Lineage, choreographer Danielle Ross’s full-length, ensemble performance, in collaboration with performers Muffie Delgado Connelly, Allie Hankins, Emma Lutz-Higgins, and Oregon ArtsWatch contributor Hannah Krafcik, premiered at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art on June 1-3.
The performance began with pedestrian movement, sparse across PICA’s large black box theatre. The audience was invited to take their seats while Delgado and Hankins traversed the stage, walking back and forth across the white marley dance floor. Dim lighting by Portland designer Brian Jennings and a crackling soundscape punctuated with footsteps by Juniana Lanning aided in transforming the space into a vast cloud-like atmosphere. As the dancers took turns entering and exiting the building — putting on and removing their shoes as they stepped onto the concrete floor — PICA’s garage doors reverberated with a metallic sound, adding to the auditory accompaniment.
Once all four of the performers, clad in bright purples, yellows, greens, and blues, joined together on stage, the dance commenced with a series of ball changes and balances, passes and pivots, their arms swinging and torsos releasing a la release technique. With widespread centers of individual physical initiation and curvature of winding group pathways, it was immediately made clear that the investigation into the lineage and iconography of former dance-makers, choreographers, and local teachers had begun long before the perceived choreography.
According to the program, Danielle Ross — FLOCK resident artist, Ph.D. candidate, co-founder of Pure Surface, and creator of the work — was “inspired by the loss of dance elders during the pandemic and the tenuous attempt to maintain connection through movement.” The desire for both personal and professional connection is an all too common feeling shared by many in an increasingly isolating post-pandemic world, and Ross’s take on the subject managed to refreshingly embrace the nuance, bitterness, and longing that surrounds the ongoing conversation. While particular emotional narratives were not made obvious to the viewer, the general intention was intelligible as the dancers fell into repetition and hypnotic rhythms, explored looping patterns, and participated in scores that felt both familiar and alien to those with knowledge of modern and post-modern dance techniques.
While often presenting outwardly calm in demeanor, sometimes even ambivalent, the dancers also at times displayed intense focus, through which could be deciphered the complex internal subjects mentioned in the program text — joy, sadness, grief, and recollection. Four microphones suspended from the ceiling in the right-most upstage corner of the room later offered the audience a glimpse into the performers’ minds as they recited stories about teachers, explained the feeling of descending from a million points, and stated sparse phrases including “it wants to be heard” and “patterns and fetishes.” Hankins, who is no stranger to vocalization and song in her solo performances and collaborations with Portland movement artist and Performance Works Northwest founder Linda Austin, eventually led the group into song. Ross, who sat in the audience, joined that song at full volume — both completing the circle of connectivity that was created by the dancers and extending the performance, presumably to not only the audience, but energetically towards the dance makers and teachers who came before. A ‘special thanks’ from Ross listed many artists associated with her personal dance lineage, including some of Portland’s great dance pioneers and contributors, such as Austin, Mariecella Devine, Mary Oslund, Gregg Bielmeier, Jeff Hancock, and others.
From start to finish, Lineage offered a uniquely abstract look at the spiraling chain of Portland dance connectivity through the lens of a thoughtful choreographer. Utilizing dancers and choreographic iterations from different dance lineage backgrounds; repetitive spiraling duets, trios, and group sections; layered soundscaping; sparse vocalization; and a climax of tension-filled solos towards the end of the work, Ross managed to encompass the many ghosts of dance history and lineage that we, as dancers across the world, carry alongside us every time we take the stage.