A towering wall of used cardboard boxes stretches diagonally across the stage, clear packing tape glinting in the light. Robert Tyree enters, tall and long-limbed and dressed head to toe in sequins, a black sequined hoodie and pants, gold-and-pink sequined sneakers. He begins to deconstruct pieces of the cardboard wall, organizing the boxes in rows of unequal length across the floor. At one point, he sets down a box and then forcefully slides it to a new position. It's unclear if Tyree has a pattern or plan—and that's just how choreographer Tahni Holt likes it.
Holt, a 37-year-old choreographer and performer who's worked in Portland for 15 years, aims to create dance that allows audience members to form their own narrative or meaning. She's interested in how viewers prioritize and order information, which she explains is a driving force behind Sun$hine, a new evening-length work premiering Friday, Nov. 9, at BodyVox. "Lots of dance works propose a single dominant idea," she says. "They tell you how to prioritize information. In this piece, we're leaving it up to you."
In spurning dogmatic intent, Holt's approach is both generous and challenging—it leaves room for various interpretations but also requires focus and engagement from the audience. Sun$hine, a duet between Tyree and Lucy Yim that's two years in the making, varies greatly in tone, tempo and movement style. At the beginning, Yim moves with contained vitality. She precisely taps her foot in a semicircle, carefully tucks her knees as she jumps and sinuously stretches her body long against the floor. Later in the piece, she and Tyree spin like dervishes, arms slicing through the air. A third performer, Suzanne Chi, appears at one point in wings made of cardboard and pink duct tape, alternately thrashing aggressively and collapsing in on herself. The performers dance to poignant violin (played live by Kyleen King), reverent choral music and a computer-generated, reverb-heavy composition.
But it's no haphazard muddle. Holt notes the countless decisions made while developing the work—the contrast between the drab cardboard and the bling of the sequins, for example, or the moments when the performers dance to silence. "We want to have grounding parts so people aren't just in esoteric land," Holt says. "It's not just 'Go play with a bunch of fucking boxes and have psychological or abstract experiences.' There's a specificity there."
SEE IT: Sun$hine is at BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave., 229-0627. 8 pm Friday-Sunday, 3 pm Sunday, Nov. 9-11. $12-$16.