, the Portland dance company that’s built a following around corny jazz numbers and a penchant for Tom Waits, is doing something unexpected. For the first time, it’s presenting an outside company, one that’s surprisingly different: the esoteric Arcane Collective
The choice isn’t random. BodyVox co-artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland danced with Arcane Collective’s co-founder Morleigh Steinberg in MOMIX
and in ISO Dance, which Steinberg also co-founded. And in a sense, BodyVox and Arcane Collective aren’t too dissimilar. One serves quirkier, family-friendly fare while the other keeps things dark and obscure, but like MOMIX, both tend more toward movement theater than dance.
The piece is Arcane Collective’s hallmark work Cold Dream Colour
, an homage to Irish painter Louis le Brocquy. His work intrigued Steinberg soon after she moved from Los Angeles to Ireland to live with her husband, U2 guitarist the Edge. Le Brocquy was a friend of U2, even adding Bono to his portrait series
of Irish greats like Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett. The portraits, like much of Le Brocquy’s work, evoke a trapped spirit trying to escape from a white canvas.
Steinberg didn’t intend Cold Dream Colour
to merely mimic Le Brocquy’s work but rather to embody its intent, and she imagined the dance performance delving into layers beyond the canvas. In a distinctive opening scene, Steinberg (or it could be her sister Roxanne; it’s hard to tell) stands naked behind a translucent plastic sheet, pressing her gaping mouth to the curtain and inhaling like in Le Brocquy’s Head With Open Mouth
. Roxanne’s husband, Oguri, the group’s co-founder and a butoh practitioner (lots of butoh in town lately
, by the way) stands in front of the curtain wearing a sumo mawashi. He bends backwards, serving as the human side of a disturbing tableau.
Unfortunately, the show loses strength as it continues. The darkness of the visceral opening scenes lets up, killing the mystery and revealing the monotony of the movement. The four performers make cryptic displays of childhood and motherhood, with dancer Cat Westwood at one point bouncing like a child on a bed and Morleigh Steinberg cradling a bundled sheet like a newborn. The score, a plaintive, echo-y assembly of bells and guitar by the Edge and Paul Chavez, teeters on drudgery. By the end of the show, the Tom Waits fans in the audience start to fidget.
Greater familiarity with Le Brocquy’s work might help. A slideshow of his paintings plays in a corner of the lobby, which upon leaving, helped me understand what Cold Dream Colour was getting at—even though the show is meant to and should stand on its own. In any case, BodyVox’s foray into new and less sugary territory is welcome, even if it too is sometimes hard to swallow.
Arcane Collective is at BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave., 229-0627. 7:30 pm Friday-Saturday, Dec. 6-7. $25. Tickets here