The Tempos Contemporary Circus

DanceWatch Weekly: Echo’s otherworldly dance for all

What's happening in Oregon dance now

I recently spent three marvelous hours watching Echo Theater Company members negotiate a system of harnesses, ropes, and pulleys to move a butterfly with gigantic opalescent wings and a mad, spiky hermit crab-like monster around a stage. The atmosphere was electric: it was exciting to watch the collective synapses fire as the company, in an egalitarian way, created art in real time. “Whatever information set you have, you just lend it to the group to try to make the thing,” said creative director Aaron Wheeler-Kay. “The collaboration is constant and ongoing,”

Wheeler-Kay, a Portland native and Jefferson dance alum, directs ETC, which specializes in acrobatics, aerial dance, and physical theater. He has created an otherworldly new family-friendly work, It’s Like This, in collaboration with education director Wendy Cohen, deaf composer Myles de Bastion, ARC in Movement founders Alicia Cutaia and Russ Stark, and Rebound Movement instructor Laura Cannon for the upcoming Fertile Ground Festival of New Works, which runs January 24-February 3. The festival features new artistic work in various stages of development, from workshopped to fully formed, in dance, theater, comedy, film, and everything in between. (Check out Bob Hicks’s breakdown of festival offerings beyond dance in Speed-dating at Fertile Ground.)

You don’t often get to see the mechanics behind the theater magic, but in this production it’s all out in the open. The curtains are drawn to reveal the performers or riggers who hold the ropes propelling the central characters. The butterfly is attached to a four-pulley system that hoists her up and flies her around; the crab monster only needs a two-pulley system, because her movement is lower to the ground. The riggers need to remember the choreography and the timing of the ropes: it’s just as entertaining to watch these folks pulling, flying, and tumbling along with the performers.

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