And now for dessert. “(a)merging 2013,” the mini-festival of Portland choreography that opened a couple of weekends ago at the Northwest Dance Project studio with a six-pack of short dances collectively called “Appetizers,” finished this past weekend with seven different works under the heading “Dessert.”
The idea of a gathering of short dances – no main courses – was whipped up by Lindsey Matheis, a dancer at Northwest Dance Project, and she’s the producer, using NDP’s intimate studio space in North Portland’s Mississippi District. Her process, she says, was simple: She just emailed a bunch of choreographers in town and asked if they’d be interested in doing a piece for a group program. Thirteen said yes. Of course the reality is much more complex – cooking from scratch always is – but what came out of the oven was an intriguing blend of voices, experienced and inexperienced, that give a sense of what’s brewing in a lot of corners of the city’s dance scene. What we saw wasn’t a collection of masterpieces but an appealing sampling of the bubble of energy and ideas among a largely new generation on the city’s dance scene. Several of the works are by dancers taking a turn at choreography, and a kind of heady, experimental, let’s-try-this exuberance reigned. As Matheis noted, the second-weekend program (it ran Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings) tended toward emerging dancemakers, although several more familiar faces were on hand, too.
The “Dessert” program began, maybe fittingly considering the food associations, with Ching Ching Wong’s “Breadcrumbs.” Crumbs these movements might have been, but this solo for dancer Katie Meyers, set to music by Mumford & Sons and the terrific Canadian folkie group the Wailin’ Jennys, has a nice pop feel, as does Chase Hamilton’s “Friends” (to a Steve Miller Band song), which he performs with Polaris dancer Zoe Nelson. Wong is a fellow NDP performer with Matheis, whose own “Study7,” for a septet of young woman dancers, is very much a study. The movement is crisp and architectural, showing the influence of the Europe-based choreographers who’ve set dances on NDP, and this feels very much like a passing-on of ideas to a fresh crop of aspiring performers, who attack the passages eagerly and with refreshing concentration.
Matheis also performs, along with Sydney Skov, in Skov’s piece “Akash.” Skov performed with the elite high-school Jefferson Dancers before moving on to NYU and then to Senegal and India working on human-rights issues: in India she used dance therapy to work with human-trafficking survivors. “Akash” is a snippet of a work in progress about human trafficking in Oregon, and at this point it’s a little hard to see where it’s headed. But as a taste of something bigger yet to come, it’s intriguing.
The three pieces after intermission were more assured and tightly formed, including a return of the rising young dancemaker Eowyn Emerald Barrett’s nicely paced 2012 “…left,” performed on Saturday night by Katie Staszkow of BodyVox-2, where Barrett also once danced. It’s a bit of a BodyVox family gathering, with Barrett joining current BodyVox performers Jeff George, Jonathan Krebs and Josh Murry in BodyVox-2 dancer Anna Marra’s “ ‘Between Us Now and Here’ – Thomas Hardy.” Not sure what it has to do with Tess of the d’Urbervilles, but it’s well-shaped, with Barrett often playing counterpoint to the three men, and it affords the pleasure of watching a quartet of experienced performers who know one another’s work very well.
“Old Ghosts,” the only filmed dance on the program, was a crowd-pleaser, and little wonder. Directed and edited by Christopher Peddecord, it’s a moody, sexy, sometimes angsty duet danced and choreographed by Kara Girod Shuster and NDP’s Franco Nieto, a recent Princess Grace Award winner. Shuster and Nieto, both of them intense and powerfully contained performers, move up, on, around and beside each other, sliding intimately in and out of each other’s spaces with measured intensity. They have beautiful bodies, and the camera loves beautiful bodies: Peddecord deftly combines their own dance with a lyrical dance of the camera.
Was “(a)merging” the best dance program of the season? No: far from it. But it was one of the most engaging, partly because it mixed so many elements and levels of experience in such a free and democratic way. I saw hopefulness and – dare I say it? – happiness here, among both the younger performers eager to make their way and more established dancers and dancemakers trying something different from their ordinary roles in their respective companies. And it all seemed so, well, Portland, in an unironic way. This is precisely the sort of petri dish (to break a trifle unappetizingly from the food metaphors) that a healthy art scene needs. Let the great mashup continue: it’s where the future begins.
I wrote about the festival’s opening weekend, “Appetizers,” here.