The 23-year-old guy sitting next to me at Alchemy
, which showed this past weekend, said he came to experience more culture and to open his mind to new things. I hear this kind of thing all the time from young people: They like the idea of seeing dance, but when Friday night rolls around, those good intentions dissipate into another night at the bar.
Fortunately for this guy, this was exactly the show he needed to see. Lindsey Matheis, in her sophomore showing as a producer, created what she intended to be a reinvented dance program (see our preview here
). The result was a show that was energized, inventive and thoughtful. And while Matheis wasn’t expressly targeting young people, they did uncharacteristically make up the bulk of the audience.
One of Matheis’ goals was to have dancers connect with the audience, so the show unfolded in an unconventional way. Upon entering, each audience member was asked if they’d like an “audience participation tag,” a small, iridescent square that would inform dancers which audience members were up for interaction. Then the audience sat, not in rows facing a stage, but in chairs assembled around the floor. A pre-show was already in progress as the audience filed in; not anything spectacular—a handful of dancers lazily waving about and then collecting in clumps, almost like a warm-up for the audience.
The easiness of the movement helped create a relaxed mood, something Matheis was actively encouraging. As the show began, she announced that “talking, loud unwrapping of candies and bright flash photography are all...encouraged.” Portland, of course, was too polite to oblige her on those points, but the effort made the room feel less stuffy than dance shows often are.
The dancing, once it began in force, was somewhat unconventional, too. Rachel Slater’s piece West Rising featured her draped in thick yarn whistling “You Are My Sunshine” as she spread the yarn over the floor. Patrick Kilbane’s piece featured a soloist, Megan McCarthy, whose forehead was painted gold. Backed by an Iggy Azalea rap track (a rather unorthodox selection for a contemporary dance piece) she struck sharp, robot-like poses and occasionally sent her extremities into quick spasms.
The standout piece of the evening, though, belonged to Matheis. Her piece, Stand Tall, is a commentary on what it means to be a man. Her dancers, Chase Hamilton and Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Adam Hartley and Michael Linsmeier, began the piece on Saturday with Hartley shaving in front of a mirror as the two others watched. A male narrator’s voice came on over speakers talking about how he was a jock, in the military, and so on. Then a traditional Maori haka song started playing, and the three broke into a tribal display of bravado, slapping their ankles and leaping high into the air. Their speed seemed to increase with the music, until both the dancing and sound culminated with a final “THUMP,” and all three dancers were left crouching in the middle of the floor staring into open, light-emitting briefcases.
The piece, of course, didn't stay focused on machismo. It went on to explore what the narrator said is “the myth of what being a man is about.” The dancing was powerful and original, too, particularly the partnering stunts. Hamilton at one point launched himself into a lift by pushing off of the other two men's thighs. Linsmeier, in a later duet, lifted Hartley onto his shoulders, spinning him around his head before placing him down.
Despite the perks of the show’s stadium format—and those shouldn’t be understated; the audience being seated around the action created a dynamism that seemed to constantly change—the seating arrangement did seem to limit the dancers’ range of movement. With less space, they were restricted with their running leaps or acrobatic stunts, though they did make a habit of running around the perimeter as if on a track.
In all, though, the show was a welcome change for a dance scene that often takes itself too seriously. Case in point: The show closed, hilariously, to Calvin Harris’ “I Feel So Close To You Right Now” as all of the dancers and choreographers gathered on the floor for bows. They then started pulling audience members onto the floor for a mini dance party. It was a fitting ending for a show so big on connection—and yet very few audience members willingly danced.