Lucy Guerin

Acclaimed Australian choreographer Lucy Guerin has returned to Portland for the West Coast debut of her award-winning minimalist new duet, Split. Considering how often White Bird has featured projects involving Guerin over the years, the work she brings to our city still continues to surprise. In some ways, Split is unlike anything Guerin has done, but it bears the intense clarity of gesture, deep directorial collaboration, and carefully considered structure that viewers who were fortunate enough to catch her previous projects should expect.

Guerin was last in Portland in 2017 as part of the stunning collaborative production Attractor. This knockout of a show was one of Guerin’s rare collaborations with her partner, Gideon Obarzanek, the founding director of dance company Chunky Move. In the spirit of both companies, they shared directorial and choreographic duties with two more collaborators: the dancers of Dancenorth Australia and Senyawa, an intense, experimental two-person band from Java. The show was loud and intense. An imposing column of cables hung from the ceiling, powering Senyawa’s instruments as if from some energy source in the sky. The dancers managed to match the tempo and tone oSenyawa’s vocal acrobatics, giving the impression that they were linked to the musicians by the same arcane electricity.

Prior to that show, in 2012, Lucy Guerin Inc. came to Portland with Weather, in which elaborate set design and prop work were integral to the choreography. Using simple materials such as plastic bags and strips of paper, Guerin and her collaborators created a miniature weather system onstage for her dancers to inhabit. More than gimmicks or set dressing, the objects came to life and integrated sublimely with the movement of the piece.

Lilian Steiner and Melanie Lane grapple in Lucy Guerin’s “Split.” Photo by Gregory Lorenzutti

Using these shows as reference points for Split might seem to highlight the differences in tone, scope, and structure among Guerin’s various projects. However, if we look more deeply, we can see a few conceptual threads running through the fabric of her choreography. Each piece is grown rather than planned, created collaboratively with every member of the production—the dancers, the musicians, the lighting and stage designers. Each show manages to feel dense yet highly considered—every component serves its role and seems to be there for a reason. The complex and intense symmetry and synchronization seem to serve that purpose directly. What does and does not happen at the same time, or what does or does not have the same tone, are fundamental to each of these performances, from the smallest movements of the dancers to major structural decisions.

In their introduction to Split, which opens the 2018-19 Uncaged series, White Bird co-founders Paul King and Walter Jaffe mentioned that they rarely book duets, but felt that this was Guerin’s “masterwork.” What does that mean? The specifics of superlatives can blur into a vague sense of “really very good.” Mastery, however, is different from “exemplary” or “best.” It suggests a combination of total control and total freedom; masters know their work inside and out and can speak through it clearly and articulately. Mastery has nothing to prove and can cut through the dressing of a discipline to show us the nature of the work.

By that measure, “masterwork” seems like an appropriate description of Split. Plenty of shows seem fun or impressive enough to make us non-dancers wish we could perform the same feats. But this show made me want to be a dancer so I could better understand what the dancers were saying about dance itself. So much of dance defies written description—which is the main reason I haven’t yet tried to describe the actual movement in the piece. The show is made of a few simple components, but they add up to something complex.

The space Steiner and Lane share gradually shrinks in “Split.” Photo by Gregory Lorenzutti

As viewers finds their seats, a hypnotic beat pulses quietly from the speakers. This soundtrack, composed by British artist Scanner, serves as a sort of auditory armature throughout the whole piece. Its minimal, repetitive structure is influenced by contemporary minimal music, but stops short of the complex polyrhythms and phasing that composers such as Steve Reich or Terry Riley are known for. It’s a rhythm that feels both intellectual and visceral, beating at the rate of an endurance runner’s heart.

As the show opens, dancers Lilian Steiner and Melanie Lane stand on an empty stage, squared off by white tape outlining the perimeter. Steiner is completely naked, Lane wears a simple blue satin gown. The lighting is spare and directional—a broad spotlight that falls from the rafters, highlighting every edge and corner of Steiner’s body and every twist and fold in Lane’s gown.

