Rachel Tess builds a ‘Souvenir’

The dancemaker, who splits her time between Portland and Sweden, creates a little house to dance in

A lot can happen in a short time in a small space. And a lot did on Saturday night, when Rachel Tess and Kenneth Bruun Carlson, members of Rachel Tess Dance,  performed a 30-minute duet at OPSIS Architecture, using every inch of  a 450-square-foot space and every muscle in their beautiful bodies to make a statement about what Tess calls “the effects of kinesthetic empathy in a confined, intimate space.”

Tess balances on the "Souvenir" house at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York. Photo courtesy Rachel Tess

Tess balances on the “Souvenir” house at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York. Photo courtesy Rachel Tess

The space at OPSIS is not the one for which this duet was made.  That is a “house”, titled Souvenir, roughly the same size as the OPSIS space and crafted in modular pieces of hand-planed wood, held together with pegs for easy deconstruction and reconstruction, with a low ceiling, and cubby hole seating for the audience.  It was designed by Tess, who lives most of the time in Sweden, for her Master’s degree in dance, which she received from Stockholm’s University of Dance last year. A second “Souvenir” is being constructed in Portland by Acme Scenic for use in this country, first here in Portland in the spring, then in New York next June, outdoors at Nolan Park on Governor’s Island.

You can see what Souvenir I looks like, with and without dancers and audience, as you go up the stairs at OPSIS, in an exhibition of some spectacular photographs taken by Michael Mazzola, with whom Tess worked for the first time on Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “Stravinsky Project” in 2011.  She has done quite a lot of site-specific work in Portland in the past few years, in empty retail spaces and galleries and the like, proclaiming in the 2008 “Details of a Couple,” with a dance that had her worming her way down a table loaded with wineglasses, that art and relationships are risky at best.  Creating your own site, and a portable site at that, is also pretty risky, but so far, so good: At Valmos, between March and July, she did more than 160 performances in it, solos and duets, including the one I saw Saturday night, transferred and adjusted for the space provided by OPSIS.