Maybe you've seen the postcards for Grub around town. The ad for the Portland-based dance troupe tEEth's new production features six dancers in nude body suits, covered in mud, with a large pig in the foreground. Let's put any Photoshopping concerns to rest right now: For the shoot, the troupe ventured to a nearby farm where they climbed into a literal pigpen with several large, hungry pigs. And the first one in the pen was tEEth's Co-Artistic Director and Choreographer Angelle Hebert, whose idiosyncratic vision has guided tEEth since the troupe's inception in 2006.
"She'll ask you to do some of the weirdest shit imaginable," Jonathan Krebs tells me. "She'll ask very sweetly and nicely, and you'll do it." Krebs—who formerly worked for White Bird—was recently hired to help Hebert and Co-Artistic Director Phillip Kraft turn tEEth into a fully functioning company, with nonprofit status that will allow them to accept donations.
I attended a press showing of Grub a few weeks ago, and while technically unfinished (not all of the video effects were in place), the work was nonetheless enthralling, demonstrating a self-awareness, offbeat humor, and pervasive anxiety that marked it as utterly contemporary. Calling Grub a "show" would trivialize it: This is a work, demanding of both the audience and performers, simultaneously a reflection of and comment on our culture.
Hebert tells me that Grub was influenced by the increasing trend toward technologically mediated interactions, "The idea that you can completely survive without human contact." While by no means an original concern, it's explored here with intelligence and rigor, and the ideas come through cleanly in the work—as Kraft explained it, he and Hebert "know exactly what we want to say at every given moment." In one sequence, a pair of women faces the audience and sings while two male dancers manipulate their bodies and voices. Another segment features a downright sinister use of blue-screen video effects, in which hooded dancers are projected onto a screen that effectively erases their faces. The fact that it's easy to understand these scenes in no way detracts from their impact—a truth that is sorely lacking in much contemporary art.
Portland audiences have a chance to preview Grub this weekend, before its official premiere at Seattle's On the Boards festival early next year. Don't miss out.