obsession and icons Jun 16, 2012

by Shannon Stewart

To be honest, the experience of being an artist making work for a festival is challenging.  You have limited possibilities of light, set, and costume elements,  Your time is limited.  Your tech time is limited (though OtB goes above and beyond being accommodating on all fronts).  And the worst part, you have absolutely no control over what other artists are doing and how that frames the readiness or saturation of where the audience is when your piece is in front of them.

On the other hand, you have to embrace the restrictions, have a “Lars Von Trier in making the Five Obstructions” sort of approach (which I’ve been watching this week at the recommendation of Angelina Baldoz in preparation for seeing Ulrich | Gracyzk | Baldoz’s new work in the Main Space this evening).

From an audience perspective creating your own through lines to the evening of work in a festival is half the fun.  Fo me, last night’s studio show with was all obsessions and icons (and the interchangeability of the two).

I’ve spent some time as of late researching different manifestations of anxiety--the clinically diagnosable kind--so I have to say, while I enjoyed Erin Pike’s performance of Timing and Stain, I wasn’t convinced.  If she was in fact trying to give me a window into obsessive compulsive disorder, some things were successful and some things were missing.

Pike hung about 20 white clocks from the ceiling of the studio theater that ticked in perfect unision.  This was sublimely satisfying.  They surrounded a small island of different white materials --white flooring, white table and chair, white vase and flower, and a wall of white boxes--that were covered in black scribbles.  As the show started she (presumably, because I couldn’t see from my vantage point) came out of box as an omnipresent voice started counting down the amount of minutes she had to wipe clean the scribbles from every object on her island. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the scribbles disappear and the articulation of the exact time it was taking to clean the items, but I was missing the ritualistic counting of steps, sheets of paper towels, number breaths that have to be taken as part of the practice of obsessive compulsive behavior, a strange and tragically beautiful twist of human brains.  I really appreciated the simple way she executed her concept, the sound, the overall visual environment and the surprise around 13 minutes that depicted the physical impact of being at the whim of an external control (her timer).

Maureen Whiting’s belly opened with Whiting and Ezra Dickenson facing each other in turned out first position plié doing rhythmic pelvis thrusts and immediately lurched into unison phrase material as a crisscrossing duet.  The movement moved with punctuation between classical forms into absurd gesture, while flower petals flutter out of their button up shirts customized with sea creature-like sculpture attached.  The world that is created is both sexually charged and childlike, poppy and primeval, with symbolism that is fantastical, ethereal, and mundane.  Images transition quickly, sometimes abruptly and the last one leaves you wondering what continues after the lights go out.

I like that I didn’t have one clear thought or even a combination of clear thoughts about what I saw unfolding in belly.  The part of my brain that understood the narrative and nature of the relationships between Whiting and Dickinson is potentially a part of my brain that doesn’t get listened to, that gets told to grow up, behave, and act intellectually refined, which exactly why it is so amazingly smart. I always appreciate Whiting’s simple and clear vision, the choreographic voice that is unmistakably her own and not belabored with a lot of complicated fancy extras (though she certainly knows how to execute big ideas as well).  There was no video or media, the set was a beautiful bronze cistern and some fur, and the music was simply a mix of tracks in her iTunes from albums she liked and composers she had worked with.  All of it worked.

Finally, Whiting and Dickinson’s performance qualities are a captivating mix next to one another with similar but different kinds of attention paid to the details of dance technique and the details of performance art.   I have seem Ezra dance in many different kinds of shows and this was a side I had never seen before.

Song of the Dodo by Portland Experimental Theater Ensemble took me through an increasingly troubling journey of reckoning with death through the compilation of lost plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, Samuel Beckett, Nicol Williamson, Anne Carson, and David Quammen. 

Amber Whitehall, Rebecca Tobin and Paige McKinney enacted three lounging aristocratic ladies (I’m sure there is an appropriate comparison but the only thing that is coming to mind is the Golden Girls though a touch darker, more salty and much more pretentious) discussing fear of death, alcoholism and irreversible fate of the extinct dodo bird.  The most interesting part of this performance was the vocal quality and range that was used in their self described “lamentation techniques,” albeit some were predictable and overdone (transforming hysterical laughing to crying) but ultimately it was performed with sound timing and utter commitment.  I was left extremely unsettled, with the frozen barely illuminated face of Amber Whitehall hanging in my mind.

The studio showcase closed with Raja Feather Kelly and Zoe Scofield of zoe | juniper entwined in a pas de deux with the same name as a poem by Anne Sexton, Flee on Your Donkey.  This piece no doubt proves to be satisfying for dance fans of Zoe and Raja who delight in seeing these tremendous dancers out of the elaborate costumes and up close in the studio.  The set was a beautiful still life of mirrors, light, and bodycasts made by Ben Beres and Zac Culler.    The music/audio score left something to be desired for my taste, some ambient velvet undergroundish sound with abrupt insertions of recordings of the dancers philosophizing about Sexton but was otherwise the piece was full of arctic nuanced beauty.

Of off to watch (and perform a small part) in the Main Stage show which I predict will require audience members to let go of cohesion and drastically shift gears from piece to piece.