Lindsey Matheis is trying to reinvent the way Portland does dance—at least this weekend.
That she's attempting it at all is surprising, considering her quiet, agreeable manner. "It's not really like me to do this kind of show," Matheis acknowledges.
In Alchemy, the second show the 24-year-old Northwest Dance Project member has independently produced, Matheis is doing away with some dance-show trademarks. No more Muzak as you sit quietly, waiting for the performance to begin. Instead, Matheis has a pre-show, in which dancers are already performing in the middle of the studio as you arrive. And no sitting in neat, straight lines—the audience is arranged in a circle surrounding the dance floor.
This is part of Matheis' strategy of breaking dance's fourth wall. She thinks Portlanders just aren't that interested in dance—not to the degree they're into music, anyway—because dance is missing something concerts have: connection. At a concert, you can bum-rush the stage, touch a performer, maybe snag a guitar pick. At a dance concert, that doesn't happen. Maybe it's an age thing. Portland is a young city, and perhaps young people don't like dance.
In an attempt to change that, Matheis has instructed five Portland-area choreographers—all in their 20s—to interact with the audience. In Matheis' piece, for example, audience members will help dancers find a lost item (she won't divulge what, but I bet it has something to do with a briefcase). Another choreographer, Chris Peddecord (who is Matheis' boyfriend), has told one of his dancers to hand someone a party hat.
It all sounds great, especially given that some contemporary dance can get snoozy. But it's debatable whether Matheis is shaking it up enough. Goodness knows she's trying: She chose young, risk-friendly choreographers whom she's pushing to the creative brink, but will a couple of props and a bit of flirting with the audience create droves of new dance fans? Moreover, can Matheis reinvent dance without dumbing it down? The dancers in this show are some of the best in the city; she says she won't let them "come on stage, eat an ice cream cone and then leave."
If the experiment works, Matheis will do it again. If it doesn't, wait 30 years and check back.