Last week, I dropped by the BodyVox rehearsal studio in the Pearl to view a rehearsal of Abracadaver, a new work by choreographer Angelle Hebert and composer Phillip Kraft's dance company (so far untitled). Watching Hebert's dancers experiment with an array of deformed spandex, harmonicas, and jelly doughnuts, I felt nestled in affection for Portland's growing dance scene. It was Wednesday, and up the street at the PCPA building, the internationally renowned Beijing Dance company was performing their epic, gorgeous piece Rear Light, while here, in a mostly empty white room, a quirky local show with a cadaver theme coexisted harmoniously. That's balance.
Cadavers are corpses prepped for dissection, though Abracadaver doesn't feature any dead bodies, focusing instead on the body parts themselves, detached from the living human.
A relatively recent transplant from Minneapolis--along with Kraft, her husband and sound designer--Hebert selected three local talents for Abracadaver, Jim McGinn, Dana Loewen, and Lane Hunter. The result is a blend of solo pieces and group works, each driven by slow, minute movement sequences that explode occasionally into bouts of frantic gesture. In one, Loewen moves her head with mechanical vigor, a headgear contraption with a harmonica surrounding her face. Sad, haunting harmonica toots escape with each fractured breath, like a robot set on "malfunction." In McGinn's solo effort, his body is the prop, an impressive example of human flesh with veins popping out like writhing snakes. Midway through his labored dance, someone comes and smears a jelly doughnut all over his face, ruining the image. The message is clear: the quest for bodily perfection is futile. As Abracadaver progresses, its subversion of this quest manifests in fat suits, mutant spandex unitards with missing limbs and sleeves sewed shut, and Kraft's eerie, pulsating sound design. It's a grotesque dismantling of the American beauty myth that is somehow also kind of gorgeous.