The premise of Co/Mission, an experimental show at Conduit Dance this weekend, is that the dancers chose—yes, commissioned—the choreographers for their pieces, rather than the choreographers recruiting dancers. This isn’t unusual. Northwest Dance Project, home to two of the evening’s choreographers, commissions work all the time. But in this case, the pairings that resulted—sometimes fitting, sometimes mismatched—show that commissioning work is an art in itself.
For example, Linda Austin’s piece DU | ET for dancer Jen Hackworth is a success. Austin, a veteran performance artist, usually choreographs for herself, sensing what feels right and what doesn’t as she tries out body positions, jerky moves and funny vocalizations. She also loves props. Hackworth has done similar work, and in this piece she comes off as a kind of baby Austin. She plays with an expandable ruler on a small putting green and tells stale knock-knock jokes. She toys with call-and-response, both with the audience and with her own sound recordings. She dances ungracefully to Whitney Houston. On Friday, Austin, who was sitting in the audience, watched intently and beamed during Hackworth’s bow.
Rachel Slater’s choice of choreographer Franco Nieto, a company dancer with Northwest Dance Project, is a little more imbalanced. Nieto’s a popular dancer, maybe the most popular at Northwest Dance Project, so Slater’s decision to pick him is no surprise. But part of what makes Nieto popular is his highly physical dancing, and Slater’s style of movement in the piece, d'autres femmes, doesn't reflect that. Not to say that Slater has to do cartwheels, but for much of the piece she stands in place and smiles at the audience. Still, she has a good mind for concept, and this piece suggests Nieto does, too. Slater bends and snaps, wearing a boat-neck dress and sparkly earrings, and at one point observes herself in a large mirror, a kind of eerie “I Feel Pretty” moment.
Linda K. Johnson, another veteran choreographer, created a piece for Jamuna Chiarini. In Like a Corvette, a title that has no apparent connection to the piece, Chiarini hits set marks but also improvises. At one point she sweeps a piece of sequined fabric across the stage as accordion music plays. Then she spins endlessly in circles to rock music, arms outstretched like a helicopter. The piece has some pedestrian elements similar to Yvonne Rainer’s work, which Johnson knows well.
Finally, Northwest Dance Project member Lindsey Matheis choreographed a piece for Suzanne Chi called The Last Errand. Matheis' hand is apparent primarily in the spoken word track, which goes on about lightbulbs—five of which are hanging from the ceiling. “Is it true about light bulbs?” the recording asks over and over, as Chi traces a path back and forth under the line of lights. She sways and bends and spins, movements that don’t really connect, but probably aren’t supposed to. She makes gestures, slowly clapping and pointing. At one moment, she reaches for the dim bulbs and they magically come aglow. We never really find out what’s true about light bulbs. Maybe they all eventually go out? Co/Mission’s light bulb lasts through the weekend, so see it before then.
SEE IT: Co/Mission is at Conduit Dance, 918 SW Yamhill St., Ste. 401, 221-5857. 7:30 pm Saturday-Sunday, June 14-15. $12-$15. Tickets here.