The movement demonstrates Guerin’s minimalist bent. Starting in perfect sync, split by a distance of about five feet, the dancers work through individual positions combining everyday gestures with the simple movements that have been part of  modern dance vocabulary since choreographers including Trisha Brown began foregrounding components of human movement in the 1960s. Within the first few minutes, however, both dancers fling out their arms with the sort of speed we see in movies when editors drop a few frames to make action seem inhumanly fast. Later, some of the minimal lighting changes occur with the same snappiness, signaling significant transitions in the arc of the piece.

These intentionally startling moments split the otherwise steady rhythm supporting the movement throughout the whole show. Guerin’s decisions about how and when to break from a prevailing structure make her movement feel both tightly packed and carefully chosen. Split is so stripped down that every piece of it feels on view —it’s more sushi than soup—and we are invited to focus intensely on these pieces. Having Steiner perform entirely in the nude makes our scrutiny feel less analytical and more humane. When they dance in unison, Steiner feels like a living X-ray of Lane’s movement; when they move in opposition, Steiner serves as Lane’s counterpoint.

These tools of reduction, rupture and opposition are what move the show forward. Progress is marked by points where Steiner and Lane stop dancing, take a quick breather, and then split the working area of the stage in half with a roll of white tape. A quick burst of light from the side of the stage signals them to continue, and they re-engage in half the space they had before. These breaks come quicker and quicker, until the dancers barely have enough room to stand. They fight, they support each other, they cling to each other, and they drive each other out. Split is full of the things that make movement into dance, but it’s surprising for how few parts it needs to achieve that.

Split runs 8 p.m. Saturday at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave. Find tickets here.

It’s all about shoes this week. Dance shoes to be exact, and tons of them, too. Tap shoes, jazz shoes, pointe shoes, and stilettos. It’s a busy week in Oregon dance. But I’m particularly excited by a pair of sneakers inspired by the work of Portland-based dancer, choreographer, and performance artist Linda Austin. Portland interdisciplinary artist Tiffany Lee Brown designed the shoes through Cultivator as a fundraiser for Austin and Performance Works NorthWest, the dance/performance space Austin runs with husband, lighting designer Jeff Forbes. Austin has been making dances and working tirelessly for many years to provide opportunities and support for other artists.

These limited-edition, one-of-a-kind Nike Pegasus sneakers, called Movement, have “PWNW” emblazoned along the heel, in addition to yellow laces, red soles, and a groovy, topsy-turvy, black-and-white striped triangular pattern across the shoe. They are great for dancing and leaping and any creative thing you can think of to do in them.

You only have until Oct. 21 to buy a pair of these awesome sneakers and support the extensive work that Austin does for the Portland arts community. So get to it!

Performances this week

Melbourne-based choreographer Lucy Guerin’s “Split.” Photo by Gregory Lorenzutti.

Split
Lucy Guerin Inc.
Presented by White Bird
October 18-20
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park
Dance Artist Talk: Lucy Guerin
6:30 pm October 22
Reed College, Performing Arts Building, Massee Performance Lab, 128, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.
This 60-minute duet, which opens White Bird’s Uncaged series, features choreography by Melbourne-based choreographer Lucy Guerin. It’s performed by two women, one clothed and one not, and explores competition, negotiation, aggression, and harmony in an ever-decreasing space.

“BloodyVox: Deadline October.” Photo courtesy of BodyVox.

BloodyVox: Deadline October
BodyVox
October 18-20
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.
BodyVox’s “scary” show, originally choreographed in 2010 and revamped over the years, celebrates co-founders Jamey Hampton’s and Ashley Roland’s favorite holiday, Halloween. This family-friendly dance theater extravaganza touches on all aspects of Halloween, offering work that is by turns dark, mysterious, magical, beautiful, ironic, odd, hilarious, and absurd. The show, composed of several short dances, incorporates standard Halloween fare such as vampires, zombies, ghosts, and killer spiders, as well as some non-standard material, like creepy identical twins and a new work called “Victorian Secret.” This year’s production also includes Halloween costume contests and dance parties at every show. See link for details.

Wild Rumpus Jazz Co. in a “A Spine Tingling Soiree.” Photo by Jarrid Cammack.

