When many people think of dance, they think of pretty ballet, or they imagine the high-energy, Top 40-driven human body tricks on So You Think You Can Dance. In Portland, though, much of the dance isn't like either of those. Dance here is more often a mind experiment, a cerebral exercise in the flow of consciousness and the oft-cited "human condition." It can be tempting, then, for audiences to seek an explanation by asking the nagging question: "What does it mean?"
It's not always the most productive question. To make their pieces, dancers often show up in the studio with whatever is inspiring them at the moment, and they start moving, keeping whatever feels right and throwing away whatever doesn't. Then, in the case of shows like Conduit's Dance+ (in its second program this weekend), the dancers explain their pieces in often cryptic program notes.
The five pieces in this weekend's program are good examples, with varying degrees of success, of this approach. Zahra Banzi plays with silhouettes, literally, in her piece Veil, casting her shadow from behind a screen and then dancing with it, Peter Pan-style, after she moves into view. Butoh artist Meshi Chavez choreographed a piece for Teresa Vanderkin and Joe McLaughlin, in which they grimace, thrash and silently howl, while sound engineer Roland Toledo plays a suite of hissing and ringing tones from his tablet. The program notes the piece, called before the dawn, "seeks to create a sense of something that has no beginning or end." To that end, it succeeds, but it becomes tedious to watch.
Dancer Kyle Marshall, who came from New Jersey to perform his first out-of-town solo, turns in circles with wide steps (my friend said he looked like he was caught in a washing machine). He usually themes his pieces with sociopolitical events, like the Edward Snowden or NSA scandals, but in Soundboard he tries something new: experimenting with improvisation and weaving different qualities of movement together. The experience may be interesting to him, but to an audience, not so much.
A dance film, Confluence, by Christopher Peddecord and Lindsey Matheis, is a who's who of Portland dancers, with company members from Northwest Dance Project and Oregon Ballet Theatre collaborating with independent artists in a stylized group piece. The camera sweeps across their faces and old, brick columns as they break into duets and trios. Characters begin to emerge, and although a narrative never does, the video ends spectacularly with fire and origami.
Finally, Radical Child (a.k.a. Alexander Dones) performs with Kara Girod Shuster for the crowd pleaser of the evening, Radiation City. Interspliced with video clips of '50s-style case studies on romance, the two dance together and ramble at length to the audience about love and relationships (Dones compares them to bullshit, and Shuster goes into a tangent on water sports—the fetish kind). It's funny, charming and for those who care, relatively easy to grasp.
SEE IT: Dance+ is at Conduit Dance, 918 SW Yamhill St., Ste. 401, 221-5857. 8 pm Friday-Saturday, July 18-19. $17-$20. Tickets here.