Lindsey Matheis

Review: ‘Co / Mission’ at Conduit

Four dancers, four choreographers, lots of variety and plenty of crosstalk

In last weekend’s Co / Mission, Conduit gathered four Portland dancers and gave them the means to commission the local choreographer of their choice. Overall, the program was an absolute treat. Each of the four short, original works was proportioned like the space itself – small, sturdy, and comfortable in its strengths and capacities. It’s a size and sort of event I’d like to see more of  – local professionals curating adjacently but not necessarily collectively, balanced in such a way as to do as much as they can with a modest scale, with plenty of crosstalk but enough variety to avoid our tendency to create echo chambers here in Portland.

Rachel Slater in "Co / Mission." Photo: Chris Peddecord

Rachel Slater in “Co / Mission.” Photo: Chris Peddecord

In little more than an hour, the four pieces – which ran at Conduit Thursday-Sunday, June 13-15 – drew on diverse but complementary influences and styles. The shared themes, coincidental or not, seemed to alternate AB/AB. The first and third pieces employed more complex sound design and movements, channeling a little bit of the sense of a sophisticated session of dancing alone in your bedroom that a lot of contemporary solo work brings to mind. The second and final pieces drew on more classical movements and employed simple props and light sources.

A strong focus on women in dance and pop culture emerges through all the pieces. It does so cumulatively, with little overt politicization of gender. The sense is more that we have strong work coming from a group of dancers and choreographers who happen to all be women (except for Franco Nieto). The work shines on its own merits and concerns, many of which come from what feels like a particularly female perspective.

The sound design introduces these themes most directly. The first audio we hear is a shockingly sexist George and Gracie Burns dialogue, and Rachel Slater’s sensuous torment in d’autres femmes calls back to the skewed gender dynamics of the same era via Nina Simone’s classic The Other Woman. Linda K. Jonson summons the equally powerful figures of Wonder Woman and Poly Styrene in her piece for organizing member Jamuna Chiarini (who is a contributing writer to ArtsWatch). These references all seem to participate in the two broader themes of defiance and otherness. Suzanne Chi’s final, lyrical performance lacks all these hallmarks of troubled Americana, instead simply pitting a studious, solo dancer against an impending darkness.

Individual performance notes:

DU | ET

Dancer: Jen Hackworth

Choreographer: Linda Austin

Du | et was an intriguing chance to watch Linda Austin’s movements and outbursts emerge from a different person. Though an experienced choreographer, Austin says this is her first “solo piece performed on a body other than my own.” Austin’s marks were present on all parts of the piece – from the procedural, investigative movements to the deadpan recitation of jokes to the audience to the use of props. Austin’s sense of deferred presence seemed to be a driving concept of the piece, charging Hackworth to respond to herself as if she were another dancer, lending her manipulations of the props a feeling of searching or preparation, and smirked at with the use of Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance with Somebody.

The sound design here was complex, but smart and layered, not overwrought. The opening George and Gracie dialogue worked surprisingly well with Hackworth’s studied manipulation of a wooden tailor’s ruler and a rock, the odd-couple of objects. However, the initial nimbleness she had with the ruler didn’t seem to last throughout the piece. Without it, the props felt sparse, and could have been strengthened by either engaging the leftover open space or maintaining a higher degree of precision in handling the little objects in question. They did lend themselves to some touching moments, as Hackworth gently positioned them with an attention that seemed to say she had few other concerns in the world than this little rock, a sense later echoed in the placement of her own foot between the edges of the floorboards.

Jen Hackworth in Linda Austin's "Du / et." Photo: Chris Peddecord

Jen Hackworth in Linda Austin’s “Du / et.” Photo: Chris Peddecord

d’autres femmes

Dancer: Rachel Slater

Choreographer: Franco Nieto

Slater began her piece standing stock still, holding a strained smile through the laments of Nina Simone’s The Other Woman. She presented herself as a surface on which the audience could project a sequence of reactions to the mores and traditions implied in the situations reveled in by the song. I thought this followed DU | ET’s sense of hesitant resiliency quite well. The gesture could have gone stale easily, but happily it broke before becoming too much of a misplaced endurance piece. Slater proceeded to writhe and promenade with a sense of ownership of the stage and dashes of cabaret flair that paired well with Simone’s sound. Alternating between brassy and sensual, she seemed the most defiantly present of all the performers, as if daring someone to stop her from dancing. The staging was as restrained as it was effective: an open shade behind a thin curtain, glowing with early evening light, and a large, shimmering mirrored panel.

