LINDA AUSTIN has been dancing in Portland for years, although, for the uninitiated, a performance of hers "doesn't always look like dance," she says. It's better to think of her work, and her TBA Festival performance in particular, as "watching a cartoon with no narrative."
Along with her husband Jeff Forbes, Austin is the co-founder of Performance Works NorthWest. She has danced in previous TBA Festivals with other performers, like Third Angle Ensemble, and also as part of Ten Tiny Dances; Three Trick Pony is her first full-length solo piece at TBA.
Austin collaborated with artist David Eckard and composer Doug Theriault for Three Trick Pony—a title that refers to the three parts of the piece as well as the three collaborators. Austin is the sole dancer in the work amid a collection of sculptures. Crafted by Eckard, the objects are minimalist, beige-toned contraptions. Three railroad ties are stacked on top of one another, their edges bordered with strips of fluff; a construction-color-orange band connects them. In action, they have the absurd flair of a Rube Goldberg device. Austin describes her interest in the props as "trying to find the life in the objects, to think about my body on par with them, as another object."
The objects indeed become like characters in Three Trick Pony; roughly five contraptions in all, the sculptures intersect with one another and interact in surprising ways. They're customized to Austin and her performance; in some cases, Eckard took measurements of Austin to fit the sculptures to her body.
The choreographer has a small and energetic build that lends itself to the recurrent humor and sense of play in her work. Her movement is more colloquial than, say, balletic—she hops, she swings her arms, she grabs the base of her foot like she's about to answer her foot like a phone. She has a dry wit, a deadpan humor that's weighty. "The interest with props is about this tactile relationship with external reality that reinforces your own sense of boundaries, but also connects you out, so that you feel like you're part of the world," she says. The work may seem goofy, with its cartoony qualities, but it also has gravity.