randee paufve

Hi there. My name is Jamuna Chiarini. I am a writer here at ArtsWatch and a dancer, choreographer, producer, and arts administrator. Did I leave anything out? Oh yes, I am also a stay-at-home mom, chauffeur, cook, chief pot washer, therapist, motivational speaker, etc., etc. My work as a dancer/choreographer and writer is as a freelancer, which means that all of my creative work is mixed in with everything else in my life, which makes it all kind of messy on a daily basis. This is what I want my art to reflect, my real life. I want my art to meet me where I am, in this very moment in time, not a fantasy of what I wish my life looked like.

I didn’t get to this “everything is one” zen moment alone, mind you. The last five years involved a lot of kicking and screaming and crying on my part, coaching from my mentor and dance teacher Linda K. Johnson, support from friends and family, a lot of watching and writing about dance, watching other people dance around me and seeing how they adapt, and thinking about the form, along with some plain old personal growth/investigation.

The Kitchen Sink choreographed by Jamuna Chiarini. Photo by Chelsea Petrakis.

The Kitchen Sink choreographed by Jamuna Chiarini. Photo by Chelsea Petrakis.

When I first got to Portland I was really frustrated because I couldn’t find like-minded dancers and choreographers to work with or take classes to from. I moved here five years ago from New Jersey (for the record I am from Berkeley, CA). My training was in ballet, Graham, Horton and Limón technique, all pretty traditional, which I didn’t see represented here (except for choreographer Josie Moseley who wasn’t making work anymore). This sent me into a panic as I really felt like I was coming to the end of this career that had never really flourished. I had had so many deeply bitter dance teachers in the past who were forced to stop dancing because of their age and injury, and this idea/image was alway looming over me.

To top it off, I was also in a lot of pain. Every time I danced I hurt from head to toe the next day. It was a really confusing and frustrating experience that I put off dealing with for a long time. It got to the point where I wasn’t dancing or moving at all, just a lot of sitting and feeling really really sad.

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Dance Weekly: Down by the Bay with Randee Paufve

A dancers pilgrimage to Californian and Skinner/Kirk's latest works.

At least once a year I take a dance holiday down to the Bay Area in California where I am originally from and take as many dance classes as I can and catch a performance or two. It is my chance to recharge and connect to a larger pool of dance ideas and styles.

This year the timing of my desire to break from routine and get out of town coincided with the Super Bowl and with the performance of “Strangers Become Flowers” by long-time Bay Area choreographer and former Portland resident Randee Paufve.

"Strangers Become Flowers" by Randee Paufve. Photo by Tony Nguyen

“Strangers Become Flowers” by Randee Paufve. Photo by Tony Nguyen

Five years ago I danced for Paufve when she brought her piece “So I Married Abraham Lincoln” to Portland and merged her Bay Area dancers with a group of Portland dancers for the performance at Conduit. For me this experience was like finally finding “home” after wandering for 20 years—I left my hometown of Berkeley in 1992 for ballet school on the East Coast and I haven’t lived on the West Coast since—until I moved to Portland five years ago. Paufve encapsulates all that is familiar to me of the Berkeley that I grew up in and the dance lineage that I trained in.

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Paufve/Dance’s “So I Married Abraham Lincoln…”

At first the title of Randee Paufve’s dance/theater creation, “So I married Abraham Lincoln…,” puzzled me. I guess I assumed that Paufve was imagining what it would be like for HER to be married to the Great Liberator, which would be… crazy.

But no. Paufve was being historical, and the dance responds to the life of Mary Todd Lincoln, and then I realized what a poor opinion I had of Mrs. Lincoln, who always seemed dour and opportunistic to me. A dance about her?

Yes, a movement/word/music response to the life of Mary Todd Lincoln, abstract, poetic and allusive, and somehow, against all the odds, it completely overturned my ignorant preconceptions of Mary Todd Lincoln and made me feel her life in an entirely new way, from her courting days as a young adored woman in Springfield to the seances with which she attempted to contact her husband and sons on the other side. The dance connects us to Mary’s strength, the way society’s attention can turn a young woman’s head, her rage, how constricted she must have felt and ultimately her great sorrow and madness (“He comes to me every night and smiles at the end of the bed”).

I’m not sure a dance performance has ever done that for me.

Paufve includes just enough text to keep things from drifting too far afield (and by “things” here, I simply mean “my mind”). The music (from Beethoven and Schumann to Public Image and the Pixies) functions the same way, especially the tradition songs that the dancers sing, “O Mary Don’t You Weep” and “Bright Morning Star.” The movement itself isn’t that surprising for Portland modern dance fans—nothing especially virtuosic or stylized. The dance flows and jerks and stretches and, best of all, means.

Paufve brought her company up to Portland from the Bay Area and combined them with a speedily rehearsed group of Portland dancers/performers. I knew this, but if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have noticed because they blended together so well. Which is a feat all by itself.

The concert continues tonight (Saturday) at Conduit, and word of mouth being what it is, I bet tickets are scarce, but worth scrambling to obtain. Catherine Thomas has some deft thoughts about the show, too.