Like a Corvette

Dancer: Jamuna Chiarini

Choreographer: Linda K. Johnson

This shared DU | ET’s feel of po-mo bedroom dancing, but minus the formal play with duality and absence. Thematically this was placed perfectly in the program, as if the unsteady pride that felt lost or neglected in the first piece was mixed with the agency and guile of the second, reinforcing the contemporary movement and gesture with Wonder Woman’s metal bands. Chiarini’s investigative feeling of trying-on and stepping-up in this piece is what first gave me the sense of viewing a private dance session, one where the dancer is updating if not constructing some aspect of their identity. As Hackworth worked her way up to Whitney Houston, Chiarini progressed to Wonder Woman, as if they were two sides of some fantastically collectible coin.

The Last Errand

Dancer: Suzanne Chi

Choreographer: Lindsey Matheis

Suzanne Chi stormed through a field of dangling, dim lightbulbs with an electrifying mix of precision and fluidity. At one point she fired off a startling torso-slap which was one of my favorite moments of the show and paired well with Hackworth’s playful karaoke of Whitney Houston while spinning back and forth to whack her own chest and back with her flailing hands. I swear that she struck some recognizable Tai Chi postures, but I’ve been proven to see those whether they’re really there or not. Regardless, she commanded the stage with as much gusto as Slater had in the second piece, but without reference to a fixed place and time. The sparse lighting and the breathy soundtrack built this otherworldliness. Going by the program notes, there’s at least passing reference to the young-adult book City of Ember, but I wonder how well-targeted that was for the audience. I’m hoping that it was meant to remain a passing reference, as the out-of-time sense of this final performance elevated the power behind her movements from a sense of opposition or defiance to a more independent, celebratory place. Seeming to say that Chi would dance while the lights went out, some of them dying in the palm of her hand, however long they lasted.

Dance review: The first half of the (a)merging festival

Seven choreographers filled the Northwest Dance Project with new dance thoughts

SubRosa dances "Matriarch" in (a)merging/Jim Lykins

SubRosa dances “Matriarch” in (a)merging/Jim Lykins

Lindsey Matheis of the Northwest Dance Project has brought us the second installment of her dance festival, (a)merging, which just concluded its opening weekend. In all 14 Portland choreographers will show their work over two weekends.

“I started (a)merging last year because someone else was going to do a show in the space (Northwest Dance Project) and couldn’t end up doing it, so Sarah Slipper asked if I wanted to step in,” Matheis said about the beginnings of (a)merging. “It was Sarah’s idea to have something going on in the space while the company was off, and so now I try to fill a lot of those empty spaces with shows…for the community, networking, bringing people together.”

Bringing people together was the key. “I find that the dance scene here is often split up, though that’s been massively changing over the last couple years,” Matheis said. “I did (a)merging last January, 2 programs. Then I did a show called Alchemy in the fall, which was more focused and I had a lot more say over the content. I hand-picked those choreographers. This (a)merging is my third show, again going back to the idea of giving choreographers—green and experienced—a chance to show work without cost to them. In fact, all proceeds go towards paying them.”

According to Matheis, “Both programs emphasize the eclectic diversity of work being made in the city, giving both beginning and seasoned viewers a chance to be introduced to new voices.”

“Sol”, the first weekend, showcased choreography by Sara Himmelman, Sam Hobbs (BodyVox-2 guest artist), Briley Neugebauer (of Polaris Dance Theatre), Megan McCarthy and Patrick Kilbane (Northwest Dance Project), Sara Parker, Kate Rafter, and Jess Evans (SubRosa Dance Collective).

Continues…

Spinning gold: an evening of ‘Alchemy’

The future arrives: a six-pack of contemporary dance by choreographers in their 20s

As the crowd files in for the opening night of the dance show “Alchemy” at the Northwest Dance Project studios on Friday, everyone’s handed a little square of silver glitter paper to pin to their shirts: at some to-be-determined time, the audience will shimmer.

“Alchemy,” which repeats Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 7-8, is the latest independent production by NDP dancer Lindsey Mathies, who first dipped her feet into the producing waters in January with a refreshing and invigorating two-program roundup of independent pieces called “(a)merging 2013.” That pair of shows was an engaging experiment in the new and the experienced, a cross-fertilization of Portland talent in an intimate and accessible atmosphere.

kickstarter-banner-take2

“Alchemy” is more of the same but with some different faces and a little sharper focus. Once again, without being entirely bowled over by originality, I found myself enjoying the program’s vitality and variety very much. In addition to her dancing skills, Matheis is proving herself a savvy and welcome behind-the-scenes addition to the city’s percolating dance scene: “Alchemy” provides a punch of youth and a chance for a host of good dancers to take on the challenge of creating dances. Like so many independent projects these days, the program is partly funded through crowd-sourcing: it exists because people want it to exist.

