I have a special affinity for the space at Performance Works Northwest. It somehow manages to be simultaneously spacious and intimate. The curved ceiling and stark, white walls resemble a miniature airplane hanger, but the aura of the place is completely welcoming, even homey. Perhaps this is because it is someone's home--it functions as both dance studio and house for Linda Austin, the leader behind the organization and the head choreographer of its offspring dance company: Linda Austin and Dancers. The two dances they are currently putting on exhibit a certain level of comfort with the space that could only be the result of utter familiarity. Austin knows and loves her building better than anybody, and it shows.
There's just no stress with these dancers. Dressed in comfortable-looking Bermuda shorts and sleeveless shirts for the evening's first piece, The Use of Rumor, they move lucidly and often joyfully through the space like strange hybrid of beach-bum and fairy. Facial expressions rarely change. Physical energy determines the emotional range of each interaction, and the energy changes constantly as the dancers flit about, bumping into each other, feeling each other out, slowing down, speeding up, and flitting off again. This isn't a chorus line, or some tap-dancing session; it's a roller coaster of mellow exuberance that I would describe as messy if it didn't have such a meticulous vision providing its parameters.
The tropical beach theme carries beyond the main dancers to two other women described in the program as the "gossips." These gossips stand apart from the rest with outrageously obnoxious hula skirts, and hats that project doll versions of themselves from the tops of their heads. They reel out green cords to begin the dance, blocking off the audience and providing a box for the beach-bums to do their thing in.
As the piece progresses, they quietly move around, behind, and in front of the company, but without ever directly approaching any individual. Their presence is omnipotent, their influence the ruling factor over all interaction. It's fabulous multi-layered symbolism, and it culminates with an ending that is both beautiful and thought-provoking. I didn't think a pure dance piece with no vocalizations to speak of could make me ponder the impact that very verbal ideas like rumor and gossip can have on groups of people, but I have been proven wrong.
The evening's second piece, Silence, is not quite as successful. Here Austin takes center stage by herself, moving slowly and gracefully between sheets of gauze, while reciting the words to a poem called, aptly, "Silence." It's all very pretty, and Austin is a wonderful dancer, but after the dazzling variations of the first act it feels overly long and repititious.
Still, don't miss this show. The folks at Performance Works deserve to be supported for doing a hell of a lot with very little. Their concepts will entertain and stimulate; their easy-going nature will put you at ease. It's a perfect combination.