Although she couldn't resist the allure of decorative punctuation and lower-case letters, the title for Lindsey Matheis' show (a)merging is actually pretty clever. It's succinct and whimsical, but also descriptive: "A merging of emerging artists" is a fairly accurate tagline for the compilation show produced by the Northwest Dance Project member.
Arguably, not all of these dancers who performed Friday night are âemerging.â Some of them have been dancing in Portland for several years, but a handful of faces are new, or at least rarely seen. Matheis curated these from a stack of submissions and let the artists create their own content, resulting in a sampler platter of Portland dance. This weekendâs program, the first of two, is an interesting combinationâsome good, some mehâof experimental movement, romance and LED rave rings.
The first piece, Dark/Light by Sara Parker, is surprisingly likable. Parker, a current graduate student at the University of Utah, has shown work in Portland through her modern dance company Torsades dePointes Dance. Her movement in this piece, though challengingly abstract, has subtle intrigue. She builds into multiple quick sequences of repetitive movement: whipping her torso toward her knee and back up again, like a robot with a glitch, or walking increasingly faster in a circle, evoking a video thatâs been sped up.
Kara Girod Shuster and Blake Seidel perform a romantic duet, Choice, choreographed by Briley Neugebauer. Set to oldies like Sam Cookeâs âWonderful Worldâ and Etta Jamesâ âAt Last,â the piece is rather obvious but still touching. In it, Seidel tries his best to woo Shuster, who for some reason is convulsing behind a wooden TV tray. Shuster comes around only after Seidel has been scorned, and then, despite her best efforts, stumbling gracefully like a fawn finding its legs, he keeps his nose planted in a corner. It sounds trite, but they play it wellâI felt a little tinge of sadness for them at the end.
The rest of the show errs more experimental, which is often calamitous, but Megan McCarthyâs and Patrick Kilbaneâs piece, May as well leave it on, does it with fun. Both wear vibrant blue and dance with saucy attitude. Sometimes they gyrate with disco-ready groove, and other times they turn, legs extended, showing classical form. McCarthy, who is at least two inches taller than Kilbane, at one point lifts her bent leg, places her foot on his head and pushes him to the ground.
More challenging for the audience is Kate Rafterâs Black & Blue, sort of an interpretive schoolyard fight between her and Dustin Orway. Rafter dresses just like Orway in a beige sleeveless top and unflattering charcoal shorts, giving her an androgynous look as she battles him, grabbing his forearm, shoving him and so on. The piece ends with Rafter apparently winning, as sheâs cradling Orway in her arms. At moments, the movement is a tad sloppy and repetitive. But at the end, the tenderness between the two of them, as Rafter presses her lips to Orwayâs defeated face, is touchingly sweet. Rafter is premiering another piece, featuring 26 glowing balls, for Fertile Groundâs Groovinâ Greenhouse showcase, which I look forward to seeing.
The other two pieces, from SubRosa Dance Collective and new choreographer Sara Himmelman, are a bit gimmicky. In the latter, Himmelman and two other dancers wear flashing LED rings, the kind youâd sport at a rave. If it werenât for theseâand occasionally exclaiming âooh!â like an Old Hollywood starlet feigning indignationâthey wouldnât have much else. SubRosa dancers showed a piece from Heirloom, which theyâll perform for Fertile Ground. That show is about the dancersâ ancestries and includes a backdrop of vintage home movies and video of frying eggs. The dancersâ movement in front of it is fluid but melodramaticâat one point, a dancer kneels on the floor and cries.
This program continues through this weekend, but next weekendâs show will be more palatable for conventional audiences, Matheis says. It has a new lineup of dancers that will use more classical technique. Itâs the âmac 'n' cheese vs. the duck pate that is this weekendâs show,â she says.