Tahni Holt doesn't care if you like her latest dance performance. Whether you think it's good or bad is beside the point. What she cares about is how you assign meaning as you watch the dancers move across the stage—to hip hop music, to a whining violin, to silence, in leotards, in sheets of white butcher paper, in the nude.
It's not about anything but the process of experiencing, Holt says of the performance, Culture Machine, which debuts at Disjecta on Thursday. The goal is for the audience "to have to constantly question how they're relating to it," she says.
Indeed, the unusual juxtapositions make you question what you've always accepted as "normal." Sometimes, the performers seem to notice each other, but often, they don't. They dance to music, sure, but they dance just as vigorously to the speakers' empty feedback. They wear long blond wigs. They shake them off. They wrap themselves in butcher paper. They discard it in crumpled heaps. They get caught in movement loops, executing the same short sequence of motions again and again. (A wave hello. An inward retreat. A wave hello... and so on.)
A 35-year-old Portland native, Holt has choreographed and performed across the nation and world, including at On The Boards and Bumbershoot festivals in Seattle, at the Time-Based Arts Festival in Portland and in Idaho, Texas, Georgia and France. She received the Oregon Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship in 2007 and has served as an artist-in-residence at schools in Portland, Sisters and St. Erme, France.
Culture Machine is the culmination of nine months of rehearsal-time research and mini-performances with collaborators Kaj-Anne Pepper, Robert Tyree, Sallie Garrido-Spencer, Thomas Thorson, Suzanne Chi and Dicky Dahl.
Though this work is in conversation with her previous work, Holt says it's something completely new—and something she's very proud of. "There's a depth to this piece," she says. "We've worked really hard at unearthing stuff."
I'll admit I often felt at odds while watching the Culture Machine dancers crawl and fall and dolphin-dive around the stage. But it's precisely those feelings of discomfort—and the reflection they inspire—that make the show so worthwhile.
Overheard at rehearsal: Kaj-Anne Pepper to Sallie Garrido as she helps him adjust his long blond wig in the mirror before they start: "Sometimes when I wear this wig, I feel like a metal dude, and other times when I wear this wig, I feel like a 15-year-old Russian ballerina with a beard."
GO: Culture Machine performances will take place at Disjecta, 8317 N. Interstate Ave., 286-9449. 8 pm Thursday-Sunday, $15 general, $10 artists, students and senior citizens. Buy tickets directly online
. Reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org. Opening reception after Thursday's performance. Discussion after Saturday's performance (the impersonation game). Watch a preview video for the show: