The love-hate divide over Julie Taymor's new musical Across the Universe —which builds a hippie-era narrative from bits of Beatles' tunes—illustrates the inherent dilemma of using art to which most people feel they have a personal, even emotional, claim. How do you divorce people from that sense of ownership and get them to follow your particular vision?
This question asserted itself as the barroom piano intro to the Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" blasted into the BodyVox rehearsal space one recent Sunday afternoon. Choreographer Josie Moseley stepped onto the floor and gave us her solo interpretation of the music, avoiding the amateur's mistake of interpreting the lyrics literally; she merely hinted at them instead, framing her face with her hands as Desmond admired Molly's pretty face from inside the speakers. Moseley, of course, is hardly an amateur, and her dancers—a nice mix of strong modern movers from various Portland companies, plus current and former Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers—reflect her longstanding local influence as a contemporary dancer and teacher.
And Moseley's upcoming White Bird show isn't just a pop-culture redux: It features pieces with music that will certainly appeal to a broader range of tastes. Among these are Travis John , a solo for OBT dancer Patrick Kilbane that makes the most of his earnest presence and clean technique in a memorial to a recently fallen Marine, set to a plaintive, folksy song by Kate Power and Steve Einhorn. And there's the premiere of In Their Bones , in which Stephan Laks and Rachel Tess clamber into lifts and orbit circles around one another to a Lou Harrison score that opens, with clanging bells, into a percussive score driven by piano and strings.
Still, that leaves us with the original question, which has hovered in the wings of the dance world for a very long time. Once Moseley's alternate, Jae Diego, finished dancing "Ob-La-Di," we were left with the germ of an answer: dance the piece with different bodies and different accents, and dance it with conviction. The rest is a gamble that creator and viewer must be willing to take.
Whitebird/PSU Dance Series presents Josie Moseley Dance, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University, 1620 SW Park Ave., 242-1419. 8 pm Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 24-26. $16-$26.