So, have you seen a tEEth performance yet? You probably should. The Portland-based dance group opened their latest piece last night, as part of the Fertile Ground Festival. Recent kudos came from Dance magazine, who listed the collaboration of Angelle Hebert and Phillip Kraft within their 2012 list of “top 25 to watch.”
Watching this new work Make/Believe is like having four jigsaw puzzle pieces—who happen to be people: Philip Elson, Noel Plemmons, Molly Sides, and Shannon Stewart—arranged and rearranged, but never lock in place. Even more so is this feeling because of the frustration you get while watching them never fitting.
I walked away from the piece realizing I’d been furrowing my brow for the last 60 minutes, and not only because of that bizarre, helium-induced-sounding voice (featured in the video). The four dancers are all dressed in the same slate-gray get-up, with billowy necklines; usually they’re paired off. A reoccurring theme is the verbal diarrhea gesture (a lean-forward, accompanied by a splayed hand in front of their mouth, you know...that one?).
The work was co-commissioned by White Bird and On the Boards, and there are a lot of really great moments. One of the best is when dancers Plemmons and Sides are spotlighted, grappling with one another; Plemmons makes advances; he talks about “feeling close to you,” to Sides, but she is also moving her mouth, and she is the one actually acting what the Plemmons is expressing. It’s provocative—a disorienting, gender-bending trick.
Other scenes are just as sexual (the women in the troupe hold a microphone in their crotch, doing pelvic thrusts at the men, who are down on their knees). Though the work is too paranoid and confused to be sex-y, that’s not its goal anyways; it’s more likely to make you laugh than to be turned on. In fact, the show begins with laughs, with all the lights out, and giggles jagging across the audio. Somehow, throughout the piece, Andy Kaufman kept springing to my mind. There’s an aloofness to Make/Believe, a deer-caught-in-headlights feeling, a slowness, a repetition—the performance induces an absurdist, nagging sense that the group was dropped onto the stage, with them sometimes self-aware, looking around like where am I, and why?
Sound is a huge part of the work (Kraft is the composer, with a solid background in music), although the biggest complaint might be with the sound. Sometimes the music doesn’t quite work—doesn’t match up with the gestures, or is overtly dynamic, and too heavily proffers emotions. The lighting is a major element too; it’s highly choreographed with different color lights (warm and bright daylight), that will change with rapid, schizophrenic temperament.
The experience was capped last night when I drove home from the show, and heard Brett Campbell talking about them on Think Out Loud, recommending Make/Believe for my weekend. Done and done; you can get your tickets here.
Parting words, while we're on the topic: Pina opens today! Since you've waded through this entire write-up, I'm guessing you are kinda interested in contemporary dance. However! if you have any reservations or hesitations about the art form, that movie might just answer them.