At Friday's TBA showing of Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (M2M), a half-dozen people walked out. Maybe a full dozen. So at Trajal Harrell's artist talk on Saturday at PICA, I asked the dancer-choreographer what that's like.

“They were lucky this wasn’t Mimosa,” Harrell answered, referencing another piece in his repertoire. “In that piece, I ask them where they’re going.”

I won’t give my own rehashing of Friday’s performance of M2M, which has already made its way through the Portland blog circuit: Portland Theatre Scene’s Win Goodbody wanted nothing to do with it; Portland Monthly’s Aaron Scott agreed it wasn’t easy but found it worth the effort; and the Merc’s Alison Hallett saw the humor of the piece.

Chelsea Petrakis

Like the other critics, I was challenged by it: the 30 minutes of motionless activity at the beginning, the spotlights burning our eyes, Harrell convulsively weeping from a chair toward the back of the stage. But I agreed with Hallett that people’s expectations had a great deal to do with their frustration and bewilderment. Those who came expecting a fabulously sassy Madonna music video—Harrell’s work imagines an early-’60s collision of Harlem’s voguers and Judson Church’s postmodern choreographers—were bound to be disappointed by what followed: sitting, sobbing, glacially slow traipsing. Later in the piece, we got some explosive bursts of energy, particularly from dancer Thibault Lac, whose body and face are sculpted like a runway model’s and whose limbs whip with astonishing speed and grace. (In Harrell’s second piece of the weekend, Antigone Jr., Lac’s runway walk—tiptoe strut, piercing eyes, slightly pursed lips—cowed the audience into submission.)

Chelsea Petrakis

But such moments of frenetic release were few and far between in M2M. As a result, I entered Saturday’s artist talk with apprehension, wanting to guard my own critical response against whatever eloquent platitudes Harrell might offer about his work. And he did say he’s against “over-entertainized spectacle,” a point that helped explain M2M but would likely do little to appease its detractors. Yet that doesn’t mean the rest of his answer to my question—about people who walk out of his performances—didn’t come as a relief. “For a piece this challenging,” Harrell said, “I don’t feel like so many people walked out.”