Lucy Guerin

ArtsWatch year in dance 2017

From ballet to world to contemporary, where the dance scene led, ArtsWatch followed. In 20 stories, a brisk stroll through the seasons.

Dance in Portland and Oregon has long been on the edge – often financially and sometimes artistically. Yet despite economic challenges you can’t keep it down: the city moves to a dance beat, and every week brings fresh performances. ArtsWatch writers got to a significant share of those shows in 2017, and wrote about them with breadth, wit, and insight.

The twenty ArtsWatch stories here don’t make up a “best of” list, though several of these shows could easily make one. They constitute, rather, a January-to-December snapshot of a rich and busy scene that runs from classical ballet to contemporary and experimental work.

 


 

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A dance down memory lane in 20 tales from ArtsWatch writers:

 

“Hopper’s Dinner”: an exuberant feast. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

A mellow Meadow like old times

Jan. 20: “Going to opening night of BodyVox’s Urban Meadow at Lincoln Performance Hall on Thursday evening was a little like dropping over for dinner with a bunch of old friends you haven’t seen in a while, and remembering why you liked them in the first place,” Bob Hicks wrote. “The table was set nicely, the food and wine were good, and everybody swapped old jokes and stories with easy familiarity. There was even a guest of honor, who was fondly feted, and who told a few good tales himself.” The “guest” was the wonderful dancer Erik Skinner, who was retiring from BodyVox (though not from performing) after this run, and the program included a bunch of old favorites that were themselves welcome guests.

Continues…

At White Bird, ‘Attractor’ is magnetic

Australian dance talent meets Javanese musicians, and the result is transformational

Attractor could rightfully be called Condenser for how much talent is concentrated into a single show. First we have Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek. Though partners in everyday life, they don’t collaborate professionally very often—about every six years by their own account. Portland’s seen some good work by Lucy Guerin Inc., and as one of the founders of Chunky Move, Obarzanek has brought some amazing work through town. However, they’ve never been to Portland at the same time. When the directors of White Bird noted this in the Q&A after the performance, they suggested that they might kidnap them and keep them here. I hope Guerin and Obarzanek didn’t sense how much the audience seemed to support the idea.

Any collaboration between these two is worth noting, but joining forces with Dancenorth brings a whole new artistic dimension. Created when Ann Roberts placed $100 on the table during a public meeting because she was tired of seeing talented dancers leave Australia or gravitate to the more populous south to pursue their careers, Dancenorth has become an artistic center in Queensland near the Great Barrier Reef. A multifaceted program, the company produces new work, hosts classes, and provides professional development opportunities, putting northern Australia on the map for contemporary dance. They seem to bring with them some of the coastal wildness of their part of the world.

Dancenorth and Senyawa joined forces for ‘Attractor’/Photo courtesy White Bird

Ok, so we have two award-winning choreographers in a rare collaboration and an acclaimed dance company. That’s enough Australian talent to stuff the stage, but those are just the dancers. The musicians knock this one out of the park.

Javanese duo Senyawa are not just central to the stage and the performance. Their work was the inspiration for the entire piece, and they were full creative partners in the development of the choreography. As they developed the show, sometimes the music led the movement decisions, and at other times it followed. This exchange is central to the performance itself, and belies an incredibly fruitful collaboration between these talented groups.

Continues…

Dance Review: Lucy Guerin’s plastic storm

Lucy Guerin Inc's "Weather" is a high pressure system with lots of great dancing

Lucy Guerin's 'Weather'/Heidrun Lohr

Lucy Guerin’s ‘Weather’/Heidrun Lohr

So much of our description of a dance (or almost anything else) depends on context and comparison. Suppose you are a dance fan and you saw Lucy Guerin’s “Weather” last night at Lincoln Hall, after seeing Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “Dream” last weekend. Maybe you’d describe Guerin’s work as a challenging piece of contemporary dance—the score wasn’t very musical at all, despite the title it was abstract, the point of some of the sections seemed to be to exhaust the dancers, and while the movement may have been impressive it wasn’t “beautiful.”

Or maybe you saw Maguy Marin’s “Salves” last weekend. In that case, maybe you were relieved to see some good, old-fashioned dancing, without Marin’s puzzling content that seemed vaguely angry, even assaultive, and the movement that had nothing particular to do with “dancing.” (One patron told White Bird’s Walter Jaffe that “Salves” felt like a colonoscopy. Yikes!)

