Dance review: The “Wallflower” takes center stage

The Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company is visiting Portland for the third time this weekend at Lincoln Hall, bringing the new-ish production “Wallflower” (2014) to show us. Although it lacks the riotous circus surrealism of the company’s earlier shows, “Wallflower” is still an engaging dance work, once you get inside it a little.

The dance was made for the Tel Aviv Museum of Modern Art, and it’s an abstract outlier in Pinto and Pollak’s work, which typically has narrative elements. “Wallflower” doesn’t really have little stories in it. It’s more about what happens when the museum closes, the lights go down, and the paintings come to life.

White Bird is showing Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak's "Wallflower" at PSU's Lincoln Hall this weekend./Courtesy of White Bird

White Bird is showing Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak’s “Wallflower” at PSU’s Lincoln Hall this weekend./Courtesy of White Bird

We know the dancers are “paintings” because of their colorfully abstract costumes, and we know they are in a museum because of the two stark white walls that dominate the stage. When you think about it, paintings are a form of “wallflower,” I suppose, in a positive way, and when they start to move around they continue to maintain their affinity for the wall. In “Wallflower” the wall is a prop that the dancers constantly lean against, touch with their hands, even crawl along with the help of their colleagues. They can escape the magnetism of the wall, but usually only with the help of a bridge of their friends. And when they find themselves without a helping hand, movement is very difficult, slow, made in laborious bursts.

Accompanying them is a soundtrack provided by three Japanese musicians. The music doesn’t provide a narrative hook, either, though at “Wallflower”’s climax it moves away from its odd peculiarities and occasional darkness toward something that sounds triumphant. Yes, “Wallflower” DOES have a climax, and though I’m tempted to give it a way—it would be fun to talk about its implications—I won’t. (A hint: Think about what might be lurking beneath the “painting”?)

Along the way, the dancers have some delicious moments, first in a series of duets (no, the possibilities of the duet have not yet been exhausted) and then a set of trios. And one dancer, Zvi Fishzon, spends most of the concert wrapped in a costume that allows him to play “sculpture.” Sometimes to humorous effect, though not always.

I had the museum in mind the whole time, and I wonder how viewers who didn’t make sense of “Wallflowers” that way dealt with the piece. It could be tough sledding.

White Bird’s Walter Jaffe and Paul King started bringing Israeli dance companies to Portland in 2004 with the well-spring of Israeli modern dance, the Batsheva Dance Company, led by Ohad Naharin. I’d seen the impressive Batsheva before, and so the decision to bring the company to town made perfect sense to me.

White Bird brought Batsheva back a couple of years later along with the Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company’s “Oyster.” Pretty soon the Israeli companies were coming fast and furious: Pinto and Pollak’s company again, Yossi Berg & Oded Graf (twice), Barak Marshall, Vertigo, Yasmeen Godder, Hillel Kogan, Danielle Agami and Sharon Eyal’s L-E-V.

At first I was a little puzzled: Why this concentration of Israeli companies? But when I saw them, they made perfect sense, too. The choreography often surprised me with its wit, risk-taking and theatricality, and the dancers seemed both beautifully trained and completely individual. When you think about it, this is a bit of a paradox, at least in Western dance, yes?

“A lot of this has to do with delicacy, with small gestures, and still be able to punch,” Naharin has said about what he calls his Gaga movement regime. “It’s about giving the dancers the sense that they can get beyond familiar limits on a daily basis.” And then it also recognizes and encourages the natural abilities and rhythms of the dancers—what Naharin calls their groove. On stage, the result can be a series of small astonishments leading toward total amazement.

Most of the Israeli companies White Bird has brought have a connection with Batsheva, sometimes very direct (Pinto, Agami, Kogan, Yossi Berg, Oded Graf and Eyal all danced with Batsheva) and sometimes a little less so (Batsheva commissioned Godder, for example). And though, they have all been very different in important ways, movement surprises and the individual presences of the dancers have united them. One of his dancers has called the way Naharin teaches movement as “molecular,” and that’s what it seems like.

White Bird is showing Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak's "Wallflower" at PSU's Lincoln Hall this weekend./Courtesy of White Bird

White Bird is showing Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak’s “Wallflower” at PSU’s Lincoln Hall this weekend./Courtesy of White Bird

In “Wallflower,” too, when it’s really rolling. I imagine it was more successful in a museum of modern art—the hop to “dancer as painting” more easily concluded. But I found myself getting lost in various little onstage pictures, little embellishments to common turns or tilts, the way any dancer could command the space. Maybe you will, too.

In his introduction, Jaffe said that the two-sided wall had been made in Maryland where the U.S. premiere occurred and shipped to Portland. And it’s staying here, he said. So, I’m thinking, do any choreographers out there need a slightly used wall for the next concert? And does it have the power to make the dance performed in front of it more molecular? Stay tuned.

Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company continues through October 22 at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall. It’s the first show in White Bird’s Uncaged series.

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