tim duroche

‘Gather’ harvests jazz and modern dance improvisation

Tere Mathern, Tim DuRoche and company converge on Conduit with a collaborative winner

Gathering on the dance floor at Conduit. Photo: Joe Cunningham

By MARTHA ULLMAN WEST

Six dancers, three on each side of Conduit’s splendid studio, stand quietly, poised for action, as the music begins on a dissonant, high-pitched note. Suddenly the dancers travel fast to the rear of the space, converging into a cluster of interdependent action: limbs stretching, reaching into space, seemingly as far as they can go.

This is how “Gather,” Tere Mathern and Tim DuRoche’s latest collaboration, starts. The directors say it is about “convergence,” and “community” and the “meaning of connection,” and choreographically it’s easy to view it on those terms. Throughout, the dancers break apart into solos and duets and trios, regroup, line up and play a kind of movement tag, with one dancer providing the impetus for the next dancer’s shift of an arm or extension of a leg; and the incredible musicians, especially DuRoche on drums, go into their own riffs and come together again as jazz musicians do.

Since I’m more interested in aesthetics than polemics, I prefer to view “Gather,” happily, as the result of a collaboration by two gifted, sophisticated, knowledgeable and experienced artists to create 55 minutes of urban-oriented music and dance, gorgeously performed, that deserves a much bigger audience than it had on Thursday’s opening night.

Mathern has gathered, if you will, a company of dancers who have the chops and commitment to perform movement derived from many sources. There are balletic elements in turned-out legs; moments of contact improv; spins that end in a modern pelvic contraction.  Kristine Anderson can move with the lush flow of thick cream poured from a pitcher, and also the speed and thrust of a jet engine. Lyra Butler-Denman, tall, blonde, and extremely chic in the “little black dress” that constitutes her costume, has studied dance in Seattle, New York, and Paris, and looks it.  Her duet toward the end of the piece with Mathern, costumed in an equally stylish red dress, is laced with a kind of tentative tenderness. Arms are almost linked, the interaction of their bodies is cautious, as they embrace – what? Sisterhood? Friendship?

Add Eowyn Emerald Barrett and Joshua Thrower, high-energy movers both of them, and the self-contained Rachel Slater to the mix, and Mathern finally has the dancers she needs as she develops in a rather different direction.  I haven’t in the past looked for humor in her work, or DuRoche’s either. So when the two sax players, Joe Cunningham and Reed Wallsmith, join in the dance, blowing great blasts that propel the dancers to the sidelines, leaving them to connect in their own idiosyncratic way, it was a delightful surprise.

Both the score, created by the collective ensemble that is Battle Hymns & Gardens (and where, please, are they playing next?) and the choreography are beautifully structured, as the pace picks up and then gently, almost imperceptibly cools down, ending almost ritualistically, but totally without sentimentality.  Costume designer Jenna Chen has given the production considerable color and style, and lighting designer Robin Greenwood enhances mood and movement without distracting from it. It goes without saying that the live music energizes dancers and the audience, and I would add that DuRoche never once took his eyes off the dancers, something I wish were true of all musicians playing for dance.

Mathern’s use of Conduit’s beautiful space, leaving the windows uncovered, to reveal a cityscape I’d love to see Henk Pander paint,  made this piece an expression of our urban environment in the same way earlier  Mathern works have been influenced by the natural world. Dance at its best, art at its best, tells us who we are.  Go see “Gather” and rejoice.

****

“Gather” repeats at 8 p.m. this Friday-Saturday, Oct. 26-27, and on November 1,2, and 3. Ticket information is here.

Cantores in Ecclesia performs
at the William Byrd Festival.

This weekend’s relatively sparse classical music action mostly happens in Portland churches. The annual William Byrd Festival continues Saturday and Sunday at Holy Rosary Church with liturgical services and two masses by its great English Renaissance namesake performed by the fine Portland choir Cantores in Ecclesia.

Friday offers a rare summer glimpse of instrumental Baroque music at north Portland’s St. Stanislaus Polish Catholic Church, where the early music ensemble Musica Maestrale (comprising some of the Northwest’s historically informed specialists including Portland lutenist Hideki Yamaya and Seattle viola da gamba player Polly Gibson) performs Polish music by Renaissance and Baroque composers you’ve probably never heard or even heard of — Milwid, Dlugoraj, Cato — except possibly Silvius Leopold Weiss.

On Saturday at southeast Portland’s All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Baroque oboe specialist Robert Morgan (who also plays with Chicago modern instrument orchestras and commissions new works for the instrument) headlines the annual Northwest oboe seminar and closing concert, which also features other masters of the instrument, such as Oregon Bach Festival and Chamber Music Northwest veteran Alan Vogel.

Also on Friday, the Salem Chamber Orchestra introduces its new principal conductor, Nikolas Caoile, who’ll play piano in a chamber music concert at Villa Bacca Collina featuring two 20th century masterpieces: Aaron Copland’s Duo for Flute and Piano (with Sarah Tiedemann) and Debussy’s Violin Sonata (with Daniel Rouslin).

