Conduit Dance, 918 SW Yamhill, 4th floor, 221-5857, Thurs-Sat 8:30 pm, through May 22, $12-14
C onduit Dance has noisily unfurled its latest show, Elements, choreographed by company co-director Tere Mathern. A show two years in the making, Mathern has joined forces with San Diego acoustic composer Joseph Waters to design an homage to "the less cherished aspects" of the four mythic cornerstones: earth, air, fire and water. Mathern, sometimes referred to as a formalist choreographer, meets her abstract challenge by working with descriptors to guide her compositions. For instance, her Earth suggests boundary, rules, home; Water connotes power, force, undertow and dissolution; Air evokes breath, flight, wings, and feathers, soft; and Fire is disappearance, angular, sharp, and hidden.
The resulting pieces, employing the talents of six capable dancers, are like concentric ripples from a stone dropped into water. They explore space like a hyper session of yoga, where every extremity is engaged with turns and extensions, brief poses, and elongated floor stretches. The dances are calculated, precise, even cold. Dancers Robyn Conroy, Jae Diego, Jennifer Hong-Berdine, Mathern herself, Jim McGinn, and local dance superstar Minh Tran, abandon human emotion onstage to become vessels for Mathern's ideas. Mathern orchestrates her dancers within the space like it was a geometric grid in which movement is restricted to checker-like movements of up, down, left, right, or diagonal. This is how she earned the apt title of formalist.
The result is impressive, yet unsettling. I found myself yearning for some explanation of each dancer's relation to one another, and perhaps, the pieces.
Of course, there's nothing like a little (or a lot) of experimental electronic and traditional percussion to give the sense of precision and disjunction. Joseph Waters, accompanied by Joel Bluestone, combines such disparities as the marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel, Asian gongs and a kettle drum, then filters in sound effects like electronic horses, rain, trance rhythms, birds, and heartbeats. I was also able to pick out space church chimes and gurgling evil dragons.
Though Waters layers his musical descriptors with Mathern's elemental impressions, at times, none of this makes sense on any tangible level--it's too intellectual. But with some patience on the viewer's part, the show's ambition carries it through.