Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dancing with Anna Halprin + John Jasperse

Portland Monthly's Culturephile, with the tag-team of Anne Adams and NY Times critic Claudia La Rocco, has had a great TBA festival.  La Rocco's familiarity with many of the performers and even specific shows has added a level of depth to the "coverage ecology" this year that has been welcome, and that's in addition to her keen eye and careful way with a sentence. And I'm always interested in Adams' take on things, speaking of keen eyes and active minds.

I wish the next line was: "But I come to bury Culturephile, not to praise it." Because the set-up is perfect. But no, I simply wanted to introduce la Rocco (and point you in her direction) so that I'd feel better about repeating one of her observations about the little Anna Halprin "Event" at Lovejoy Fountain last evening. Here's a video (rather long, 16 minutes) that features Halprin talking about her long career in dance:

The happening wasn't widely advertised, and it's entirely possible that the number of dancers (20? 30?) exceeded the number of spectators.  Mostly it was a guided investigation of the fountain, designed by Anna's late husband Lawrence -- the dancers walked and shuffled and waded in and around the water and the falls, singly then in pairs and small groups. The dancers (too many to name, of course, but including Linda Austin, Cydney Wilkes, Tere Mathern and Mike Barber) were rather sedate to begin with, but gradually became more and more expressive and idiosyncratic as time passed.

If you'd been following dance here during the past few decades, nothing about the structured improv (Halprin herself had a pitch pipe to signal the completion of one section of the dance and the beginning of another) would have seemed all that out of the ordinary, neither the little curlicues of individual meandering nor the swirls of group interaction nor the gazing at imaginary objects in the gray, wet sky.

But La Rocco put it into some context for me: as "granola" as it all seemed, it was amazing how much of current dance practice could be located in that 45 minutes or so of activity.  I think of it as the "West Coast" contribution to modern dance, which arrived via Halprin, her acolytes and Trisha Brown. And maybe if I were going to really s-t-r-e-t-c-h a point, Merce Cunningham, though I know that story is more complex than that. For that matter, so is Brown's. And here in Portland, I am so accustomed to it, that I don't really "see" it anymore.

Some of that influence was on display in John Jasperse's TBA festival presentation, Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking and Flat Out Lies, last night at the renovated Lincoln Hall, mostly in its occasional informality and giddy self-absorption. Which isn't to say that I especially liked it.

Usually, I am undeterred by episodic, seemingly unrelated fragments collected together in a dance. I think of them as little short stories in a short story collection, and move on to the details. But in Truth, Revised Histories, for some reason, I found the lack of unity and clarity of purpose irritating. And that irritation got in the way of the humor, at least for me. Or maybe it was the tension? Or the social commentary on the violence lurking below the surface of bourgeois delight?

It also seemed a bit familiar, didn't it? The slow-motion fight? The lads rolling about in jock straps? The tango segment? The ninjas? Though the performers were all sharp, it must be said, and threw themselves into the humorous bits, playacting drunkenness or confusion or snobbishness. When they actually danced, especially in the fine, long closing section, they were a delight to watch, clear without mathematical precision, each finding a path through the relatively simply but logically insinuating phrases that made perfect sense.

So, this isn't to say that I've put paid to Jasperse, just that this one didn't engage me as I'd hoped and maybe even expected.