Life and our own sensation disorientations

Tahni Holt's new dance operated on its audience in very particular ways. Soup is involved.

Midway through the opening-night performance of Tahni Holt’s Sensation/Disorientation I had my own sensation-disorientation experience. I was struck with the feeling that this dance had a lot to do with the soup I had made for dinner that night. I don’t mean to diminish or speak irreverently about Holt’s work by any means—my soup was no ordinary soup and neither was the dance.

The soup was Moroccan Lentil Soup from my favorite online recipe source, Forks Over Knives, and it was one of the tastiest soups I have ever made. It was a simple recipe, which was helpful because I had squeezed in cooking and eating with my family between picking my son up from school, picking up my mom to babysit, shopping for ingredients, and going to the theater. The recipe included such basic ingredients as onions, carrots, tomatoes and red lentils, with the addition of an exotic, colorful collection of spices and flavors: coriander, cumin, turmeric, smoked paprika, cinnamon, ground ginger, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, vegetable broth and lemon juice.

It was the gorgeous photo that accompanied this recipe that initially piqued my interest. The soup was made up of oranges and yellows. Garnished with green parsley on top, it sat in the middle of a beautiful turquoise, ceramic bowl, which was decorated with small white embossed flowers. It was beautiful, achingly beautiful.

Tahni Holt’s “Sensation/Disorientation”/Photo by Kamala Kingsley courtesy of White Bird

In this moment, while watching Sensation/Disorientation, time and space collapsed, and all of a sudden the soup that I had made for my family—its colors, spices, vegetables, and lentils—connected me to history, to women, to my femininity, my family, my role as a woman in my household (as a mother and a wife), and in my life in society. More, my relationship with other women became present in the dance. In this instant, I suddenly felt connected to the earth, to every culture, to every woman that ever existed and to every woman here now. This was a dance made unapologetically by a woman, for women, about women.

The dance took place at Reed College’s Diver Studio Theatre, a square, tall space with viewing possibilities from all sides and levels and an open performance space in the middle. The audience’s chairs had been arranged in several tiered circles around that space, and dancers were already performing on the floor as we entered. The costumes were layered, floor-length skirts and shirts made from a patchwork of fabrics, colors, and patterns nodding to historic and traditional women’s clothing, and to tribal, Indian, and Middle Eastern cultures. Underneath the voluminous outfits, each dancer wore a shiny gold unitard that peeked out every now and then, creating the perfect shiny accessory to the outfit.

Two large bags containing bulky objects (balloons), two gold buckets (I heard they were there because of a leak in the roof), and a keyboard placed on the floor off to the edge of the circle shared the performance space with the dancers.

The dance was performed by six female dancers—Tracy Broyles, Muffie Connelly, Carla Mann, Eliza Larson, Suzanne Chi and Aidan Hutapea, ranging in ages from 15-60—to music by Luke Wyland. The hour-long, structured improvisation began in a group pile on the floor that split into three pairs, then split into solos, back to duets, and ending as solos. At least that’s how I remember it: please forgive me if I haven’t remembered it correctly.

The movement, outside of any predefined dance vocabulary, was naturally occurring, originating internally from different parts in each dancer’s body. It reminded me of ecstatic dancing or the spontaneous dances that happen in Pentecostal churches when people are suddenly overtaken by the Holy Spirit. The dancers in Sensation/Disorientation jiggled, shook, convulsed, and collapsed, and at other times moved more tenderly and exploratorily, especially when in relation to one another. I saw pushing, pulling, wrestling, sharing, supporting, and all of those other adjectives that describe the struggles that happen in long-standing relationships.

At different times the movement grew in size, energy, momentum and speed, becoming frenetic and traveling wildly through space. Other times it was small and quiet and almost unnoticeable.

