Fertile Ground Review: ‘Heirloom’

Sub Rosa Dance is not to be taken lightly.

Certain elements of the human experience, beloved and necessary in real life, are too often dismissed or derided in post-modern art. For instance, try to show femininity, youth, sensuality, social commentary, or humor to seasoned contemporary dance connoisseurs, and just see what they say: “OB-vious,” they may drone. “Commercial,” they might hiss. (Which is to say, “appealing,” which is to imply, “appealing to the lowest common denominator.”)

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Such naysayers had better never step to Sub Rosa, whose members dance beautifully and subtly in all of these forbidden hues. In its latest piece, Heirloom, the dance collective proves it’s possible to be youthful without being childish, feminine without being frivolous, sensual without being exploitative, relevant without being preachy, and funny without being laughable. This young, pretty company is not to be taken lightly.

Heirloom, a part of the citywide Fertile Ground festival of new works, is a series of pieces devised from the dancers’ personal family histories, going back as many generations as they choose. But rather than explicitly re-create their stories, the collective seems to have mined each for just a few stimulating images and implications. It’s an authentic and unforced way to ensure variety in the program, and to coax dancers to emotionally invest. Not that Sub Rosa needed any coaxing; these performers are palpably, confrontationally present. They often let breaks between numbers go especially long as they stand onstage, gazing directly at the crowd, audibly breathing, conspicuously existing. Though their creations may be colorful, they’re wise to one modern minimalist truth: presence = performance. Anything else you do is extra.

Memorable moments from this program include (but are not limited to) Zahra Banzi and Kaylee McMurran’s duet Trussed with their hair braided together; Carlyn Hudson soft-shoeing in front of increasingly intense wartime footage in her dark-humored solo piece cROSSed; Tia Zapp Palomino’s tipsy choreography and Jessica Evans’ appropriately flopsy performance of drunk-dancing caricature Aunt Jan; guest choreographer Lindsey Mathies’s show-stealing Stand Tall, an exploration of all sides of masculinity from robot to cowpoke to warrior, danced by three men from OBT, NWDP and Reed respectively. Various video projections by Dylan Wilbur complement the works and make the show a richer feast for the senses, as does dynamic lighting from Tad Shannon.

And for fans of the inexplicable avant-garde, there’s also a little eye-candy: blanched footage of camels and backwards-animated pouring milk, maniacal laughter and splatted tomatoes. (If these symbols are “obvious”—it’s not obvious to me.)

An heirloom is prized because it’s been enriched by memory, handled with care, and crafted one-of-a-kind. And Sub Rosa’s new show qualifies. There are two remaining performances of Heirloom, on January 31 and February 1 at Clinton Street Theater.

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A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury
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One Response.

  1. Martha Ullman West says:

    Thank you Ann for a well-crafted and unpretentious review and for making this “seasoned” (and how!) viewer of many dance forms want to go check out Sub Rosa Dance this weekend. I would be interested to know who the OBT and NWDP dancers are; their participation shows a welcome flexibility as to performance style.

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