By ANDREA STOLOWITZ
When I walked into Lincoln Hall Friday night, all I knew about Alessandro Sciarroni was that he is renowned for his stagings that straddle dance, performance art, and ritual anthropology. I also knew that that the piece his company was performing, FOLK-S, Will you still love me tomorrow?, was somehow related to the traditional Tyrolean Dance the “Schuhplatter.”
The show, part of the opening weekend of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival, started before most of us realized it. As the audience filtered in, if you listened carefully, you could discern faint rhythmic tappings emerging from the backstage area. The beginning of the piece consisted of six actors—five men and one woman—in a circle performing what appeared to be a thigh-slapping, ankle-twisting Austrian beer hall dance. But there was no beer, no hall, and no accordion music (though there was an accordion). No one was in traditional costume.
Without these external trappings we were left with the sound of the dance, the ongoing rhythm it created, and the sheer physical attention to detail required by the actors. We watched, not sure what to make of all this. And then the first reveal, or break in the pattern, happened. The lights bumped up. An actor came forward and said, “Tonight we will perform a dance traditional to the Tyrolean region. We will keep performing this dance until either no one of you is left in the audience or no one of us is left on stage. Anyone who leaves the theater will not be allowed back in.”
And with that gauntlet thrown, the dance started again. The now familiar rhythm, movements and sounds combined and recombined as the actors performed in what was now a dance with no end.
We watched as sweat poured off the actors. We stared as one actor broke out of the dance to tie his shoe. Another actor stepped away to drink water. Both of them returned to the stage. The tension was implicit: “Would someone leave?”, we all asked ourselves. Onwards they danced. We waited. Finally, one actor left. And he did not come back. There was a pause, a demarcation of his absence. And then the dance started up again.
They danced through heat and sweat and in twosomes and fivesomes, and sometimes alone. Audience members began to leave. And still the five danced. And you could think that so long as someone was there in the audience to watch them maybe they would dance forever. And on they danced. Until another actor left. We sat there, shocked. It was happening. We were down to four. And more audience left. The remaining actors danced onward in a mad frenzy of movement, still thumping out the now familiar rhythm.
Something began to transform in the audience as we watched. We were now half the number of actors and audience and two hours into the piece. The dance began to disassociate itself from all context. The rhythm kept pulsating through the theater. We sat there with the actors and together we, audience and actors, became nothing more than humans occupying a space together. And this intricate dance was becoming a metaphor for life. Kind of like: “We are all here together now, passing through time together, in this thing called life. Together. And during this time people will exit the stage. And they will never come back. So all we have is now.”
There was an intense clarity in the actors’ movements. As the final two dancers became more and more fatigued we sat, riveted. We watched as they became tired and revived. We wondered which of the two would quit first. And then, like everything else in this piece, the ending too was a surprise. The final two actors looked at each other, reached some unspoken agreement, finished their last dance steps, and then exited the stage together.
And it was over.