Upon entering Shaking The Tree Theatre, to view a short run of the Holding Project’s precious cargo (always the point), I caught two initial clues of what was to come: First, I was casually but pointedly directed to sit on the black chairs with programs on the seat—and not any of the furniture. 

There was a small beach chair to my left, and other items (TVs, rocks, tumbleweeds, a typewriter, ferns) interspersed amidst the audience. This signaled that the new dance, choreographed and produced by the dance troupe’s artistic director Amy Leona Havin, would happen all around us. Everything and everyone around the performance space that wasn’t a ticket holder was going to play a part.

The other big clue came in the form of the five company dancers—Whitney Wilhardt, Carly Nicole Ostergaard, Lindsay Dreyer, Heather Hindes, and Elle Sevi—huddled together on the floor, like the Lisbon sisters of The Virgin Suicides. They stared blankly at one of the televisions as it played vintage video of surfing, ads for Hostess snack cakes and Slinkys, and nature documentaries, while Freedom Rock classics played in the background. 

Those small stretches before the lights dimmed were the last moments of calm and stillness afforded the audience. The next 90 minutes were a nonstop flurry of movement and memory.

Havin’s choreography pulled from five decades worth of hazy West Coast nostalgia—with an emphasis on Southern California—to inform the performance’s various dance movements. References to water, irrigation, and the heat-death of the planet popped up, amid clips from the 2014 film adaptation of Inherent Vice and the music video for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge.” The work was puzzling and often jarring, but frequently astonishing.

Carly Ostergaard (left), Elle Sevi lifts Heather Hindes (center) in "precious cargo (always the point)."  photo by Kale Chesney, courtesy of holding project

(always the point) is another iteration of Holding Project’s precious cargo series. The group debuted (days of old) in May 2022. However, Havin later explained, “they’re related, but not necessarily part one and two.”

The mood and medium changed and shifted between sequences, often at an accelerated pace. The performers took pains to set up an elaborate presentation of a beachside hang; then dismantled it all in 30 seconds. Later, they set up a boombox playing a lecture tape, slowly surrounded it with rocks, waited a beat, and returned rocks to their original placements.

The quick changes and fast tonal shifts might have been an issue, but they obviously created more room for the actual dancing—which proved a feat of physical daring and incredible spatial awareness. At times, the performers came ever so close to physically engaging various audience members. It was only the complete control they had of their bodies that kept them from causing any small accidents.

Elle Sevi, Heather Hindes, Lindsay Dreyer, and Whitney Wilhardt lift Carly Ostergaard in "precious cargo (always the point)." photo by Kale Chesney, courtesy of holding project

The performers' command of their physicality also allowed them to clash and join together in various permutations. They used each other as chairs, stood on one another’s hips, and became furtively tangled. Even their respective solos displayed an astounding mastery of micromovements and strength: In one breathtaking moment—as the other four dancers stood and faced the opposite direction—Whitney Wilhardt burst forth with a pugnacious solo informed by hip-hop and raw fury. Later, during her own solo, Carly Nicole Ostergaard threw herself toward the floor with surprising force, only to land softly and roll into her next motion.

The full 90-minute performance was a lot to absorb, an overload manageable only due to the work’s steady pace and moments of surrealist humor (the horse masks were a nice touch). I’m still left with many questions that I wish I could try to answer by attending multiple times.

With only three shows this past weekend, I’m pleasantly stuck rolling the fragments and little details over and over in my mind. That Havin and company have made me want to unlock the mysteries of (always the point), even days later, is evidence enough of its daring and inventiveness.

The Holding Project’s precious cargo (always the point) appeared at Shaking the Tree Theatre 823 SE Grant Street, December 8-10, 2023, holdingproject.com