Contemporary Dance

The Body Can Get You Out of Your Head

I dropped in for the “sneak peek” preview night for Interlude, “Unleashed and Unexpected.”

Tonight and tomorrow afternoon, PDX Contemporary Ballet is presenting the work of six choreographers at Coho theatre in Northwest Portland. 

I’ve been out of the arts review circuit for a few months. But on Thursday night, some personal stuff had me winding through downtown and northwest Portland like I was wearing a straight jacket I was not trying to get out of — glum, immobilized, embodying the uncertainty that looms everywhere these days.

The sky was clear for the first time in weeks. I needed to do something. I looked on an arts calendar and walked to the nearest venue with an inexpensive show, CoHo. I bought a $5 ticket, and plopped down in a seat. I didn’t know it was sneak peek night — I didn’t know anything about the show — and wouldn’t know until the end, 25 minutes later.

The Artistic Director of the young company — PDXCB was established in August 2015 — Briley Neugebauer welcomed about 20 audience members and introduced three of the six choreographers who were showing their work in Interlude.

The Singing Butler (1992), Jack Vettriano.

The first, Hayley Glickfeld Bielman, makes her Portland debut with a work based on a painting called “The Singing Butler.” Next up was Emily Running, whose piece is about nothing in particular, just improvised movements to the stimuli of words like, “jolt!”

Lastly, M’liss Stephenson Quinnly’s show is a venture into the lighthearted and fun, something new for her, and depicts a music box girl. “Maybe she loves being the music box girl because it’s painted over her face,” Quinnly mused, “or maybe she wants to vomit from doing the same thing over and over.”

But none of these were featured on sneak peek night. Only two pieces were shown, and not in their entirety. The first of the two teasers we saw was from Seattle-based choreographer Eva Stone, entitled “I Don’t See the Association.” Instead of music, two dancers move to a man playing a word association game. He is not an English speaker, so pronunciations are off but you can see how he makes associations based on American culture. The word “breaking” has him reply “bad.” Sometimes the dancers deliberately act out the word like a charades game, but overall, they just move in response to one another.

Neugebauer introduces her piece, “Formless” explaining that she’s been struggling lately with everything that’s happened. Trump the tragedy doesn’t need any clarification for the audience. Here in Portland, if there are people who disagree, they are not heard. Neugebauer says she doesn’t understand what it means to be a woman right now. The slice of her piece we see reflects that pressure.

The first dancer is stern and in the small theatre, we can watch her muscles shake with tension as she holds traditional ballet poses. A piano is interrupted by a woman’s voice from a podcast, discussing the pressure women feel “to be something else.” Her voice fills the theatre with the expectations of women we’ve all heard: be gentle but strong, sexy but pure, submissive but powerful.

On nearly every face of the internet, words speak anxiety, fear, anger. Text tells me to join or resist, to remember I am important, as a woman, as a person of any identity. I read to feel the tone, I read to hear a voice. I read to see a person. Sometimes none of these emerge. The Women’s March meant so much to people, with all those words in the flesh, nothing needed to be spoken. People showed up, bodies and all.

I recommend the show for a break from the words. I recommend it, along with other dance shows, or music shows or clown and mime performances for anyone who feels like they’ve been overthinking, overtalking or texting, still short on answers. Go and watch the aptitude and limitations of the human body, and its expressions of humor and sorrow. I felt myself letting go silently, deeper into the chair, joining other people who also don’t always know what to say, so they put their bodies out there.

By Kathleen Dolan

I studied writing and English at Purchase College in NY State and graduated from PSU with an English degree. I contribute content, edit, and brainstorm at THRU.

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