It is a dance and it isn’t a dance, should preface any introduction to Linda Austin’s work. During the hour and 40 minutes that make up her new work-in-progress, 3 Miles of Possible, you will see Austin hold her body in difficult poses. You will see her hold her leg about her head, gyrating. You will see her hop around to Abba’s “Dancing Queen.”
Like an eloquent diegesis statement, much of Austin’s piece can be unpacked from the first 10 minutes. She slowly unwinds a length of coarse rope—which will be her companion throughout—and drops it into various lumps. Her next movements are the rope, meaning the physical phrases will always be a little different on each iteration. She is moving in relation to the way the rope fell.
The piece that Austin is showing now is only the first mile of 3 Miles, and it sees her actually traverse a mile in her small studio—which she has occupied since 1998, when she moved to Portland and renovated it from an old church. Eventually, “the spatial path of the dance will total 3 miles” the program reads. And that will likely mean a six-hour performance.
Part tinkering, part spoken word (“Is it a snake? Is it a spell?” Austin asks as she walks with a small stone balancing on her head), part physicality and part intertextuality (“Hello, I Love You” by the Doors), Austin’s first mile of 3 Miles is not an insignificant amount of time. But it moves swiftly and the program notes give permission to get up and take breaks—though the mood decidedly discourages it.
A grade school age youth hung upside down for a while, and that seemed like a perfectly acceptable audience approach. Afterward, in the Performance Works NW backyard, Austin hosted her audience with hot beverages and wine. The upside-down youth—now right side up—sheepishly admitted the performance was a little long.
Broken into parts and ideas, pressure points and releases, Austin’s work masterfully takes the distanced audience through mental maps of her creative process, her sense of humor and unquenchable wonder. Like any great trilogy, things will only get weirder from here.
GO: Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave., 503-777-1907, pwnw-pdx.org. 4:30 pm Thursday, Oct. 28 (ASL interpreted), Friday, Oct. 29, and Tuesday Nov. 2. $10-$30 sliding scale.