Portland Area Theatre Alliance Fertile Ground Portland Oregon

Review: Years in the making, Pulse Mountain debuts as more than dance performance

Muffie Delgado Connelly and Tahni Holt’s collaboration invites audiences into a world of imagination in this time-shifting production.

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Muffie Delgado Connelly (left) and Tahni Holt in Pulse Mountain. Photo: Chelsea Petrakis.

After witnessing Pulse Mountain, a dance collaboration created by Muffie Delgado Connelly and Tahni Holt at Building Five, I found myself circling back to words from the production’s program. Those words planted the seed of a story in my mind, which grew with the performance: “We say yes to the fruits of decay, yes to braiding together with the bodies of our youth—the kid bones where we found freedom in dance studios long ago,” the artists proclaimed. These sentiments ruptured time and recontextualized all that I had watched unfold in the performance, inviting me to water the seed of my own meaning-making anew.

Delgado Connelly and Holt performed Pulse Mountain October 6-8, exhibiting their chops for production within the vast industrial space of Building Five. The artists wove this production together with the help of a stellar line-up of collaborators—dramaturg Kate Bredeson, lighting designer Jeff Forbes, costume designers Annie Novotny and Chloe Cox, and two musicians (who I will laude later). Their abstract dance entailed a host of theatrical trappings and devices, such as large-scale props and a whopping four costume changes, all of which coalesced to invoke the specter of narrative. So—as humans have done for millennia—I welcomed it, creating a story for myself about what I had experienced in the proscenium.

Tahni Holt in Pulse Mountain. Photo: Chelsea Petrakis.

Perhaps, Dear Reader, you will find meaning within this story as well:

The performance began as composers Maxx Katz and Luke Wyland sat quietly to the right of the stage—Wyland with his piano and Katz with their glittery guitar and flute at the ready. Onstage lay two mysterious parachutes, side by side, deflated and imposing. Katz lifted the flute to their lips and exhaled to create soft flute tones, which were recorded and looped by Wyland in a gentle overture that filled the cavernous building.

Parachutes await in Pulse Mountain. Photo: Chelsea Petrakis.

The dancers entered the space. Delgado Connelly walked onto the stage floor, paused thoughtfully for a moment, and then snapped their fingers. Holt followed suit—walking, pausing, and snapping—which prompted an instantaneous flute tone from Katz. The dancers evolved this motif, eventually skipping around the parachutes in a jazzy volley. They wore ice-dyed outfits of green, yellow, and blue hues, like a forest in spring. 

From their vantage as adults, now in their forties, Delgado Connelly and Holt primed the stage to tell a story that would slide their bodies along the spectrum of age.

Muffie Delgado Connelly (left) and Tahni Holt in Pulse Mountain. Photo: Chelsea Petrakis.

The dancers paused, each atop one of the parachutes, and faced each other with arms extended. These positionalities—Delgado Connelly on the left parachute and Holt on the right—would serve as their home bases for parts of the performance to come. They stepped offstage to turn on fans in the back of the space that sent air rolling into the parachutes. These camouflage-green props conjured disparate loose references for me—military paraphernalia, tents in houseless encampments, and mushrooms and mycelium networks, all at once.

Sponsor

Portland Opera The Snowy Day Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

The breathing parachutes shimmered under blue light as Delgado Connelly and Holt began vocalizing offstage. They repeated gutteral tones that alluded to experiences of pain, ceremony, sex, grief, and, of course, childbirth. Suddenly, the music swelled and the dancers emerged onstage again, this time topless in the center of their billowing parachutes and wearing blood red briefs decorated in sparkles and tulle. They postured with arms cocked at one another, like mischievous gods.

Muffie Delgado Connelly in Pulse Mountain. Photo: Chelsea Petrakis

At this epic moment in my own story, the dancers appeared as seeds in sex organs, riling themselves up to be released. They walked slowly towards one another, then exploded backward—and I caught the satisfying shadow of Delgado Connelly’s feet moving quickly as the parachute rushed up under them. The whirr of the fan ceased and the two disappeared again, leaving their parachutes to wilt for a spell.

When Delgado Connelly and Holt came back into view, they dawned costumes of voluptuous yellow tulle that enwrapped their torsos. The dancers helped one another dress and then pulled their respective parachutes offstage with a luxurious air, accompanied by flute and harp tones that washed me over with sensations of pleasure. The stage glowed pink as they commenced a dance of playful spins, inhabiting the bodies of their youth and becoming children again—Delgado Connelly moved with lush sensuality while Holt brought moments of zaniness. Their outfits reminded me of children I had known who would never take off their favorite tutus, even for playing in the dirt.

Tahni Holt (left) and Muffie Delgado Connelly in Pulse Mountain. Photo: Chelsea Petrakis.

Gradually Delgado Connelly and Holt grew mechanical in their movements, breaking down and restarting again at the dawn of an awkward adolescence. They retreated for another costume change: this time into boxy sage gowns with high necklines. Holt took the stage to dance first, fondling their dress for a moment. These gowns, though beautiful, filled me with anxieties of my teenage gender dysphoria. As Delgado Connelly took the stage to dance a solo, I even worried they would trip over theirs (though they never did). The two also danced together in a manner reminiscent of the previous motif—waltzing, turning, and gesturing—though with belabored moments.

Muffie Delgado Connelly (left) and Tahni Holt in Pulse Mountain. Photo: Chelsea Petrakis.

Eventually, Delgado Connelly and Holt left their gowns behind and transformed into their contemporary selves again, inhabiting their original green ice-dyed costumes for one last emotional dance. After a final turn about the stage, they wrangled their parachutes over their bodies and stood, swimming their arms to create different high peaks, transforming themselves into mountainscapes.

First Delgado Connelly, then Holt, rolled out from underneath their parachutes and toward one another, groping and grasping, as if they had slipped below the surface of the earth to find each other again. They enacted a kind of death and reintegration, with the earth and with one another. The lights dimmed as the dancers rested in a sensual and sentimental embrace, with Delgado Connelly lying over Holt, torso exposed, and breathing quietly.

“What potential resides in the trembling wreckage?” the artists ask in their production notes. They remind me that the trembling wreckage of my own aging being has existed for longer than I can fathom, disintegrating, transfiguring, and reforming. And perhaps mountains are the most steadfast reminders of this process, for even they have risen and crumbled. In this sense, Pulse Mountain posits that aging is actually a process of unlocking imagination in order to reach toward the infinitude of what has always been. 

Sponsor

Seattle Opera The Life and Times of MalcolmX McCaw Hall Seattle Washington

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Hannah Krafcik (they/them) is a Portland-based interdisciplinary neuroqueer artist and writer whose work emerges from ongoing reflections on social patterning and censorship, (over)stimulation, perseveration, and intuition. Their practices span dance, writing, new media, and sound design. Hannah continues to be influenced by their collaboration with artistic partner Emily Jones.
Photo credit: Jo Silver
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