In one particularly fantastic moment, the dancers leaned far forward and pulled their skirts over their heads, covering their head, arms and torso in the process and revealing shiny golden legs and bottoms from behind. They began to lumber around the room, hands on the floor. At first the image of women bent over, with bottoms and backs of legs revealed, was meaningful, then it became funny, and then after a while the image resolved into more abstract shapes. It’s kind of like when you were a kid and you repeated a word over and over until it lost its meaning and became a completely foreign, weird sound, turning into nonsense.

Tahni Holt’s “Sensation/Disorientation”/Photo by Kamala Kingsley courtesy of White Bird

I also really enjoyed the moment when the gold metallic balloons were released from the bags and tossed into the air allowed to float aimlessly around the space, creating lightness and height in opposition to the dancers’ weight on the floor.

The dance ended with each of the dancers crawling around the stage on all fours, making sharp, right-angle turns while flipping their hair gently forward and back, punting balloons around the stage. The ends of their hair looked like reaching fingertips, and the dancers’ ability to articulate the ends of their hair was amazing and bizarre.

I felt that this piece was an extremely brave dance for Holt to make and for White Bird to commission. It was aesthetically beautiful, generous, and interesting, and broke with dance viewing and dance making traditions in so many refreshing ways. I think Holt has just indirectly given permission to other dance makers to push the boundaries of their work even more, and it will be interesting to see these ideas resurface in other people’s work in the next couple of years.


Also this past weekend in between the inauguration of the new President and the amazing women’s marches in response, I saw three other performances in addition to Holt’s: Ignite, a shared concert between choreographers Subashini Ganesan and Oluyinka Akinjiola; a collection of dances by Robert Guitron, the Polaris Dance Theatre dancers, and Oregon dance teacher and choreographer Les Watanabe, as part of Groovin’ Greenhouse; and Bodyvox’s Urban Meadow. It was the full spectrum.

Ganesan and Akinjiola are both working hard to create bridges in their choreography from their home cultures to the one that they are living in now. Ganesan’s Bliss and Other Easy Things, based in the Indian Bharatanatyam style, was abstract and appeared simple in structure, allowing us time to look and digest before the next movement. The movement was slow and deliberate, creating a feeling of calm serenity and perhaps bliss. An interesting juxtaposition to the pace of the world outside the theatre.

Ibukun/The Celebration by Akinjiola explored Nigerian funeral rituals and involved a large group of community dancers, live drumming, a coffin, personal stories of grief, and a lot of good, earnest dancing. For me, growing up in American culture has created a lot of weirdness around death, so it was enlightening to witness another culture’s death rituals in a different light. At the end of the piece Akinjiola played a slideshow of photos from a recent family funeral in Nigeria. I was immediately transported into Nigerian culture and taken by the color and volume of the clothing, the landscape, the closeness of the family, and their connection to the deceased. While watching the photos, I realized that I am too comfortable in my life, and that I need to shake things up and travel.

Groovin’ Greenhouse was a beautiful collection of contemporary works in progress by the Polaris Dance Theatre family. We will see more in their X-Posed concert in April. Watanabe’s Love Songs was an ode to an earlier era of modern dance, it was earthy, poetic, sweeping, full, young, mature and sensuous, all at the same time. I wish we could see Watanabe’s work in Portland more often.

BodyVox’s Urban Meadow was great fun, and I was honored to see Eric Skinner dance with the company for the last time. I can’t wait to see where Skinner goes next in his career and what he will bring back to Portland. You can read Bob Hicks review of the show here and his interview with Skinner here.

Right now, I am really feeling the weight and heaviness of our political climate, but buoyed by the energy amassed over the weekend from the women’s marches and the performances that I saw. The work I saw was broad, multicultural, mature, thoughtful, and represented a larger swath of the population than I normally see. For Portland that means we are headed in the right direction.

Performances this week

Dancers from Nrityotsava 2013. Photo courtesy of Kalakendra.

