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Randee Paufve explains Mary Todd Lincoln to me

By Barry Johnson
June 23, 2012
Dance, Featured

Paufve/Dance’s “So I Married Abraham Lincoln…”

At first the title of Randee Paufve’s dance/theater creation, “So I married Abraham Lincoln…,” puzzled me. I guess I assumed that Paufve was imagining what it would be like for HER to be married to the Great Liberator, which would be… crazy.

But no. Paufve was being historical, and the dance responds to the life of Mary Todd Lincoln, and then I realized what a poor opinion I had of Mrs. Lincoln, who always seemed dour and opportunistic to me. A dance about her?

Yes, a movement/word/music response to the life of Mary Todd Lincoln, abstract, poetic and allusive, and somehow, against all the odds, it completely overturned my ignorant preconceptions of Mary Todd Lincoln and made me feel her life in an entirely new way, from her courting days as a young adored woman in Springfield to the seances with which she attempted to contact her husband and sons on the other side. The dance connects us to Mary’s strength, the way society’s attention can turn a young woman’s head, her rage, how constricted she must have felt and ultimately her great sorrow and madness (“He comes to me every night and smiles at the end of the bed”).

I’m not sure a dance performance has ever done that for me.

Paufve includes just enough text to keep things from drifting too far afield (and by “things” here, I simply mean “my mind”). The music (from Beethoven and Schumann to Public Image and the Pixies) functions the same way, especially the tradition songs that the dancers sing, “O Mary Don’t You Weep” and “Bright Morning Star.” The movement itself isn’t that surprising for Portland modern dance fans—nothing especially virtuosic or stylized. The dance flows and jerks and stretches and, best of all, means.

Paufve brought her company up to Portland from the Bay Area and combined them with a speedily rehearsed group of Portland dancers/performers. I knew this, but if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have noticed because they blended together so well. Which is a feat all by itself.

The concert continues tonight (Saturday) at Conduit, and word of mouth being what it is, I bet tickets are scarce, but worth scrambling to obtain. Catherine Thomas has some deft thoughts about the show, too.

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