POV Dance investigates and incorporates the Leftbank Project
By JAMUNA CHIARINI, Oregon ArtsWatch
The Leftbank Project, a modest group of buildings originally built in 1923 and designed by great Portland architect A.E. Doyle, began its life housing The Hazelwood (a restaurant, bakery and creamery), and then in turn it became a beer parlor, a famous jazz club called The Dude Ranch, and the home of Mutual Wholesale Drug Co. and Multicraft Plastics. Now, completely refurbished, it is the center for a whole new community of high-tech Portlanders.
It may seem odd to start a dance review with a little architectural history, but this gorgeous building with its giant arched windows was the inspiration and setting for a new work by choreographers Mandy Cregan and Noel Plemmons of POV Dance. The work is called 3×3, and it’s equally stunning.
Here’s what happened on opening night:
As we received our tickets at the door, each of us was assigned to one of three groups names for the buildings former occupants: The Hazelwood, The Garage or Mutual Drug Co. A guide led each group through the evening and directed their viewing experience. Each group began viewing the performance from a different location around the building. I was part of the The Hazelwood group, which started in the main foyer watching a film of the dancers projected on a wall of hanging mesh.
When the short film ended, a pair of dancers quietly entered, and we were directed to encircle the bottom of the stairs to watch them effortlessly and skillfully maneuver and explore in and around the stairs, the railings, the surrounding open spaces, and each other.
The dance continued to wind itself up and down stairwells, down hallways, into smaller rooms, finally culminating in the union of all six dancers and all three groups in the central first floor area. The finale was a combination of the dancers hanging and twisting from the steel supports, in unison group choreography and several duets. As it began to wind down, they began dispersing and disappearing into the crowd as quietly as they had come.
Many times during the performance we found ourselves mere inches from the dancing bodies, almost perilously so. That sense of danger extended to fear for the dancers, whose acrobatics along stairwells and in halls exposed them to hard surfaces and near big drop-offs. Kids at home: Don’t hang over the railings!
The dancers energy was contagious, though, and the experience offered us multiple perspectives to view and frame the dance from. My 3×3 is going to be different from yours, even if you’re in the same group to start.
The building is made of a combination of glass, metal, concrete, wood and offered a variety of multiple textures and colors. The choreography, the costumes (by Leigh Anne Hilbert), video (by Patrick Weishampel) and music (composed by Katie Griesar and Luke Matter) captured the essence of that architecture and all of its elements expertly.
The ability of the dancers (Mandy Cregan, Taylor Eggan, Megan Faria, Cameron Growden, Rachael Lembo, Noel Plemmons) to have equal strength in their upper bodies as well as their lower, to move from being bipedal to quadrupedal was astounding. The partnering was tender, and strong. They reminded me of the different parts of the building leaning in on each other to create a structure.
The tone of the piece stayed consistently moderate throughout, and the movement became repetitious towards the end. This made the piece feel longer than it was, and I found myself yearning for emotional variation or dramatic climaxes in the choreography. But that is my personal preference in dance, and this choice by the choreographers seemed very deliberate.
And maybe the choice made sense, because I really felt that the dancers were an integral part of the building and its history, part human and part architecture. The idea that the dance and dancers existed in a space undetected by the people around them caused me to create a story in my mind. I imagined that they were ghosts living in the ether. No longer tied by social constraints they flowed among us, sliding down stair rails, hanging upside down, leaning off a railing and rolling on the floors.
The wonderful thing about art is that it has the power to transport us out of our heads and out of the crunch of daily life. I came to this performance feeling a little crabby and left feeling very enlivened and inspired.
POV Dance‘s 3×3 continues 8 pm Thursday-Saturday, 6 pm Sundays, through January 26 at Leftbank, 240 N. Broadway. Tickets are $20 for adult, $12 for children.