Continues…

I spent opening night of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art festival on the Hawthorne Bridge, knowing full well that the real TBA heat was at the old Washington High School, where the art installations were thronged and Works performances were  in full swing.

The north side of the Hawthorne Bridge was where the action was, a little more toward the west bank than the east. Below us, the Willamette River was alternately inky and sparkly, depending on the volume of light hitting it at any given moment and a strong, cool breeze blew in our faces. I’m using the plural here because I wasn’t alone. A small, ever-changing knot of people turned into the breeze in the same spot, where we could watch the video of “The Hidden Life of Bridges,” projected on the Morrison Bridge upriver and hear the accompanying soundtrack.

The video consisted of a series of interviews with people who work on Portland bridges, mostly the Hawthorne, but not exclusively. It also projected a visual representation of sound waves, often behind the interview subjects, but sometimes occupying the two screens on the Morrison Bridge by itself.

The soundtrack featured the words of the interview subjects, who described their jobs and responsibilities and told stories based on what they had seen around the bridge. At one point, one of the bridge tenders suggested that if she weren’t careful, she could “break” the bridge, which wasn’t a happy thought, there in middle of the span, the Willamette flowing darkly beneath me. The interviews were interesting and informative, mostly short hits, though some of the subjects spooled out longer stories than others.

Remember those sound wave projections? Well, at some point, it became clear that the Hawthorne Bridge had been miked, and that the sound waves corresponded to actual, real time sounds on the bridge itself. So, the wave line was flat when no traffic was passing behind us. A  single car was easy to track and the buses created quite a stir on the graph and in our ears. Those sounds were also projected through speakers mounted on the bridge, along with the interviews.  I say, “it became clear,” but really, I wasn’t fully convinced that we were seeing the actual sound waves and hearing the actual, real time traffic until one of the project artists, Tim DuRoche, told me that it was so.

DuRoche, who is a Portland man-of-many-parts (jazz drummer, art education advocate, director of programs at the World Affairs Council, we could go on…), and Ed Purver, a Brooklyn-based artist who specializes in digital art for public spaces, created “The Hidden Life of Bridges” together, with help from the Regional Arts & Culture Council, MegaPhone Labs and Multnomah County, which operates the Hawthorne and Morrison bridges.

Instead of getting too engrossed in the mechanics, which you can find out about on the project website, though, maybe I should elaborate on the experience a bit. When I first arrived, I focused on the “show” itself, watching the video and listening to the stories, barely aware of the traffic (though sometimes it was unavoidable) and even the night around me. Some of the viewers were doing the same, but a lot of them soon became engrossed in their own conversations, which was understandable. The breeze was such a relief from the warm, humid day we’d had. The lights of the city were a nice backdrop, and it was easy to drop in and out of the video. People naturally started talking among themselves.

After a while, some friends and acquaintances of my own started to show up, and so yes, I started talking, too. About the project, sure, but then inevitably about other matters of mutual interest, all the while gazing at the video, at the river, at the city lights, listening to snatches of interview and traffic noise, both acoustic (ha!) and amplified, all the while facing into that breeze, which as you can tell, was one of the stars of the show. I don’t think DuRoche and Purver would mind sharing top-billing with that breeze.

Lots of stuff happens on the Hawthorne Bridge besides people moving back and forth. It has become a “political” place, most recently for a large demonstration of support both for the victims of a gay-bashing attack and for the larger community itself: We refuse to see ourselves as a place where that sort of thing happens without comment or protest or support for the victims. Somehow a bridge was a perfectly reasonable place to assert those things, and the Hawthorne, the most pedestrian and bike accessible of the city’s bridges, was the natural choice.

Political campaigning and even a form of busking happen on the bridge, so this particular activity didn’t seem out of place at all. Bicycles and pedestrians who didn’t stop for the show slowed down and carefully walked around those of us leaning on the railing. A couple rode down the bridge a few hundred feet and then turned around to see what was going on. Sometimes those engagements don’t seem so pressing after all, maybe.  When I had watched the cycle of interviews through a couple of times (it’s about 30 minutes of interview, interspersed with those sound waves), I started walking down the bridge myself back toward the east side, and I almost turned back myself.

NOTES

“The Hidden Life of Bridges” continues Friday and Saturday night, from around dusk to 11 p.m.

The photo is courtesy of PICA: The view from the Hawthorne Bridge during the ‘The Hidden Life of Bridges,’ Thursday night.

Brian Libby and Tim DuRoche’s email interview/exchange about the project is instructive.

Under the Morrison Bridge from Ed Purver on Vimeo.

This is just a one-minute, twenty second tease of one of the more epic projects at PICA‘s TBA:11 Festival. The Hidden Life of Bridges turns the Hawthorne and Morrison bridges into a giant art installation for three nights of the festival. Brooklyn-based video artist Ed Purver and Portland sound artist Tim DuRoche are collaborating on a project that incorporates live sound generated from mics on  the Hawthorne bridge, recorded interviews with the workers who maintain and run the bridges, and video of the inner workings of the bridges. As you’ll see in the video, it promises to be as poetic and surprisingly beautiful as well as spectacular.