A Spine Tingling Soiree
Wild Rumpus Jazz Co.
October 19-20
Polaris Dance Theater, 1826 NW 18th Ave.
With this gathering of ghouls, Wild Rumpus Jazz Co. (co-founded by Kelsey Adams and Lucy Brush) gives Halloween a jazzy twist. Frankenstein goes on his first date, campfire stories come to life, tap shoes become possessed, and so much more. Audience participation is welcome and costumes are encouraged.

In addition to Adams and Brush, performers include Cherie Swain, Cassy Adams, Daniel Martinez, Kristina Lindquist, Nicholas Petrich, and Sondra Storm.

“As You Like It: A Wild West Ballet” by Ballet Fantastique. Photo by Bob Williams.

As You Like It: A Wild West Ballet
Ballet Fantastique, Donna Marisa Bontrager and Hannah Bontrager
October 19-21
Hult Center, One Eugene Center, Eugene
Ballet meets the Wild West in this twist on Shakespeare’s romantic comedy. As the play famously puts it, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”: here, those players include a brave heroine, lovers, a troubadour, and a bad guy, accompanied by a banjo and a honky-tonk saloon piano.

This concert will be broadcast live to audiences via Concert Window on Sunday, October 21 at 2:30 pm PST. Click here to learn more/sign up to watch.

The tap shoes of The Skylark Tappers. Photo by Annika Abel Photography

Everything’s Copacetic
The Skylark Tappers, Artistic Director Judy Tibbles
October 19-22
The Headwaters, 55 NE Farragut
Showcasing the rhythm and dynamics of tap, Portland’s Skylark Tappers will explore an array of songs under the musical direction of Jack Buddeke, accompanied by jazz vocalist Anandi Gefroh, saxophonist Jeff Homan, drummer Rivkah Ross, and bassist Perry Thoorsell, with Buddeke on keyboard.

“Clock that Mug or Dusted” by Cherdonna Shinatra. Photo by Sally Kohn.

Clock that Mug or Dusted
Cherdonna Shinatra (Jody Kuehner)
Presented by Risk/Reward
8 pm October 20
Portland Institute For Contemporary Art, 15 NE Hancock St.
Working at the intersection of dance and drag, Seattle’s Cherdonna Shinatra (Jody Kuehner) pits vintage feminism against today’s feminism. This messy conceptual experiment, which includes paint and birthday cake, explores the idea of the body as a canvas for social change, rebellion, and personal expansion.

The Portland Tap Company debuts this weekend with “The Man Who Forgot.” Photo by Nicholas Teeuwen

The Man Who Forgot
The Portland Tap Company
Choreography by Jessie Sawyers and Kelsey Leonard.
Presented by the Portland Tap Alliance
October 21
Winningstad Theatre, Antoinette Hatfield Hall, 1111 SW Broadway
Based on recorded excerpts of Neil Gaiman’s story “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury,” combined with an original score by Grammy-nominated pianist and composer Josh Rawlings, the Portland Tap Company makes its debut with an exploration of the human mind and its ability to remember and forget.

A still from the film “sweetgrass” by Portland artists Amy Leona Havin/The Holding Project and Tomas Alfredo Valladares.

Portland Dance Film Fest
October 20-21
Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St.
There are just two nights left of this six-night adjudicated dance film festival, so go. Directed by dancer-choreographer Kailee McMurran, the festival features dance films from around the world, shot anywhere from sand dunes to city streets to a squash court. (And as long as we’re talking shoes, look for the man in the white-winged angel shoes.) Check out the festival’s website for descriptions of the films and interviews with the filmmakers.

Continues…

ArtsWatch year in dance 2017

From ballet to world to contemporary, where the dance scene led, ArtsWatch followed. In 20 stories, a brisk stroll through the seasons.

Dance in Portland and Oregon has long been on the edge – often financially and sometimes artistically. Yet despite economic challenges you can’t keep it down: the city moves to a dance beat, and every week brings fresh performances. ArtsWatch writers got to a significant share of those shows in 2017, and wrote about them with breadth, wit, and insight.

The twenty ArtsWatch stories here don’t make up a “best of” list, though several of these shows could easily make one. They constitute, rather, a January-to-December snapshot of a rich and busy scene that runs from classical ballet to contemporary and experimental work.