All six of the featured choreographers – Matheis; Jeff George of BodyVox-2; independent dancer/choreographer Rachel Slater; NDP dancer Patrick Kilbane; dancer and photographer Chris Peddecord; Polaris/hip hop/Brazilian dancemaker Jocelyn Edelstein – are in their 20s, and in this program all six are dealing, at least metaphorically or tangentially, with the idea of spinning something into gold.

In other words, “Alchemy” is something of a primer on the future of dance in Portland, or at least a few interesting slices of the future. These dancers and dancemakers seem completely comfortable in a world with few rigid walls. Pop, classical, oldies and alt music slide easily together. Ballet, contemporary, and physical theater do the same. Ideas are ideas, movements are movements, and whatever works works. Following a long tradition in the dance world (Broadway hoofers are called “gypsies” for their ease in shifting from show to show), dancers from different companies mix it up easily with one another. A kind of creative chaos reigns, but it’s deceptive: things might feel loosey-goosey, but the evening’s flow is actually carefully, and often wittily, arranged.

The audience is supposed to feel a little loosey-goosey, too. Matheis has come up with a few tricks to gently nudge the crowd out of the concert-in-a-cloister mindset and into more of a night-on-the-town mood. Program cards are stuck inside books sitting on each of the 80-odd chairs, which are lined two rows deep on all four sides of the center stage, forming a loose box with aisles at each corner. All of the books have something to do with gold. Mine is “The Chemical Choir: A History of Alchemy,” by P.G. Maxwell-Stuart (Continuum, 2008). The historian-author appears to have a taste for the occult and macabre: one of his other titles is “Satan’s Conspiracy: Magic and Witchcraft in Sixteenth-Century Scotland.” On either side of me, the books seem a tad lighter: “Churchill’s Gold,” by James Follett (“Author of the Wotan Warhead”); “Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta,” by Carole Nelson Douglas (“A Midnight Louie Mystery”).

As the crowd is settling in, a pre-performance keeps the energy at a low buzz: it’s like instrumentalists woodshedding in the band room before rehearsal. Dancers in various casual dress are shuffling about, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups (including at least one huddled group hug), twirling, turning, rearranging empty chairs or sometimes balancing precariously on them. At one point the speakers blare out the Andrews Sisters’ “Accentuate the Positive.” This may or may not be meant to be ironic. I choose to think not, and the general tone of the evening as it unfolds tends to bear that out.

It’s a little tough paying strict attention to all of this amid the general preshow melee, but that may well be the point: inject a slight sense of anarchy into what can often be a staid and formulaic social gathering. “Welcome. Welcome. Continue. Oh my God,” the loudspeaker proclaims, and then breaks into canned laughter. Onstage, a performer speaks – “Spider!” – and then clams up.

Into this gentle mayhem six woman dancers wander, bringing a more precise and coordinated flow of movement with them, and I realize the program proper has begun: it’s George’s “I wander” (dancers: Tracy Carboneau, Melissa Framiglio, Carlyn Hudson, BodyVox-2’s Anna Marra, Cait Powers, Kara Girod Shuster), a fluid, dreamy, neoromantic piece that’s lulling and rather sweet. After a bit a seventh woman dancer appears, wearing cutoffs and wrapped loosely in long strands of string. Someone somewhere begins to whistle “You Are My Sunshine,” and the six navy-blue dancers, who’ve landed on the stage, wake up and rise. They start to pluck strings from No. 7’s body. Three more stringed dancers arrive, also in cutoffs and tank tops, and the navy-blues discreetly melt away.

