The skate bowl at the Bodecker Foundation was the unique setting for a performance of music by Caroline Shaw and dance by–well, we’ll get to that. The hour-long show of sound and movement, presented by Third Angle New Music and entitled Graveyards and Gardens, explored the subject of memory. “What is new comes out of things before,” said Shaw in her introductory remarks to the audience.
Cassette tape decks, a record player, a dozen table lamps, a few microphones, some potted plants, a mini keyboard, a viola, and electrical cords were positioned around the base of the skate bowl, which is located inside the Bodecker Foundation building. The skate bowl reminded me of a kidney shaped swimming pool, and it sloped to a deep end that certainly enhanced the acoustical effect of the show. Amplifiers were placed strategically around the edge of the bowl where part of the audience (myself included) sat with legs dangling over the lip. Other audience members relaxed in chairs just behind us.
Shaw performed her music live, interspersing vocals, viola, and keyboard to prerecorded sounds while Anya Saugstad, a dancer based in Vancouver, B.C., did the movement. Saugstad replaced original dancer Vanessa Goodman, who had injured her foot during a performance two weeks earlier in Calgary.
In a phone conversation with Goodman, she explained, “I broke my foot during the show in the last five minutes. I put my foot down a little bit funny and broke my fifth metatarsal. Anya recently performed the piece in Edmonton. She has worked with me since 2017. So, she understands my work quite deeply.”
“I think of the body as a living archive,” added Goodman. “Everything that I’ve done is written and recorded in my body in some way through neuro pathways and muscle memory. It’s everyone I’ve ever danced with, everyone I’ve ever learned from. And I can pull from this archive. The piece has a lot of resonance even as I have transferred its movement to Anya’s body. She has a living archive of my work in her body.”
I also talked with Shaw about Graveyards and Gardens a couple days before the performance. “The piece is hard to articulate,” said Shaw. “We want it to remain open. Vanessa and I talked about the sense of memory in our work. For me, it is a lot of older music that is featured in some of my work. We take the idea of sampling and references and building on that, but also the soil as a metaphor for what we are making and exploring.”
Shaw, wearing rust-covered overalls, started the performance by breathing slowly into a microphone while a piano piece by Bach – from a Glenn Gould LP that was spinning on a turntable – gradually disappeared. Ocean waves in sync with Shaw’s breathing took over. The lamps faded in and out.
Saugstad, dressed in black coveralls, moved in mechanistic and herky-jerky gestures that suggested the winding and unwinding of cassette tapes. Shaw and Saugstad opened and closed tape decks rhythmically. Shaw sang while accompanying herself at the keyboard.
Fragments of poetic text meshed into the overall sound so that words were blurry. I recall “the brine of marinated memories, everything returns to soil. I can feel it in my bones, A440. How do we calibrate to life after someone gone? Everything returns to you.” Some of these words repeated in looping segments.
Shaw got the audience to join with her in humming and repeating wordless phrases, and played the viola, creating passages that layered on top of each other. A couple of times Saugstad rushed to the edge of the bowl and slid back down. Her dance had an improvisational feeling, yet she had a remarkable way of not crashing into any lamp, turntable, or microphone.
Towards the end of the piece, Saugstad rubbed some dirt on her arms before the ocean waves returned. Maybe it symbolized being washed free of our memories. Or perhaps we were just awash in them. It was an atmosphere exploration – sonic yoga.
Postscript: During my phone conversation with Shaw, I mentioned that a number of composers have decided to make Portland their home, and would she consider moving here.
“Oh yeah! she replied with a laugh.” “I talk about it a lot. I even look in Zillow pretty often. I’m dating someone here. It’s a beautiful place. I really like the moss here. Great moss!”