 


 

We’re able to bring smart coverage to dance and other disciplines because of support from you and people like you. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit cultural journalism organization, and your gifts help pay for the stories we produce. It’s easy to become a member and make a donation. Just click on the “donate today” button below:

 


 

A dance down memory lane in 20 tales from ArtsWatch writers:

 

“Hopper’s Dinner”: an exuberant feast. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

A mellow Meadow like old times

Jan. 20: “Going to opening night of BodyVox’s Urban Meadow at Lincoln Performance Hall on Thursday evening was a little like dropping over for dinner with a bunch of old friends you haven’t seen in a while, and remembering why you liked them in the first place,” Bob Hicks wrote. “The table was set nicely, the food and wine were good, and everybody swapped old jokes and stories with easy familiarity. There was even a guest of honor, who was fondly feted, and who told a few good tales himself.” The “guest” was the wonderful dancer Erik Skinner, who was retiring from BodyVox (though not from performing) after this run, and the program included a bunch of old favorites that were themselves welcome guests.

Continues…

At White Bird, ‘Attractor’ is magnetic

Australian dance talent meets Javanese musicians, and the result is transformational

Attractor could rightfully be called Condenser for how much talent is concentrated into a single show. First we have Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek. Though partners in everyday life, they don’t collaborate professionally very often—about every six years by their own account. Portland’s seen some good work by Lucy Guerin Inc., and as one of the founders of Chunky Move, Obarzanek has brought some amazing work through town. However, they’ve never been to Portland at the same time. When the directors of White Bird noted this in the Q&A after the performance, they suggested that they might kidnap them and keep them here. I hope Guerin and Obarzanek didn’t sense how much the audience seemed to support the idea.

Any collaboration between these two is worth noting, but joining forces with Dancenorth brings a whole new artistic dimension. Created when Ann Roberts placed $100 on the table during a public meeting because she was tired of seeing talented dancers leave Australia or gravitate to the more populous south to pursue their careers, Dancenorth has become an artistic center in Queensland near the Great Barrier Reef. A multifaceted program, the company produces new work, hosts classes, and provides professional development opportunities, putting northern Australia on the map for contemporary dance. They seem to bring with them some of the coastal wildness of their part of the world.

Dancenorth and Senyawa joined forces for ‘Attractor’/Photo courtesy White Bird

Ok, so we have two award-winning choreographers in a rare collaboration and an acclaimed dance company. That’s enough Australian talent to stuff the stage, but those are just the dancers. The musicians knock this one out of the park.

Javanese duo Senyawa are not just central to the stage and the performance. Their work was the inspiration for the entire piece, and they were full creative partners in the development of the choreography. As they developed the show, sometimes the music led the movement decisions, and at other times it followed. This exchange is central to the performance itself, and belies an incredibly fruitful collaboration between these talented groups.

Continues…

Dance Review: Lucy Guerin’s plastic storm

Lucy Guerin Inc's "Weather" is a high pressure system with lots of great dancing

Lucy Guerin's 'Weather'/Heidrun Lohr

Lucy Guerin’s ‘Weather’/Heidrun Lohr

So much of our description of a dance (or almost anything else) depends on context and comparison. Suppose you are a dance fan and you saw Lucy Guerin’s “Weather” last night at Lincoln Hall, after seeing Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “Dream” last weekend. Maybe you’d describe Guerin’s work as a challenging piece of contemporary dance—the score wasn’t very musical at all, despite the title it was abstract, the point of some of the sections seemed to be to exhaust the dancers, and while the movement may have been impressive it wasn’t “beautiful.”

Or maybe you saw Maguy Marin’s “Salves” last weekend. In that case, maybe you were relieved to see some good, old-fashioned dancing, without Marin’s puzzling content that seemed vaguely angry, even assaultive, and the movement that had nothing particular to do with “dancing.” (One patron told White Bird’s Walter Jaffe that “Salves” felt like a colonoscopy. Yikes!)

