Dance review: The first half of the (a)merging festival

Seven choreographers filled the Northwest Dance Project with new dance thoughts

SubRosa dances "Matriarch" in (a)merging/Jim Lykins

SubRosa dances “Matriarch” in (a)merging/Jim Lykins

Lindsey Matheis of the Northwest Dance Project has brought us the second installment of her dance festival, (a)merging, which just concluded its opening weekend. In all 14 Portland choreographers will show their work over two weekends.

“I started (a)merging last year because someone else was going to do a show in the space (Northwest Dance Project) and couldn’t end up doing it, so Sarah Slipper asked if I wanted to step in,” Matheis said about the beginnings of (a)merging. “It was Sarah’s idea to have something going on in the space while the company was off, and so now I try to fill a lot of those empty spaces with shows…for the community, networking, bringing people together.”

Bringing people together was the key. “I find that the dance scene here is often split up, though that’s been massively changing over the last couple years,” Matheis said. “I did (a)merging last January, 2 programs. Then I did a show called Alchemy in the fall, which was more focused and I had a lot more say over the content. I hand-picked those choreographers. This (a)merging is my third show, again going back to the idea of giving choreographers—green and experienced—a chance to show work without cost to them. In fact, all proceeds go towards paying them.”

According to Matheis, “Both programs emphasize the eclectic diversity of work being made in the city, giving both beginning and seasoned viewers a chance to be introduced to new voices.”

“Sol”, the first weekend, showcased choreography by Sara Himmelman, Sam Hobbs (BodyVox-2 guest artist), Briley Neugebauer (of Polaris Dance Theatre), Megan McCarthy and Patrick Kilbane (Northwest Dance Project), Sara Parker, Kate Rafter, and Jess Evans (SubRosa Dance Collective).

The evening began with Dark/Light, choreographed and performed by Sara Parker, a beautiful, mature performer with great command and presence. This intense, internal solo set in dappled light, off center to the left, began small and built in intensity. Simply costumed in black harem pants and a nude colored leotard she began with segmented movement to an electronic tapping beat. After a bone defying suspended back bend, her movement became larger as the music began to pick up its pace and she began circling the space still maintaining her relationship with the left side. My only qualm was that I didn’t feel like this was a finished piece, and I felt greedy for more.

SoTriOH, choreographed by Sara Himmelman, was a playful and comedic dance for three dancers to the music of Ekrem and the Gypsy Groovz. The dancers were dressed in white lab coats, pen and paper in hand and flashing light rings on their fingers. It began in the dark, with the dancers facing the back wall making light designs with their rings. Frantically searching and figuring like mad scientists, they danced about in unison and separately as they went deep into their “research.” It was like a mad hatter’s tea party for dance scientists?

Kara Girod Shuster in Briley Neugebauer's "Choice"/Jim Lykins

Kara Girod Shuster in Briley Neugebauer’s “Choice”/Jim Lykins

Choice, choreographed by Briley Neugebauer for dancers Kara Girod Shuster and Blake Seidel, was a smooth but emotionally heavy, romantic duet to the songs of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Etta James. Shuster dressed in a full-skirted, knee-length mint green dress, began sitting on a chair leaning on a small desk in front of her, repeating a series of movements over and over until Seidel relieved her, pulling her out of “it” but not strong enough to keep her forever. Eventually, she headed back to the chair and desk, repeating the opening movement, finally resting her head on the desk in defeat. A combination of silver screen waltzes and contemporary dance partnering, the dance was very rigorous and pretty. Interestingly, the couple’s eyes were downcast for most of the time, which was emotionally confusing to me but may have been their method to express their inner turmoil.

Early, a duet by Samuel Hobbs for himself and Jess Evans, was a well-choreographed piece of work. It began with Hobbs sitting very still at center stage with his legs bent, knees facing the ceiling and his arms draped around his knees, steadily looking out at the audience. Evans to his right was upside down resting on her forearms, circling one long extended leg in the air, eventually cutting under the other leg and dropping her weight into the floor. She circled behind Hobbs, sat down with her back to the audience fell over, and repeated. As the music began to intensify and speed up so did she. Then Hobbs sprang to action joining Evans as they were forcefully propelled forward through time by some unseen energy, thrown together and apart, swirling about like a leaf in the wind sometimes coming into contact with another object, wrapping around each other and then flying off again. The style is rooted in contemporary dance but is an amalgamation of Hobb’s own. Unadorned and egoless this duet is unpredictable and exciting.

Black & Blue, a duet by Kate Rafter for herself and Dustin Ordway to Pan Sonic and Johann Johannsson, was violent in a real way, not in a theatrical, acting/dancing sort of way. Using a movement language based in martial arts, Rafter was the aggressor, first violently pulling away from Ordway’s affections, then hitting him, pushing him, throwing him and throwing herself into him. With his steady and consistent presence, she begins to soften and to trust. She relinquishes her anger, finding tenderness in herself. The dance ends with the very powerful image of her cradling him on the floor and her eyes open and fixed on the audience. This was a tough dance to watch. The violence though “acted” was very real.

May as well leave it on, choreographed and performed by Megan McCarthy and Patrick Kilbane, was a funny, purposefully apathetic duet that played with hyper-technical dance abilities and comedy. Using a few pop cultural references and social dance stylings, they seemed to do what was popular, get bored (lots of theatrical yawning) and move onto the next thing. I wasn’t so drawn to the choreography per se but more to these dancers physical abilities, which are incredibly versatile and extreme in range. Everything they do looks easy, but it isn’t, believe me.

Matriarch, choreographed by Jess Evans for the five dancers of Sub Rosa including herself, was a purposefully disconnected, complex collage of images, generated from the movement of the dancers and images in Dylan Wilbur’s film, which played simultaneously. In the most striking of the dance images, the dancers dressed in ankle length, long sleeve dresses, stood side by side with their backs to the audience, sending their hips jutting out to the left. One by one, each grabbed the butt cheek of the next dancer and then swung the other arm up and over and cut under the grabbing hand and flung it off while the other hand moved up to the side of the head creating a gun with the fingers. It spoke of violence, the sexualization of women, femininity, anonymity and strength. At times it was hard to watch the dancing and the video at the same time, and the combination was complex enough to demand more than one viewing. I wish I could see it again.


The second weekend, Nox, iw January 24-26 features choreography by Jennifer Camp, Selina DiPronio, Cat Egan, Katie Scherman, Emily Schultz (Portland Festival Ballet), Sydney Skov’s Free Body Project, and a special guest.

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