Nrityotsava-Indian Classical and Folk Dances

Presented by Kalakendra
5 pm January 28
Lake Oswego High School, 2501 Country Club Rd, Lake Oswego

Featuring Indian dance schools from Portland and the surrounding towns, this annual fundraising performance supports the non-profit community organization Kalakendra, and it’s commitment to bringing professional musicians and dancers to Portland to promote the classical arts from the Indian sub-continent.

Dance styles to be performed are Bharatnatyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Kashmiri folk dance, Kalbeliya dance, and Bhangra.

Schools and teachers performing at the fundraiser will be; Nrityam Dance Academy/Sonali Banerjee, Bay Area Dance Group/Anarghya Vardhana, Nartana School of Kuchipudi Dance/Anuradha Ganesh, Rhythms of Joy/Isvarya Kalyanaraman, Rupali Nigote, Dhrishti Dance Group & Nirvana Dance Company/Prathibha Nandagudi and Chitra Sridhar, Jhinik Dance Troupe/Tania Chatterjee, Sankalpa Dance Ensemble/Sweta Ravishankar, Sridharini Sridharan, Yashaswini Raghuram, Smita Menon’s Dance Academy/Smita Menon, Rhythms Dance Academy/Sudeshna Ganguly, Kalbeliya Dance Group & Bhangra Dance Group/Mini Sharma Ogle and DJ Anjali.

A great local source for all things related to classical Indian dance is

Upcoming Performances

January 31, Spectacle Garden 9: Solidarity & Resistance, Curated by Ben Martens
February 3, ODE 2 Fool, Julian Barnett, Presented by Flock Dance Center
February 4, SELFIE, Rainbow Dance Theatre
February 4-5, Being Moved, Meshi Chavez and workshop participants
February 10-11, Cabaret Boris & Natasha, Presented by Performance Works NW / Linda Austin Dance
February 16-18, Faculty Dance Concert, University of Oregon
February 17, The Missing Generation, Sean Dorsey, Presented by Reed College Dance Department
February 17-18, New works by Alembic Artists Claire Barrera and Noelle Stiles, Presented by Performance Works NW / Linda Austin Dance
February 18-25, Swan Lake, Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 22, Ballet De Lorraine, Presented by White Bird
February 23-26, Attention Everyone!, A-WOL Dance Collective
March 2-4, Cuisine & Confessions, Presented by White Bird
March 3, Local (not easy), Iris Erez, Presented by Reed College Dance Department
March 3-5, In Circadia, Eliza Larson
March 9-11, Companhia Urbana De Danca, Presented by White Bird
March 10 – 12, TPB Studio Company Performance-Featuring dances by Anne Mueller, Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland, John Clifford and guest artists from Kukátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe, The Portland Ballet
March 16-18, Carmen, NW Dance Project
March 24, Shaping Sound, Travis Wall, Presented by Portland’5
March 23-April1, Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble, Presented by BodyVox
April 4-5, Shen Yun, Presented by Oregon Falun Dafa Association
April 6-8, Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, Presented by White Bird
April 13-22, Terra, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 14-16, New work by Jin Camou, Performance Works NW Alembic Co-Production
April 25-26, Che Malambo, Presented by White Bird
April 27-29, Contact Dance Film Festival, Presented by BodyVox and NW Film Center
April 28-29, Appalachian Spring Break, Scotty Heron and Brendan Connelly, Presented by Performance Works NW / Linda Austin Dance
May 5-7, Inclusive Arts Vibe Annual Performance, Disability Arts and Culture Project
May 10, Martha Graham Dance Company, Presented by White Bird
May 26-28, N.E.W. Residency performance, Dora Gaskill, Jessica Kelley, Stephanie Schaaf, and Kumari Suraj
May 26 – 27, Spring Concert – Tribute to the Ballet Russes, Featuring work by Michel Fokine, Tom Gold, George Balanchine, and Lane Hunter, The Portland Ballet
June 8-10, Summer Splendors, NW Dance Project

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