And even if you saw neither of those (nor BodyVox’s “Body Opera Files”), still, it’s axiomatic that “context is everything” or maybe “everything is relative” or “the ideology of the ruling class is the dominant ideology of any society.” Wait, that last one is about something else.

Both of our imaginary “Weather” audience members, the balletomane and the tester of Marin’s turbulent waters, might agree on one thing—those Lucy Guerin dancers can really move. And though they aren’t the will-o-the-wisp dancers who might make fine leaves in the wind of the weather, their precision at the high speeds they are able to generate comes from the power of very strong, kinetically aware bodies.

LucyGuerininc_WEATHER #1-81 Image by Heidrun Lohr

Lucy Guerin’s ‘Weather’/Heidrun Lohr

Guerin says “Weather” is based on weather patterns, but I think it could just as easily be called “Molecules,” “Breath” or “More Fun With Plastic Bags Than You Might Think Is Possible,” without losing the sense or enjoyment of it. I suspect it’s a big mistake to sit there and attempt to assign specific weather events to what’s happening onstage at any particular time. I never once thought, “Oh, that must be a low pressure system moving in” or “Wow, what a great depiction of wind shear,” but then I’m not even an amateur meteorologist.

Oh, I suppose that because a lot of the dance divides the dancers into 1 on 5 patterns (one dancer outside a grouping of five) that maybe there’s a political or social subtext on alienation or manipulation inside “Weather.” But remember, I was part of the Maguy Marin group last weekend, and that was the most fleeting of thoughts, even for me.

That left me with the six dancers, a ceiling full of plastic bags (the only and very striking set element), and Guerin’s sublime ability to find interesting ways to manipulate the first two. That was plenty.

Alisdair Macindoe’s opening solo suggested perfectly what was coming up for the rest of the hour. How could a body that sturdy and strong seem that boneless and fluid? He supplied the windy sound effects with his breath and sliced and spun at high speeds and various levels seamlessly, without a single sign of stress. He was replaced by a lengthy duet by Amber Haines and Kyle Page that set them moving in elegant, almost waltzy, patterns. Gradually, those sped up, started to change, reaching a point of seeming exhaustion (not really, Haines is onstage almost the entire show and never showed a hint of slowing down), when other dancers would enter, stir them up to more dancing and leave the stage.

The other three dancers (Kirstie McCracken, Talitha Maslin and Lillian Steiner) having been introduced, some elaborate line dancing began in that 1-to-5 formation, and then the plastic bags fell to the floor.

Not all of them. That would have been WAY too many for the dancers to manipulate. But enough to fill the stage one layer deep. And the last four sections (by my count) are danced among them. The dancers send those bags flying, hide beneath them, shake them like pompoms, shove them to one end of the stage and back, scurry and dance about kicking up little cyclones of them. OK, I just included “cyclones” there because of the title of the piece. I might have just said “helixes.”

LucyGuerininc_WEATHER #1-488 Image by Heidrun Lohr

Lucy Guerin’s ‘Weather’/Heidrun Lohr

At one point Macindoe starts pulling a bag over Page’s head, and they make excellent comic use of this prop, though my mother would have predicted that there was a 100 percent certainty that someone would end up dead. (They made it through alive, Mom!)

It wasn’t all prop play. Guerin herself danced with Tere O’Connor Dance and Bebe Miller and choreographed for Chunky Move and Mikhail Baryshnikov. She’s a proponent of the most energetic, intricate and demanding dancing—complex unison dancing, explosive solos with lots of moving parts, very physical duets—and that’s what “Weather” delivers.

Gradually, some personality started to emerge from the dancers, the humor, sure, and a little attitude. (“Oh, the weather just got angry!”) They started to emerge as single dancers with particular qualities: Maslin’s the long-legged one with precise placements, McCracken is a puckish dynamo, and so on. By the time the stage manager through the switch and plunged the stage in darkness, we were just getting warmed up!

Lucy Guerin's "Weather" blows into town tonight-Saturday at Lincoln Hall.

Lucy Guerin’s “Weather” blows into town tonight-Saturday at Lincoln Hall.

