It's a fine line between chaos and order, individuality and conformity, treasure and trash. However, it's also a fine line between art and kooky nonsense, and Performance Works NorthWest co-founder and director Linda Austin's current performance project dances gleefully on both sides.
The second installment in a triptych of performances from Austin's multiyear (Un)Made project, The Last Bell Rings for You, assembles a cast of more than 25 to shuffle, roll, shimmy, saunter and explore the small warehouse space of Shaking the Tree Theatre.
Austin's core collaborators are joined by 18 members of the community with varying levels of experience who were given one week to rehearse. The resulting performance unfolds organically like a creeping vine—it doesn't necessarily need to know where it's going to look beautiful.
The performers are given free rein in the space, alternately flitting from spot to spot like butterflies before falling into marching band-style formations and quickly dissolving again. Every shuffle of shoe and slap of foot becomes part of the hypnotic rhythm of the sparse and primarily sound-based score. Ordinary objects—a basketball, an empty box, a potted plant—are examined as if alien artifacts or holy relics. Singing and vocalizing ranges from silly to haunting, and light and shadow become performers in and of themselves with the help of lighting designer and PWNW co-founder Jeff Forbes.
The purpose of the (Un)Made series is equally open-ended, intended by Austin to exist as both "experiential inquiry and staged performance." It would be easy to ascribe meaning to each abstract movement, from our struggle between solitude and connection, to the arbitrary importance we imbue into everyday objects. But that would miss the point, or rather, force one where it is simply unnecessary. Like so many millions of lives lived every day in a web of the ephemeral, the beauty is in the being. Just enjoy the kooky nonsense. PENELOPE BASS.
SEE IT: The Last Bell Rings for You plays at Shaking the Tree Theatre, 823 SE Grant St., pwnw-pdx.org. 8 pm Thursday-Sunday, through Nov. 20. $15.