This weekend, July 26-28, Conduit Dance hosted their first annual DANCE+ series. Different sets of performances were featured from July 19-21, but it was only last night I had the opportunity to see the final run. The purpose of this series is to perpetuate new talent by featuring collaborative performances by young artists. On July 28th, I witnessed A Moment of Your Time by Friendly Pheromones Dance Co., advantAGE by Gregg Bielemeier, Keyon Gaskin, and Philippe Bronchtein, and The Loveliest Landscape, by Danielle Ross and Christi Denton. A performance by Luciana Proano Dance entitled Tsunami was cancelled for unstated reasons. The purpose of this article is to highlight The Loveliest Landscape. But I will devote a paragraph to the first two shows.
The first run of the evening was A Moment of Your Time, a lively trio dance featuring live music from Waver Clamor Bellow. There are frequently male and female dancers sharing the stage in dance performance, naturally the dynamics of relationship can be expressed through that duality. Striking me first was the physical difference between the leading dancers, being male and female. She is a small thing, capable of crawling all his austere form; she embraced him the way light creeps in to open spaces. He supported her with concentration and nothing sexual was at play. These two begin the piece but a third woman enters, bringing the struggle, competition, and confusion to the story. But when they go in to unison, making a triangle, it suggests that when we are alone, we are really together. With the music of WCB, playing electric guitar and electrified viola powered by warm amplifiers and an array of electronic foot pedals/loopers that allow for advanced orchestration while contributing their own movement to their own work — the soundtrack became emotional and helped fuel life in to an already dynamic dance.
Something that makes me happy in contemporary performance is humor. I really do find that experimental art is a big joke; the artist takes the traditional form and gives the unexpected, precisely what a punch line provides. advantAGE is quite fun, a duo performance by the elderly balding gray haired white man, Gregg Bielemeier, and the young vibrant selectively hairy black man, Keyon Gaskin; just make one of them female and you have a complete duality, but I think we can see the irony already. In a rather competitive way, the duo begins by opening and slamming the venue doors, walking on stage and performing their solo, separately together. You watch Bielemeier’s masterful steps and you know he is a teacher, choreographer, but you watch Gaskin, and you know he is a student, dancer; both are great talents. Music is comprised of effected-looped blues and pop tunes manipulated live by a single young man looking geeky in glasses seated at a small desk with his Macbook Pro, contributing to the humor and surrealism of it all. The duo coalesces in their funny ways while removing and adding clothing, making vocal declarations. In the end, they put on these strange fabrics that sort of look like a dress, each helping the other “zip up” in the back, meandering off stage while creepily singing off-time snippets of the psychedelically treated sounds of “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden and Whitehead. Fade out and end: applause.
Danielle Ross, Choreographer, and Christi Denton, Composer, have been working together for a little more than one year. The Loveliest Landscape is their latest and most collaborative work and they are beginning to find intimacy in the creative process. Christi explains that in the past several projects, sound and movement were territories dominated by their creators, but for this, the collaboration deepened with Ross hearing ideas on movement and Denton hearing ideas on sound; the trust has been formed, now they let each other into personal space.
The Loveliest Landscape is a solo performance by Danielle Ross. You see her leaning against the back wall underneath the studio window, body contorted in dim light before migrating, pressed against the wall, to the other side under the other window, stopping and looking dead on to the audience. She moves over to a spotlight on wheels and spins it slowly until the stream of photons strikes each audience member. The light goes out, sound goes out. The music is that surreal, arrhythmic, electronic sampling and synthesis you can expect from a Mills graduate (Denton), making the bed for impressions of imagery via projection. Images are projected against the back wall: stucco, automobile tire, moss on concrete, metal grating, painted brick, etc. urban images. The slides go out; this is when Danielle picks up her step.
Ross tends to follow impulses across the stage, and in my naïve interpretation, I can’t really place the symbolism or emotion with all of it; a solo is not as easy to interpret because the artist deals only with their self. I contemplate what her background in dance is and I assume she brings martial arts to contemporary techniques. After the show, I ask her. She studied at Berkeley, CA, going in as an athlete but later studied performance, ballet, and Capoeira, alongside Political Science. So that explains it.
Floating on the bed of sound ala Christi, and set on a stage developed by the duo, the piece continues along those themes laid out above: light and texture. Ross pulls a string of LED lights out of a small case into a snake-like curve. Then she forms mounds of flour on the floor, each to its own independent LED light. The piece unfolds with the continued sounds, movements, and images that were established in the first half of the piece, it ends with compressed air blowing the mounds of flour across the stage, making a messy plume. Ross slowly returns to the original position she started with, under the window against the wall, and resigns to a half-fetal position, laying in the dust of her own flour mounds.
It was closing night for the DANCE+ series and if I hadn’t been tired, I could tell you about getting drinks with the dancers. I can tell you that I slept well last night, but that’s about all. For more information on this and other programs, you can visit www.conduit-pdx.org.