We’ve moved on to Slater’s “West Rising,” a quirky and inventive piece, yearning and echo-like and lightly mythic. The four bestringed dancers – Slater, Suzanne Chi, Julia Ostrovskaia, Briley Neugebauer – bounce from toe to shoulder, reach, lean, glide. They wear an air of detached astonishment. At one point they take off from the center and circle the audience from the outside, like cowpokes nestling a lasso over a heifer, or actors racing backstage to enter opposite, except there is no backstage: we can see everything that’s going on. The navy-blue dancers come back, discreetly sweeping the string dancers off the stage: time for something new.

rachel west rising

That turns out to be Matheis’s “Stand Tall,” a broken-narrative, physical-theater piece with a touch of new-vaudeville flavor that’s reminiscent of some of Robin Lane’s work for Do Jump! A piece about male self-stereotypes, it ends up being probably my favorite of the evening, partly because it doesn’t take itself overly seriously as a big statement and partly for the way it embraces theatrical movements as dance. The piece begins at a tiny dressing table, where a performer sits and compulsively shaves his face with an electric razor. Over and over and over the razor goes, razing the jawline smooth. The narrator drops in and out: “Basically I was a complete jock.” Marine Corps. Advertising sales. “I stagnated.” “And about 10 years ago, my life changed.” The performers – Chris Cogell, Chase Hamilton, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Adam Hartley and Michael Linsmeier – make big long leaps, challenging the limits of the intimate space. They’re muscular and aggressive and graceful. They burst into grunts and tribal/football chants. Boogah. The narrator has a change of heart. “Chakras, circles, all kinds of stuff.” Briefcases emerge. It’s all about testosterone and male expectations and balancing the aggressive and the emotional. And it’s done with enough wit to keep it off the soap box and away from the drums in the woods and within the realm of wry, smart entertainment.

“Midas & Marigold,” choreographed by Kilbane with his solo performer, Megan McCarthy, updates the tale of the king with the fatal touch of gold and his daughter, who is returned to human form with the aid of the wine god Dionysus. McCarthy, a little birdlike, a little techno, is glittery-gold from the shoulders up, a subtle merging of metal and flesh. She makes jerky robot moves, like a statue awakening, and at one point she reaches out with a single finger and lightly touches someone in the audience, who seems unsure what to do. The piece makes me think, just a bit, of the glorious exaggerations of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.”

The testosterone guys show up again with their briefcases, followed by three women in party hats and those curled-up cardboard-and-paper party toys that shoot out like a frog’s tongue when you blow into them (I discover later that in the party-favor racket they’re officially called “blowouts”). The night moves on to Peddecord’s “Atras” (in Spanish, “behind” or “in back of”), performed by  Neugebauer, NDP’s Samantha Campbell, and Matheis, who is subbing on Friday night for Katie Staskow, who has taken ill. It’s a playful piece, a little arch, a little insouciant, with musical cues from The Beach Boys (“God Only Knows”) and Cyndi Lauper and various vaguely calliope sounds from the Mexican electronica composer Murcof. If girls really just want to have fun, they seem to be giving it a go.

And finally (not that things have been lagging: this thing’s swift) the evening breaks into “A Thousand Pieces,” Edelstein’s piece for dancers Ucce Agada and Hanna Winters – an embrace and avoidance, a counting of many pebbles, a clear jar rattling with pent-up memories. A release: she smashes the jar to the floor, and the pebbles splay out across the stage. From the sidelines all of the evening’s previous performers emerge, drop to their knees, and begin to gather the pebbles again and place them back in the jar. Nothing shattered, nothing gained. The mood shifts: it’s a celebration.

As I work my way to the exit I realize I never noticed any shimmer from those silver squares of glitter paper pinned to the audience’s chests. Ah, well. Things were shimmery enough onstage. Plenty of shake, too. Catch it if you can.

*

Final performances are 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 7 and 8 (pre-shows 7:30) at Northwest Dance Project Studio, 833 N. Shaver St. Ticket info here.

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Mixing it up: a snack of PDX dance

The choreographic appetizers of "(a)merging" create an inventive mix of odd dancefellows

Let there be light: checking Summer Turpin's design at tech rehearsal.

Let there be light: checking Summer Turpin’s design at tech rehearsal.

The joint was jumping Friday night: theater openings big and small, all across town, as the annual mob party known as the Fertile Ground new-works festival shifted into overdrive.

So naturally, I went to the dance.

Six dances, actually, all of them short and wrapped into a swift neat package at the Northwest Dance Project studio: producer Lindsey Matheis calls it an “appetizer program.” And even though most of the works are new, “(a)merging 2013” isn’t officially part of Fertile Ground.

