In ‘The Word Hand’ dance leaves its mark

Linda Austin, Pat Boas and Linda Hutchins infuse words with movement and drawing

Dancer Linda Austin and visual artists Pat Boas and Linda Hutchins have created a 45-minute collaborative work, titled The Word Hand and performed at Austin’s space Performance Works NW, a dance that lives in the intersection of movement, sound and visual art. Exploring the walls, the floor and the ceiling, together they create a sacred space where there is no hierarchy of form.

They co-play, interplay and solo play with each other and their art forms. Playing with light, corridors of space, shades of white, grey and black and with an accent of red, we are invited into that particular creative state where you lose your sense of time and follow a creative thread to the end. The production concludes at 8 pm Saturday night, Oct. 25, at Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave.

Linda Austin dances while Pat Boas and Linda Hutchins attack the wall./Photo by Chelsea Petrakis

Linda Austin dances while Pat Boas and Linda Hutchins attack the wall./Photo by Chelsea Petrakis

As we enter the performance space at Performance Works Northwest, we are invited to pick up a piece of black charcoal chalk and draw a line across a large piece of paper attached to the wall. The chalk is oily and dry between my fingers, and when it meets the paper and I move across the space, I become aware that this evening will be sensorial. I’m excited to draw on the “wall,” and I can feel the texture of the paper and of the wall behind it as the bumpiness reverberates through my arm.

On the other side of the room Austin waiting with a warm wet towel and tenderly cleaned off my “dirty” fingers and handed the towel to Hutchins, who followed me and hung it above the chair I chose to sit in. We, the audience, all had white towels with our own individual charcoal smudges on them hanging above our heads. We are all unique and leave our mark on this world very differently and beautifully. I and many others have drawn straight lines across the paper, we are the rule followers a friend says, others have taken liberties and drawn big wavy lines above all the others. This makes me question my choice, but in the end I am satisfied. I like my straight line; its mine.

Meanwhile at the other end of the studio, Pat Boas with a black marker is drawing lines across a large piece of paper suspended from the ceiling but held still by two tall red ladders. She is slowly drawing a straight/wiggly lines across horizontally and then vertically, moving incrementally across the paper. By the time the audience arrives, so much has accumulated that it looked like a piece of woven gauze.

In "The Word Hand" dance leaves its traces./Photo by Chelsea Petrakis

In “The Word Hand” dance leaves its traces./Photo by Chelsea Petrakis

When the audience had settled, Boas took a seat in the middle of the room and Austin and Hutchins stepped into the space, placed their backs against the landscape of charcoal lines and slid down the wall smearing the lines and creating new patterns of chalk drawings on the wall and on the backs of their shirts.  Boas read a text she has written, drawing on the images and memories accumulate over the course of their collaboration together, including quotes from James Joyce’s Ulysses and Margaret Atwood’s poem “You Begin,” which they found posted in the studio at Caldera during a residency in December 2013. This section was a totally satisfying experience to watch, drawing on childhood memories (and present desires!) to get messy and smear things.

Next we are introduced to a single line of stretchy black tape suspended from the ceiling that Austin manipulates—pulling it, cutting it, twisting it, attaching, reattaching, until it is a mangled  “mess” that she balls up and discards. A few feet away Hutchins, sitting on the floor, has been recording this performance on paper using a rubber ball that she moves around with an ink pad, simultaneously adding ink to the ball and drawing with it, capturing about 12 images from experience. It was a delight to watch Hutchins draw with such an unusual object and create such exact replicas of what Austin was doing.

We also experience the three women drawing on either side of a suspended piece of paper, which caused it to sway and twist and push away from them.

In another moment we hear the clinking of glass as a collection of suspended drawing tools bang against each other and hit the floor, creating a stippled, striated pattern on top of paper spread across the whole floor. I am reminded of an Orthodox priest swinging thuribles of incense in a procession around an imagined church.

Lastly Austin, with ear buds in her ears plugged into an iPhone, danced down the small corridors of space between the paper in the center and the audience. Her movement was dynamic, soft and round, springy and forceful and fluid and sometimes angular speaking words out of order, nonsensical (at least from our point of view) from some unknown place. While Boas and Hutchins armed with fistfulls of pens, furiously spelled out the words she had spoken loudly, writing them on the wall. The words mirror each other from the middle out.

What is most satisfying about this performance for me is that it takes dance out of the ephemeral and makes it concrete. Dance normally exists in the moment and then it’s gone. But creating paintings from movement puts it in the here and now, and we have a sort of record of it forever.

There were so many delicious moments in this piece, that if allowed I would have willingly entered and found a way to play and experience what was being suggested in front of me.

At the end of The Word Hand, the audience can collect the traces of the evening for themselves: Select drawings will be offered for purchase immediately after each performance and can be viewed at Performance Works Northwest the following day from 2-5 pm.

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