And even if you saw neither of those (nor BodyVox’s “Body Opera Files”), still, it’s axiomatic that “context is everything” or maybe “everything is relative” or “the ideology of the ruling class is the dominant ideology of any society.” Wait, that last one is about something else.

Both of our imaginary “Weather” audience members, the balletomane and the tester of Marin’s turbulent waters, might agree on one thing—those Lucy Guerin dancers can really move. And though they aren’t the will-o-the-wisp dancers who might make fine leaves in the wind of the weather, their precision at the high speeds they are able to generate comes from the power of very strong, kinetically aware bodies.

LucyGuerininc_WEATHER #1-81 Image by Heidrun Lohr

Lucy Guerin’s ‘Weather’/Heidrun Lohr

Guerin says “Weather” is based on weather patterns, but I think it could just as easily be called “Molecules,” “Breath” or “More Fun With Plastic Bags Than You Might Think Is Possible,” without losing the sense or enjoyment of it. I suspect it’s a big mistake to sit there and attempt to assign specific weather events to what’s happening onstage at any particular time. I never once thought, “Oh, that must be a low pressure system moving in” or “Wow, what a great depiction of wind shear,” but then I’m not even an amateur meteorologist.

Oh, I suppose that because a lot of the dance divides the dancers into 1 on 5 patterns (one dancer outside a grouping of five) that maybe there’s a political or social subtext on alienation or manipulation inside “Weather.” But remember, I was part of the Maguy Marin group last weekend, and that was the most fleeting of thoughts, even for me.

That left me with the six dancers, a ceiling full of plastic bags (the only and very striking set element), and Guerin’s sublime ability to find interesting ways to manipulate the first two. That was plenty.

Alisdair Macindoe’s opening solo suggested perfectly what was coming up for the rest of the hour. How could a body that sturdy and strong seem that boneless and fluid? He supplied the windy sound effects with his breath and sliced and spun at high speeds and various levels seamlessly, without a single sign of stress. He was replaced by a lengthy duet by Amber Haines and Kyle Page that set them moving in elegant, almost waltzy, patterns. Gradually, those sped up, started to change, reaching a point of seeming exhaustion (not really, Haines is onstage almost the entire show and never showed a hint of slowing down), when other dancers would enter, stir them up to more dancing and leave the stage.

The other three dancers (Kirstie McCracken, Talitha Maslin and Lillian Steiner) having been introduced, some elaborate line dancing began in that 1-to-5 formation, and then the plastic bags fell to the floor.

Not all of them. That would have been WAY too many for the dancers to manipulate. But enough to fill the stage one layer deep. And the last four sections (by my count) are danced among them. The dancers send those bags flying, hide beneath them, shake them like pompoms, shove them to one end of the stage and back, scurry and dance about kicking up little cyclones of them. OK, I just included “cyclones” there because of the title of the piece. I might have just said “helixes.”

LucyGuerininc_WEATHER #1-488 Image by Heidrun Lohr

Lucy Guerin’s ‘Weather’/Heidrun Lohr

At one point Macindoe starts pulling a bag over Page’s head, and they make excellent comic use of this prop, though my mother would have predicted that there was a 100 percent certainty that someone would end up dead. (They made it through alive, Mom!)

It wasn’t all prop play. Guerin herself danced with Tere O’Connor Dance and Bebe Miller and choreographed for Chunky Move and Mikhail Baryshnikov. She’s a proponent of the most energetic, intricate and demanding dancing—complex unison dancing, explosive solos with lots of moving parts, very physical duets—and that’s what “Weather” delivers.

Gradually, some personality started to emerge from the dancers, the humor, sure, and a little attitude. (“Oh, the weather just got angry!”) They started to emerge as single dancers with particular qualities: Maslin’s the long-legged one with precise placements, McCracken is a puckish dynamo, and so on. By the time the stage manager through the switch and plunged the stage in darkness, we were just getting warmed up!

Lucy Guerin's "Weather" blows into town tonight-Saturday at Lincoln Hall.

Lucy Guerin’s “Weather” blows into town tonight-Saturday at Lincoln Hall.

