The shell of the former Rexel/Taylor Electric Supply building has become a graffiti-covered urban backdrop since someone set fire to the building in 2006. The four-alarm fire, fed by wire and other electrical components, all but destroyed the building, collapsing its ceiling and busting out its windows. Since then, taggers have covered the remaining walls with colorful and often elaborate graffiti, which has drawn photographers to create countless Flickr photo sets
The building is scheduled to be torn down Feb. 6, according to the Portland Street Art Alliance
, which laments the demolition and sees the ruins as “a richly occupied public space” (though not legally public). Almost as a farewell, the space is the setting this weekend for Heidi Duckler’s
latest site-specific dance show, Ragnarok
. If anything could convince you the building should remain as is, it’s this performance.
Walking through the expansive space is like exploring a post-apocalyptic world. Barrels of fire dot the puddled concrete and illuminate the graffiti on the walls. The air smells like burning rubber. So many things could go wrong with a show like this—the building, after all, has no ceiling, and this is January in Portland—but the weather on Friday evening was only slightly chilly with not a drop of rain.
The title, Ragnarok, refers to the Norse apocalypse in which the world is destroyed by fire and reborn. The show begins with a woman approaching the crowd, gathered between traffic cones in the middle of the space. The woman, who looks like Stevie Nicks with more voluminous hair, foretells in an oracle-like tone, of the “wind age and the wolf age before the world is wrecked.” She continues: “So the end will begin.”
The theatrics are a little corny, but the overall effect is transportation to a world that would exist within these graffiti-covered walls, a world where people scamper around like wildlings dressed like Lady Gaga backup dancers. In the trench of an old loading dock, a man wearing a studded baseball cap pulls and shoves a woman in a rose-colored Victorian dress. Along an opposite wall, women in brightly colored wigs and pajamas creep and turn, splashing in puddles with their rubber boots. A fire dancer dressed like a hooded Obi-Wan Kenobi emerges from the dark and twirls two flaming poles.
Little of the dancing is technically challenging—the dancers spend much of the show running, posing and climbing. The music, a varied selection of fantasy-world scores and Atari-style bleeps and bloops, doesn’t get lost in the space, but the dancers—even though they're a dozen—sometimes do. The space is huge, and the movement often isn’t big enough to match it. Jagged, wet concrete also isn’t the most practical surface, which can limit the movement.
That said, this short performance—it’s only about 30 minutes, which is all the time it really needs—is a celebration of a unique piece of our city that will soon be gone.