Proaño, 57, is better defined as an artist than strictly a dancer. A native of Peru, she spent most of her 20s bouncing between her home country and Europe, creating dark performance-art pieces set to live music. Today, her work is more joyful but still surreal. She often stomps and waves her arms, with wild-eyed expressions. Nothing is precisely choreographed, though, so each performance is different.
"I want to expose the audience to a moment of discovery," she says, "and if they're going to be discovering something from me, I have to be discovering something myself."
Take the time a performance apparently cured a man of his psychological woes. Thirty years ago in Lima, Proaño got a call from a psychoanalyst. His patient had seen the show the night before—in which Proaño whispered to the audience through a 15-foot pipe—and had called to cancel future appointments. It seemed he had reached some kind of clarity.
"Art has a purpose of expanding your consciousness," says Proaño, even while acknowledging that not all art resonates with everyone. "Maybe you're told that you have to 'get it.' There's nothing to get. You just take it with you."
She also knows some artists aren't appreciated in their lifetimes, which is partly why she's drawn to the Peruvian poet César Vallejo, who inspired the piece she's reprising this month. In Me Siento Con Vallejo, which Proaño first performed in 1986, she traces Vallejo's life using a giant hammock tied at opposite ends of her Northeast Portland studio. The hammock at times represents Vallejo's childhood, as Proaño swings from one end of the room to the other, and other times a prison, as she positions the netting like a jail cell.
Though many consider Vallejo to be the one of the best poets of 20th century, he died in dire poverty. That appealed to Proaño, who believes a true artist can't help but follow that path. "Art is not only what you produce," she says, "but also how you see the world around you."
SEE IT: Me Siento Con Vallejo is at Studio 14, 333 NE Hancock St., 971-275-0595. 8 pm Fridays, Feb. 14-28. $10-$15.