Yesterday, the finalists for the National Book Awards were announced, and in the poetry category, at the bottom of the alphabetically arranged list, was Mary Szybist for “Incarnadine: Poems” (Graywolf Press). Szybist has taught at Lewis & Clark College for the past 10 years, so that puts her into the “local poet makes good” category. These days, which may just be the Golden Age of Portland poetry (along with most other arts), that category is getting pretty full, but still, a National Book Award finalist!

Graywolf published “Incarnadine” last winter, and it received excellent reviews at the time. The Slate review by Jonathan Farmer was pretty typical, if more considered than many: “In ‘Incarnadine,’ Szybist longs for God and longs to long for God and treats her own longing with occasional scorn. The book is a mix of good manners and postmodern invention. At her most outlandish (a poem in the form of a sentence diagram, for instance), Szybist still sounds relatively conventional. At her most conventional, she’s up to something strange.”

The poems started with a trip to Italy, Szybist told Kirsten Rian, writing for The Oregonian, specifically the Annunciation scenes she found in the churches of Florence by Fra Angelico, Simone Martini, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli: “The Annunciation scene points out a moment of intensive encounter, if not confrontation, between the bodily young woman (Mary) and the starkly alien and spiritual (the angel Gabriel)…. I started asking: If what we fundamentally are is bodies, then is our longing for the spiritual in some sense a longing for what is fundamentally alien and other? Do we long for our own deepest fulfillment in the realm that is most alien, as well as alienating, to us?”

And here is a brief excerpt from Szybist’s “Hail”:

“…Here I am,

having bathed carefully in the syllables
of your name, in the air and the sea of them, the sharp scent

of their sea foam. What is the matter with me?

Mary, what word, what dust
can I look behind? I carried you a long way

into my mirror, believing you would carry me

back out. Mary, I am still
for you, I am still a numbness for you.”

***

Last night, I slipped into a little preview of Third Angle’s investigation of  Gabriela Lena Frank’s compositions, which begins tonight in earnest at PSUs Lincoln Hall. Frank herself was there to provide lively commentary on the excerpts of the pieces that the Third Angle quartet played, small and angelic looking, with a lively intelligence and way of talking.

Mostly, she explained how she derived the quartets from her experiences in Peru. Frank’s mother is Peruvian of Chinese descent, and Frank’s American father, whose heritage is Lithuanian and Jewish, while he was serving in the Peace Corps. They raised Frank in Berkeley, crossroads of world music, and when Andean music reached her, she was immediately interested in tracking it.

The quartets are both based on her travels in Peru, and on the musical instruments she encountered, the pan pipes, water drums and charango. They attempt to recreate those sounds on the instruments of the quartet, and she showed how the breath and the rhythm of the pipes, for example, could be recreated—or suggested at least—on a violin. Not that the music sounded like traditional Andean folk music. It has a contemporary energy, dissonance and complexity, though occasionally something that sounds like a folk melody might flit through.

Frank has received commissions from a long list of prominent groups, including Kronos Quartet, Wu Man, San Francisco Symphony, Houston Symphony, Chanticleer Ensemble, the Chiara String Quartet, the Brentano Quartet, Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Project, and many others, and her visit to Portland is long overdue.

The Third Angle concert, ENTRE LOS MUNDOS/BETWEEN WORLDS, starts at 7:30 pm Thursday and Friday, in PSU’s Lincoln Recital Hall, Room 75, 1620 SW Park Ave.

***

Lincoln Hall is going to be busy this weekend, because White Bird continues its insanely busy month with a visit from Lucy Guerin Inc, which with Sydney Dance Company starts a little Australian mini-season this month. Guerin’s company performs at 8 pm at Lincoln Performance Hall Thursday-Saturday.

Guerin’s work has popped up here quite a bit, as White Bird’s Walter Jaffe points out on his informative blog. Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project performed one of her duets in 1999, and Chunky Move’s visits here featured her collaborations with Gideon Obarzanek, the brilliant “Tense Dave” and “Two Faced Bastard.” And PICA brought her company a couple of times, too.

Guerin’s work is definitely dance-y, but it’s also unpredictable. Which makes sense because here the company will be performing “Weather.” From the looks of it on Vimeo, “Weather” is incredibly demanding on the dancer and a creative brush with the idea of the title.

 
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