On a Sunday afternoon, in a studio off Southeast Foster Road littered with old blankets, Lucy Yim turns from her dancers to me. "We're actually going to do the run in costume," she says.
"Oh," I reply. "Great." I hope my tone doesn't come off as awkwardly horrified—or, worse, overly enthusiastic. "In costume," I know, means the women will be topless. Not that I would usually be squeamish about that, but I am the only audience for this private preview rehearsal.
I avert my eyes as the dancers remove their shirts, but then the piece begins—appropriately, with a scream from the speakers—and I have nowhere else to look. At the bare breasts? No, you creep. Their faces? Oh shit, she looked at me. Feet? I'll go with feet.
The toplessness is an integral part of Yim's Light Noise, which premieres this weekend. It features Yim, another woman and two men, all clothed in skimpy ballet shorts. The starkness forces the audience to objectify the body, as the dancers struggle to reconcile how they're seen with how they want to be seen. It's also Yim's attempt to, as she puts it, "displace the hierarchy of genre-tizing" herself, as she finds an identity as a choreographer that is more than the sum of her mentors. In rehearsal, the result is provocative, but thankfully and thoughtfully restrained.
The 45-minute piece is methodical, with a solo from each dancer and two same-sex duets. The solos showcase each dancer's desperation for acceptance, as they thrash about, pleading to the audience with breathless whirls and jolts. Each dancer seems to have a signature move, like Leah Wilmoth's lazy arabesque or Keyon Gaskin's spastic chaine. The duets are more intimate, both beginning with a palpable reluctance and ending with the dancers curled together in a ball on the floor.
Yim's influences are detectable throughout. She's playing with the stripped-down stoicism of Yvonne Rainer, a minimalist who demanded zero interaction with the audience, and juxtaposing it with the showiness of Martha Graham. But her personal experience, like her time with Portland's envelope-pushing choreographer Tahni Holt, is evident too. Perhaps it's no clearer than with the exposed breasts, which Yim and dancer Wilmoth don't seem to mind.
"When I'm actually moving and they're flopping around or whatever," Wilmoth says, "I'm not really thinking about it at all. It doesn't even hurt or anything, really. You're just out there."
SEE IT: Light Noise is at Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Ave., 286-9449. 8 pm Friday-Sunday, Aug. 23-25. $12-$15.