It is, however, part of an immensely fertile cross-pollination of dance that’s been emerging in the past couple of years. In spite of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s current financial and leadership troubles, in many ways the scene’s rarely seemed more lively. What’s more, it’s lively in a particularly Portland way, with a creative blend of structured company shows and independent, quasi-pop-up events – some of them, like OBT’s dancer-run “Uprising” series of shows in places like Mississippi Studios, the Wonder Ballroom and the Aladdin Theater, either loosely sponsored by the established companies or side projects by artists affiliated with them. Programs ping-pong around spaces like Conduit and Lincoln Hall downtown, BodyVox in Northwest, and now Northwest Dance Project, in the bubbling Mississippi District of North Portland. And it’s creatively subversive: a mix and match of dancemakers whose home bases might be contemporary or modern or ballet but who break down the walls when they’re working together.

Matheis

Matheis

“(a)merging” is a first for the Dance Project, which has never used its studio space for someone else’s show before, and a first for Matheis, a leading dancer at NWDP, who’s never produced a show before. For both, the project offers the advantage of being something different but something familiar at the same time. It’s a two-weekend event, with Friday’s opening performance repeating at 7:30 tonight and tomorrow (Saturday-Sunday, January 26-27) and a separate show with seven different works, the “Dessert Program,” at 7:30 p.m. February 1-3.

Of Friday’s half-dozen dances, I liked Catherine Egan’s “Minute 5” the best. Performed by Esther LaPointe and Eric Nordstrom to music by Greg Paul, it seemed the most composed and also the wittiest piece on the program: a short, lightly jivey duet that begins with a held pose like a silhouette cutout and proceeds as a very loose-jointed, fidgety yet carefully constructed and technically sophisticated duet. Not a moment of unsureness, not a movement out of place – just a light, insouciant jig of a thing.

Javier Ubell’s “Pues” is even shorter, more of a power bar than an appetizer, and in certain ways a study in style and weight. Ubell is a soloist at OBT and a terrific character dancer, and for “Pues” he’s matched dancers from two companies noted for very different approaches: OBT company dancer Michael Linsmeier and Northwest Dance Project’s Andrea Parson.  Linsmeier dances long and stretched in the Balanchine tradition of grace and beauty. Parson, who is small and intense and so dramatically focused you’re afraid she might explode, is a mightily contained powerhouse of a performer. Whenever she moves she seems to be visiting some deep place within herself that is pristine and almost shockingly energetic. Watching the combination of those two approaches is fascinating, like watching a hammer wrapped in velvet swing through the air.

The program opened with a filmed dance, “Surface,” created by Carla Mann as a 10 Tiny Dances piece for the 2004 TBA Festival and featuring Patrick Gracewood and N.D. Newburger. It’s a nice bit of videographic illusion, with small dancers seeming to dance on a large dancer’s back, slipping in and out of crevices that seem to shift between human and geological. Former BodyVox dancer Lane Hunter’s “Caravan,” which he dances with Melissa Framiglio to a lightly swinging bit of music by Back to Earth, is a romantic duet maybe most notable for its opening and closing images of the delicate Framiglio floating elegantly above Hunter’s sturdy legs. In “twice, elisheva,” Elizabeth Bressler, working with Tracey Durbin, creates a piece for herself that seems about the power of the human body: Bressler moves emphatically, like a steam shovel or a power forward in a basketball game, sometimes slapping the floor for effect.

The program closer, Jennifer L. Camp’s “Beneath the Surface,” comes with a program note that it explores the stages of grief – “fear, denial, anger, acceptance, and hope” – and I feared it might be an overly illustrative outpouring of emotion. In fact, it’s light on its feet, and quite affecting, working in suggestion rather than statement. Its four young dancers – Tracey Carboneau, Melissa Framiglio, Cait Powers and Amelia Unsicker, all draped in bright valentine costumes by Caitlin Quinn – move through the sometimes elegant pacing with freshness and coltish restraint.

“(a)merging” is a refreshing blend of experience and inexperience, the familiar and the new, in an intimate atmosphere that embraces the idea of crossing borders and trying things out. Not just onstage but also in the audience, it was good to see a mix of creative people who are doing closely related work but don’t bring it together very often. A sizable group of OBT dancers was in the crowd, along with Dance Project regulars and others: a regular gumbo of Portland dance. This seems like a very good thing.

NOTES:

  • The Northwest Dance Project studio is at 833 N, Shaver Street, at the corner of Mississippi. Ticket information for this weekend’s remaining shows and next weekend’s program is here.
  • Featured in the February 1-3 program will be choreographers Anna Marra of BodyVox2; Eowyn Emerald Barrett, who’s also active as a dance pop-up producer; Chase Hamilton; Christopher Peddecord & Kara Girod Shuster; Sydney Skov of Polaris; Matheis; and Matheis’s fellow Dance Project performer Ching Ching Wong.