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“Dance: before, after, during” By Lisa Radon

Photo: Linda K. Johnson, performance of Satellite at The Art Gym, April 3, 2011. Photo: Brian Foulkes

Originally published May, 2011

Dance: before, after, during

By Lisa Radon

Performance flashes bright and briefly, gone before you know it, unlike a painting that generously offers the viewer all the time in the world to enjoy it, to turn it over in her mind. Curator of The Art Gym at Marylhurst University, Terri Hopkins has brought dance into the gallery in a smart exhibition that doesn’t freeze dance into an infinitely considerable object, but offers inroads for audience to gain insight into both the process of creating and the performance of dance.

Terri Hopkins wondered, “How do choreographers work? Do they have visual scores like composers? Do they have sketchbooks and notebooks, like artists and writers?” Hopkins put together the exhibition Dance: before, after, during to get some answers to these questions. The exhibition includes preparatory materials, documentation, and performances by four Portland-based choreographers—Linda Austin, Susan Banyas, Tahni Holt and Linda K. Johnson—and is a great view to the process these very different choreographers use in making work.

It’s notable that Hopkins has chosen four very different dancers who do share a grounding in non-dancerly movement, work that decidedly does not come out of more formal dance traditions but considerations of the body moving the way a body does in all its mundane and beautiful and sometimes awkward glory.

I had been aware of the “before” aspect of Linda Austin’s work, “A head of time,” as she shared video episodes of her 12-month video movement “sketchbook” via social media providing an usual glimpse for many of the artist at work in her rehearsal space. Snippets of these videos are shown on a number of small white televisions embedded in a high wall of hundreds of rolled blankets, afghans, and quilts. These blankets and quilts, some of which are as garish and awful as you’d expect, form a colorful if disjointed visual patchwork in stasis, but were used beautifully as props in her company’s April 3 performance of “A head of time.” Notably the dancers began by sprawling out on blankets they rolled out and stacked on the floor, at one lovely moment drawing in their limbs, sliding and crumpling the blankets into hill and valley before extending again. The blankets were re-rolled and re-stacked after the performance and video footage of the performance is now integrated into the installation, viewable through a hole in the wall of blankets.

The centerpiece of Linda K. Johnson’s part of the exhibition is a tremendous “after,” a ten-by-ten-foot “Danced Drawing,” recording gestures of the foot and body in charcoal on a white ground. This drawing is evidence and product of a month-long Caldera residency during which Johnson collected charred wood from the 2003 B&B Complex forest fire, ground it up, and used to create “what remains…requiem,” both performance and drawing.

For her Art Gym work, Linda K. Johnson mailed brown wax paper bags to 150 friends with a note asking them to take a walk and send back an object, photo, or note to Johnson. The bags and their contents—stick, rusty spike, stone—are tacked to one gallery wall. Johnson then used this material to create “Walking to Know — Satellite” which she performed at the opening.

These bags are tacked to one gallery wall as “before” and Johnson performed “Walking” at the April 3 opening of the exhibition. In her heavy-heeled boots, Johnson executed movements that were as much about the mundane, the walking, as about capital-D dance…unfurling from her bag of tricks at one point a large bag made of construction plastic sheeting, entering it and posing and posing before stuffing the giant thing in the front of her yellow zip-front jacket from which it bulged for the rest of her piece. In a great moment, she repeatedly attempted to balance both feet on top of one another on a small stone…presumably one of the objects collected by her web of perambulating collaborators.

Tahni Holt and dancer Robert Tyree used the Art Gym as a rehearsal space for a work in progress called, “SUNSHINE.” On the rear wall was a stack of corrugated boxes of all sizes that the dancers used in performance. And as they removed the boxes from the wall and moved them into the space, the audience could see that lists, notes, and directions were penned on the wall in a rehearsal timeline:

Training (15 min) no destination.

Specialist in tipping column.

Robert says I will discover relations to boxes and stick to them.

With simple technical elements like one bright golden follow spot and a roll of hot pink duct tape, Holt and Tyree added a degree of poignancy and humor to a work that cleverly points up the relationships between moving in a dance context to moving in the sense that those who move your household possessions from house to house in a big truck understand the word.

Susan Banyas notion of “everyday dancing” concerns the movements we make consciously or unconsciously each day. At the Art Gym, Banyas gives a view to her process, with stacks of paintings (like the paintings she’s painted for years to “notate…the stories and dance processes I practice and teach”) made available on a shelf for the viewer to hang in arrangements on a clothesline, creating a movement score. These are accompanied by photo albums of rehearsals of the It’s Been a Busy Week Ensemble, a group of dancers who meet weekly. This weekend, May 14, Susan Banyas and the Ensemble perform at the Art Gym using Banyas’s image cards, photographs and notebook pages to make performance experiments illustrating elements of the busy week.

Also on view in the Art Gym’s Gallery 2 is Past Moves: Selected Archival Footage of Dance Performance in the 1970s and 1980s, which is a terrific tour of documentation of the work of the Portland Dance Theater and the companies that grew out of it. Portland State University Dance Professor Judy Patton, a member of Portland Dance Theater, has selected documentation of performances by Portland Dance Theater members Jann McCauley Dryer, Bonnie Merrill, Greg Bielemeier, Cathy Evleshin, and herself. Past Moves also shows work by the movement-based group, Susan Banyas founded with Louise Steinman, So&So&So&SO who worked with Elaine Velazquez on early video/performance works.

Artist Credit: Linda Austin, Susan Banyas, Tahni Holt, Robert Tyree and Linda K. Johnson, Jann McCauley, Dryer, Bonnie Merrill, Greg Bielemeier, Cathy Evleshin, Judy Patton, Louise Steinman, Elaine Velazquez

Courtesy: Oregon Arts Commission

Project Website

The Art Gym at Marylhurst University