that ensued after each set of words that followed, lingered, and her mesmerizing movement swallowed up the space in between thoughts. Her story was that of love and loss, spelled out for all to see in words and dancing. Watching Scherman in motion is not simply witnessing a rehearsed thread of movements, but rather a direct stream of conscious filling in the lines her choreography draws. With every arc, swell, and crippled release of tension, she re-opens the vulnerable places within herself that led to the creation of Assez.

Using spoken word (written by Scherman and Puleo) made the work strong and the intention clear. The women’s statements were as concise and direct as their well-articulated bodies. Puleo broke her own silence with a haunting story that recalled her father’s infidelity, and we were able to see her process this in real time through a series of movements that took Puleo on a journey through that jarring memory. Talk about bravery!

*****

By the time Assez had ended, it was clear that the night was going to be a success. The second work, Complicated Women, originally premiered at Performance Works Northwest, where Scherman was a 2016 Alembic Artist Resident. Scherman danced in this work with two Portland-based artists, Jessica Zoller and Faith Morrison. Earlier this week, I asked Scherman what it was like to dance in her own works and how choreographing on yourself can be a tricky path to navigate. She laughed before I was even done uttering the question, as if this was something she reflected on often: “It’s incredibly challenging, but I keep doing it to myself! I love performing in my own work. It feels really me. It’s very cathartic,” she remarked. Fittingly, Complicated Women is an autobiographical work based on her inner dialogue of self doubt.

Katie Scherman in "Complicated Women" (2016), BodyVox Dance Center, March 22, 2018/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Katie Scherman dances in “Complicated Women” (2016) at BodyVox/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

The work begins with a few minutes of film created by Robert Uehlin, which was projected across the scrim of the black box theater at BodyVox. The footage simultaneously shows the three women amid their daily routine at home. What at first seems like a simple portrayal of a morning before work—moseying around the kitchen and staring into the bathroom mirror—soon became a bit more complex, with movement splashing into the scene as effortlessly as coffee spilling into your mug from the pot. Moments of stillness and hesitation draw the audience in, planting small seeds of something much deeper running underneath the surface of the normalcy of a woman alone in her home.

The film fades out before answering any questions, and the trio quickly claimed the space, with Scherman as the leading point of their triangular formation. While it’s hard to take your eyes off Scherman, part of her mastery lies in her casting. Zoller and Morrison both had the technical training to take on the demanding choreography, and the commitment to locate the humanity beneath without worrying about the need to be “beautiful.”

Both Morrison and Zoller had their time to shine in Complicated Women, and their contribution to the work was a key element of understanding the intricate nature of women. During our phone call earlier in the week, Scherman explained that the dancers she works with are an integral part of her creation process, and that she “want(s) to facilitate an environment where they get to move how they want to live. That’s the work.” When I asked her to elaborate, she followed with a statement that accurately sums up her relationship to choreography and movement: “What I work on in the studio is what I want to work on outside the studio.”

It’s this reciprocal nature of living and dancing that Scherman uses to create relatable work, that not only helps her process the world around her, but allows others to connect with and better understand her as a woman, in and out of the dance studio.

Parts of Complicated Women revealed Scherman’s inner teacher. Her history with teaching includes a graduate teaching fellowship at the University of Oregon(2012-15) and guest residencies at University of Utah, Pacific University, LINES Ballet/Dominican University and the BodyVox JAG program. In an intimate moment between Morrison and Scherman, this knack for mentoring through movement was apparent. Scherman sat to the side while verbally guiding Morrison through a series of emotive and movement cues. Scherman spoke quietly, and allowed Morrison’s movement to be the leading edge of the moment, yet the natural flow of communication between the two hinted at a relationship of trust that spread beyond the solo.

Katie Scherman+Artists performing Scherman's "Complicated Women" (2016) at BodyVox Dance Center, Portland, Oregon, March 22, 2018/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Katie Scherman in “Complicated Women” at BodyVox Dance Center, which featured video by Robert Uehlin/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

The work ended with an incredibly vulnerable iteration of Scherman’s inner dialogue, in all of its rage, frustration, and exhaustion. Even bringing herself to tears, Scherman outlined the familiar rhetoric that most women experience on the daily basis at one time or another. The courage in this transparency also showed her commitment to presenting work that matters to her.

*****

To Have It All closed out the evening. The inspiration for the piece came back in January of 2017 in Utah, where Scherman found herself recently married but living in a separate city than her husband, chasing the dream, the job and her new life as a wife, wondering how she could have it all. After returning to Portland and securing her residency at BodyVox, Scherman embarked upon creating a work that “spanned a life,” she says.

Scherman met composer Michael Wall in Salt Lake City, while teaching with him as her accompanist, and she enlisted him for To Have It All. The music was crafted with delicacy. At times it was nothing but a repetitive thrill of the piano that kept the dancing moving along with simultaneous ease and urgency, and then it would crescendo, crisply highlighting the movement that seemed non-stop. The choreography was full, almost bursting at the seams with detail. While To Have it All is at times a lot to take in visually, with movement occuring in every corner of the space, the concept of embodying a lifetime seemed to call for the chaos.

Katie Scherman, left, and Alyssa Puleo in Scherman's "Assez" (2014) at BodyVox Dance Center, March 22, 2018/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Ellie van Bever and Molly Levy in the world premiere of Katie Scherman’s “To Have It All” (2018) at BodyVox Dance Center/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

A motif of the work emerged from its underlying rhythm and hardness. The seven dancers were capable of achieving the lightness and fluidity that so often accompanies contemporary ballet, but Scherman’s style interrupted the lines and flow to bring the dancer’s feet pounding down into the floor through transitions and walking patterns. At one point, the dancers joined the audience, sitting just below the front row to watch dancer Ellie van Bever as she worked though a solo that took her on a personal journey of exploration and searching. Her presence was strong and mysterious, as she distorted shapes and incorporated Scherman’s inquisitorial style into her time in the spotlight.

One by one, the rest of the cast joined in for one last phrase of motion, before the final moment, where as stated in the program notes, they linked arms and came “charg(ing) forward with love.”

The program was, in its own unique way, a time capsule, preserving the memories and reflections close to her heart, while presenting the truth of her life’s experience in all of its complexities. And yes, after seeing the performance, I still think Scherman’s got it all, and then some.

NOTES

Katie Scherman + Artists continues at 7:30 pm March 23-14 and 2 pm March 24 at BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.

In DanceWatch Weekly, Jamuna Chiarini interviewed Katie Scherman about this concert and her career as a dancer.

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