The Halprin fountain dance, one week later

I thought I was done with the Halprin fountain “event” or “happening” or “dance” — I still can’t quite name it — that ended the Time-Based Art Festival in Portland last Sunday (that would be Sept. 14). But I keep getting flashbacks of the performance, replaying little bits in my mind, thinking about some of the music I heard. You know what that’s like: Something more than random neurons firing.

I’ve had a couple of aids in this. The first is visual. Art Scatter received a very nice email from writer Brett Campbell, who was also very taken with the Halprin happening and said he was working on an essay of his own. When he completes it, we will link to it. This is right down his alley: He’s working on Lou Harrison book and Harrison was in the middle of the San Francisco milieu of Lawrence and Ana Halprin. But as a memory igniter, Brett’s wife, photographer CaroleZoom, was actually more important, because she sent us some images of the event. Quite beautiful ones, which explain the adulatory comments I heard about the first piece of the performance choreographed by Tere Mathern — which I was unable to see (I was late, it was too crowded). So, I’ve posted those here.

And there was the thread to the original post… Randy Gragg, one of the key organizers, responded a couple of times. Carolyn Altman, who was a Portland dancer/choreographer/writer, wrote in from Georgia, where she now lives, with memories of the fountains. Dance writer Martha Ullman West got things going and left us wanting more of her eye on the dances themselves.

And realizing that I missed Martha’s eye made me understand how inadequate the description of things in the original post was/is. If I could do it over, I would try to tell you how the dancers moved, more than simply saying it was “old-style” modern dance, carving space, attending to changes in topography and water flow, operating at scales tiny and grand, how they rolled and buckled and ran, the qualities in the momentary tableaux, the muscle groups engaged and relaxed, the dancers and the way their dance personalities emerged. The music would be harder for me — help us, Brett! — fleeting, sporadic, in search of original impulses to propel it, guide it, original impulses to communicate to us.

This specificity gets lost easily in the general sweep and chaos of outdoor performance. And I think that’s fine. Our attention wanders; we pick up information from the crowd; we go blank; we return. The course of this performance — from the Keller Fountain to Pettygrove Park to Lovejoy Fountain to the Source Fountain — the traveling of it, was part of the overall design, so even if you were chatting with your friends and neighbors as you walked from site to site, oblivious to everything but your conversation, you were a “performer” in the event. It would have been less if you weren’t there. To the crowd handlers, dressed in white, who directed us, you were the instrument to be played, preferably with minimal verbal communication.

So, anyway. I believe that a “good” performance is too rich to describe once and for all, or even adequately, I suppose. Maybe the best you can do is to compare your description with those of others, re-live the poetry of it through them, re-plot its contours with their help, re-enjoy the whole thing. You don’t even have to be there, as Carolyn Altman reminded me, to participate in this re-play…