Yesterday, the finalists for the National Book Awards were announced, and in the poetry category, at the bottom of the alphabetically arranged list, was Mary Szybist for “Incarnadine: Poems” (Graywolf Press). Szybist has taught at Lewis & Clark College for the past 10 years, so that puts her into the “local poet makes good” category. These days, which may just be the Golden Age of Portland poetry (along with most other arts), that category is getting pretty full, but still, a National Book Award finalist!

Graywolf published “Incarnadine” last winter, and it received excellent reviews at the time. The Slate review by Jonathan Farmer was pretty typical, if more considered than many: “In ‘Incarnadine,’ Szybist longs for God and longs to long for God and treats her own longing with occasional scorn. The book is a mix of good manners and postmodern invention. At her most outlandish (a poem in the form of a sentence diagram, for instance), Szybist still sounds relatively conventional. At her most conventional, she’s up to something strange.”

The poems started with a trip to Italy, Szybist told Kirsten Rian, writing for The Oregonian, specifically the Annunciation scenes she found in the churches of Florence by Fra Angelico, Simone Martini, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli: “The Annunciation scene points out a moment of intensive encounter, if not confrontation, between the bodily young woman (Mary) and the starkly alien and spiritual (the angel Gabriel)…. I started asking: If what we fundamentally are is bodies, then is our longing for the spiritual in some sense a longing for what is fundamentally alien and other? Do we long for our own deepest fulfillment in the realm that is most alien, as well as alienating, to us?”

And here is a brief excerpt from Szybist’s “Hail”:

“…Here I am,

having bathed carefully in the syllables
of your name, in the air and the sea of them, the sharp scent

of their sea foam. What is the matter with me?

Mary, what word, what dust
can I look behind? I carried you a long way

into my mirror, believing you would carry me

back out. Mary, I am still
for you, I am still a numbness for you.”

***

Last night, I slipped into a little preview of Third Angle’s investigation of  Gabriela Lena Frank’s compositions, which begins tonight in earnest at PSUs Lincoln Hall. Frank herself was there to provide lively commentary on the excerpts of the pieces that the Third Angle quartet played, small and angelic looking, with a lively intelligence and way of talking.

Mostly, she explained how she derived the quartets from her experiences in Peru. Frank’s mother is Peruvian of Chinese descent, and Frank’s American father, whose heritage is Lithuanian and Jewish, while he was serving in the Peace Corps. They raised Frank in Berkeley, crossroads of world music, and when Andean music reached her, she was immediately interested in tracking it.

The quartets are both based on her travels in Peru, and on the musical instruments she encountered, the pan pipes, water drums and charango. They attempt to recreate those sounds on the instruments of the quartet, and she showed how the breath and the rhythm of the pipes, for example, could be recreated—or suggested at least—on a violin. Not that the music sounded like traditional Andean folk music. It has a contemporary energy, dissonance and complexity, though occasionally something that sounds like a folk melody might flit through.

Frank has received commissions from a long list of prominent groups, including Kronos Quartet, Wu Man, San Francisco Symphony, Houston Symphony, Chanticleer Ensemble, the Chiara String Quartet, the Brentano Quartet, Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Project, and many others, and her visit to Portland is long overdue.

The Third Angle concert, ENTRE LOS MUNDOS/BETWEEN WORLDS, starts at 7:30 pm Thursday and Friday, in PSU’s Lincoln Recital Hall, Room 75, 1620 SW Park Ave.

***

Lincoln Hall is going to be busy this weekend, because White Bird continues its insanely busy month with a visit from Lucy Guerin Inc, which with Sydney Dance Company starts a little Australian mini-season this month. Guerin’s company performs at 8 pm at Lincoln Performance Hall Thursday-Saturday.

Guerin’s work has popped up here quite a bit, as White Bird’s Walter Jaffe points out on his informative blog. Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project performed one of her duets in 1999, and Chunky Move’s visits here featured her collaborations with Gideon Obarzanek, the brilliant “Tense Dave” and “Two Faced Bastard.” And PICA brought her company a couple of times, too.

Guerin’s work is definitely dance-y, but it’s also unpredictable. Which makes sense because here the company will be performing “Weather.” From the looks of it on Vimeo, “Weather” is incredibly demanding on the dancer and a creative brush with the idea of the title.