TBA:13: Guns, mantelpieces, tricky ponies

Linda Austin and David Eckard's 'Three Trick Pony' touches the forbidden devices...

Linda Austin explores the David Eckard universe in "Three Trick Pony"/Photo by Chelsea Petrakis courtesy PICA

Linda Austin explores the David Eckard universe in “Three Trick Pony”/Photo by Chelsea Petrakis courtesy PICA

By NIM WUNNAN

If you’ve followed the arts in Portland for more than a few years, “Three Trick Pony” probably has some wish-fulfillment to offer you. For those of us who have only seen David Eckard’s sculptural devices, prevented from playing with them by social conventions or gallery staff, choreographer/dancer Linda Austin’s extended romp in this piece is very satisfying. In a very broad way, the piece is an extended, abstract embodiment of Chekhov’s over-quoted line about guns and mantelpieces (if a gun is on the mantelpiece in the first act it must go off in the third).

If that were all the piece had to offer—some objects that can do things, someone who does things with them—I might agree with the visiting student I talked to after the show. He thought it was long and obvious. He added that his attention span was too short, as if that wasn’t part of the original problem laid out in the first half of his statement. Possibly he was deaf too, because he didn’t mention Doug Theriault’s score.

Having listened and paid attention to the show, I found much more on offer. So, maybe this is a necessary reminder for the viewing public at TBA—if you go, you have to pay attention.

The way Austin enters the stage demands it—not really moving like a dancer, she’s more like another sculpture finding its position among the others on the stage. Once in position, she begins a cycle of movements and actions that engender lots of whys, whens, and hows. Every curve, knob, and latch on Eckard’s sculptures is a possible destination or strategy for Austin. In overlapping cycles, you can watch Austin prove or refute your theories on what those things will or can do. Austin thwarts and distorts Eckard’s object plans with enough variety that no one could guess everything she’ll do. The argument and debate between performer and sculptures deploys a rich vocabulary of movement and device, and that’s where you get your wish fulfillment.

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Whatever the student thought, there’s much more to the piece than that. Austin’s first cycle of movements doesn’t touch the sculptures at all, and when they first repeat, it’s a permutation, not just a copy. As the objects provide a physical framework, the sequence of her movements lays out a chronological cycle to explore a deep sense of displacement and confused function, and a willingness to work it out that ranges from cartoonish to elegant.

Linda Austen in "Three Trick Pony"//Photo by Chelsea Petrakis courtesy PICA

Linda Austin in “Three Trick Pony”//Photo by Chelsea Petrakis courtesy PICA

There’s a nervy affection that runs through the whole thing, keenest when Austin tells the corner “I like you,” or writes “Loverly” with her own spit, or tries to be heard through the indifferent pendulum of one of the sculptures. She visits one of the pieces twice, just to gently stroke it, before making it do something on the final round. It makes sense that the accelerating development of the sculptures’ physical potential would start cautious and gamely-awkward before becoming ambitious and fluid. The remarkable thing about this collaboration is how well it demonstrates the way Austin can drive her own, known body through the same sometimes-absurd cycle of invention demanded by Eckard’s sculptures. How that plays out rewards a close watch.

I was surprised to notice that the score also rewards attention. Anyone who’s been to another TBA-like thing can situate it among other aleatoric, plinky-plonky soundscapes that you hear at performances. Having heard my share of that, and owning Aphex Twin’s “Selected Ambient Works II” for more than a decade, I was honestly impressed at the range of mood the soundtrack visited, and how relatively infrequently it settled into the unsettling/vaguely-creepy default for that kind of thing. What really kept me listening was how, out of its rambling and sampling and Austin’s experimentation, suddenly the score would align perfectly with something she or a sculpture did, often signaling a significant shift in action or tone.

This was definitely not chance—Austin’s first significant contact with a sculpture happened at exactly the same moment that conventional musicality entered the score. These synchronized transitions and the many beats her actions shared with the score belied the incredible thought that there was a solid framework hidden within what could be mistaken, at times, for noise.

NOTE

“Three Trick Pony” concludes at 6:30 Monday and Wednesday at Con-Way, and is highly recommended.

One Response.

  1. Jan Gerry says:

    Austin’s surealistic dance is a visual art off the wall that comes face to face with it’s viewer. Theriault’s music & sound score was part of this genius production. The creativity was like a New York production …3d sculptures, sounds that help bring a unique sense of a story, and movement that paint the story of Three Trick Pony.

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