‘Tempowaryly’: It almost felt like I was dancing

Keyon Gaskin's structured improvisational dance uses the audience as props

By JAMUNA CHIARINI

I have decided, after I ended up sitting on the edge of the dance floor in front of the first row for Trajal Harrell’s “Antigone Jr.” at TBA and having a near religious experience (it was hard to restrain myself from jumping up and joining in on the catwalk and screaming “work it” with Mr. Harrell), that I would sit as close as I possibly could to every dance performance from here on out. There is no point in watching dance if I cannot connect with the performers. I need to see the expressions on their faces and the sweat flying from their bodies. If I can’t dance in every piece, I at least want to FEEL  like I am. I’m not sure I needed to apply this new principle to Keyon Gaskin’s “Tempowaryly: seriously frivolous,” which ran a couple of weeks ago and repeats this weekend at Performance Works Northwest, because it was almost impossible NOT to feel like I was dancing in the piece.

“Tempowaryly,” initiated by Keyon Gaskin and co-created and performed by Jen Hackworth and Rosana Ybarra, was just what the title and the program notes indicated:  “an abstract rumination on the following concepts, and then some: inability to know/limits of perception/proclivity to define/importance of play/fiction as fact/mistrust of knowledge, language, history/quoted cultures/allusion of privacy/occult practices/alternate ways of being…”

These are the questions posed by the three performers to themselves, which they worked to answer during the duration of the performance, composing while performing as opposed to having all the choreographic elements worked out before hand. We make impromptu choices all the time in our everyday lives, of course, but it’s another things to make choreographic choices while you are dancing in the dance you are choreographing. Having never done this myself, it seems profoundly difficult and mind blowing.

“Tempowaryly” is actually a structured improv with a few fixed elements and a few unfixed elements. The fixed elements include a list of props: a floor to ceiling tripod sculpture by Nathan Stewart, carabineers hanging from the ceiling, a hot plate and pot of boiling water, yards of red velvet fabric, a box lighted from the inside made from photographic slides, a small section of linoleum with a single tap shoe, an altar, strings of white pearls, several books, three doorways for entrances and exits and a timekeeper (a member of the audience chosen before the show to keep time for the performers). The unfixed elements are where the audience members sit and how the dancers navigate and negotiate all of these fixed elements.

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Keyon Gaskin's "Tempowaryly" continues this weekend.

Keyon Gaskin’s “Tempowaryly” continues this weekend.

As we enter the performance space we are welcomed by the dancers moving about the studio/performance space warming up and saying, “Welcome, please take a chair and sit wherever you like, but do not sit against the wall.”

This little moment caught me completely off guard. I stuttered. What, I can’t sit with my back against the wall? What’s going to happen to me? Can I handle this? Well, it was too late for that—I was already in the room and being watched. Peer pressure forced me to move forward, so I placed my chair in a spot facing the center of the room but shifted it to another spot a few minutes later to get what I thought would be a better vantage point. Then something clicked and all of a sudden I felt playful. I had been invited into the performance not just as a viewer but also as a participant.

It also became clear to me that the performance would be happening all around me. Then my brain started doing the what-if game it does when I see performances that inspire me. What if I voluntarily move my chair around to different spots during the performance? Could I do that? How would it affect the performers? Would I see something different from each location? Would that be awesome or disruptive? Would people think I was crazy? Probably, but it would be fun.

What happened after that was exhilarating, fun, exhausting, extremely satisfying and refreshing.

I liken the whole experience to a three-dimensional dreamscape, a shared dreamscape between three dancers on a raucous, fitful night of sleep where the mind is mulling over an entire lifetime of experiences. Or like scenes from a David Lynch film, your choice.

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After seeing both “Weather” by Lucy Guerin Inc. and “Tempowaryly: seriously frivolous” in the same weekend, it become clear to me that you can’t have one form of dance performance without the other. One is a reaction to the other and its important as viewers that we see both and join in on the conversation and follow the journey in the artist exploration: We need both forms to balance us out. I’m talking about formalized concert dance presented on a proscenium stage (represented two weekends ago by Lucy Guerin Inc’s “Weather” at Lincoln Hall) and improvised, audience inclusive, questioning all previous performance notions, kind of dance, which is where Keyon Gaskin’s “Tempowaryly” at Performance Works NorthWest comes in.

Interestingly, these two dances were more similar than different. They both worked in the abstract, there were improvised sections in both dances, and humor was used at the midpoint to break things up and change direction. Both pieces are also brand-new, evolving, works in progress.

As an exercise and challenge for myself to be more concise and to the point with my writing and because a lot has already been said about “Weather,” I have written two Haiku poems as my form of witnessing that weekend of dance. Here is the first:

“Tempowaryly: seriously frivolous”

Many memories
Reading by lighted skivvies
Yards of red velvet

And here is my attempt to address the Guerin dance.

“Weather”

Exuberant youth
Illuminated plastic
The cause and effect

If you love dance, and I know you do, I highly recommend checking out “Tempowaryly: seriously frivolous” which will be performed   November 15-17th at Performance Works NorthWest, 4625 SE 67th Ave Portland . For ticket information go to Brown Paper Tickets or to the “Tempowaryly” event page on Facebook.

One Response.

  1. Martha Ullman West says:

    I too recommend “Tempowaryly” which I saw last night, primawyly for its humor, and honesty. I don’t know if one dancer cocooned in red velvet and hopping across the space meant to be doing a take-off on Martha Graham’s solo, “Lamentations,” but that’s the way it struck me, and it cracked me up. These three dancers are gorgeous together whether they’re being funny or not, and while I thought the show was too long, I came away thinking Dada and Surrealism are alive and well on of all places Foster Blvd. Go see the show, it’s a trip.

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