Tag Archives: Gregg Bielemeier

Hot and sweaty at Conduit Dance: Don’t think, just feel

Here’s what I think. I think we think too much.


About art.

Linda Austin. Photo: Daniel AddyAbout visual art, definitely. We’ve created a mumbo-jumbo priesthood of commentary and pretend the intellectual abstraction is more important than the physical experience of the art itself. Which it is, but only sometimes. And far less often than the priesthood likes to think.

Also about dance, which on the face of it is about as physical and sensual as an art form can be: One’s body is one’s art. That doesn’t mean dance isn’t driven by ideas, from folk styles to ballet and modern and the most contemporary expression. Yet in no other art form is it so literally true that an artist creates a body of work.

On Friday night Portland was happily busting the spine of an unPortland-like heat wave, but the word hadn’t drifted up to the fourth floor of downtown’s Pythian Building, where giant fans were whooshing to keep the sticky air circulating at Conduit Dance. Conduit’s in a bit of a pickle financially right now, and so it’s putting on a series of benefit performances this weekend and next, and Friday was opening night.

A hot and sticky affair, as it turned out: For a change, the audience got a feel for what it’s like to be out on the floorboards, sweating under the lights. Because so much of the audience was made up of dance people, anyway, it just helped to create a here-we-are-together mood. And because the wet heat had the mildly giddy effect of a low-grade fever, it encouraged dispensing with analysis and just experiencing the thing. As Paul McCartney put it, Let it be.

For years I’ve watched Linda Austin, a smart and funny woman who’s established herself as one of the city’s leading contemporary performers, and for years I just haven’t quite got what she’s up to. Linda’s out there, and I’ve spent a bit of time trying to figure out where “there” is and exactly why she’s taking us to it. In that suss-out-the-puzzle sense her Friday night performance, a solo study for her work-in-progress Bandage a Knife, was pretty familiar in its unfamiliarity: Who besides Linda knows what that chanting and waving of lights was all about?

Continue reading Hot and sweaty at Conduit Dance: Don’t think, just feel

Elegant, physical, forward dance: The pleasure was ours

Phase Phrase, tere Mathern. Photo: Performance Works Northwest

Our partner-in-scattering Martha Ullman West, taking a break from the balletic battles, scurried over to Performance Works Northwest over the weekend for a shot of contemporary-dance fresh air. Here’s her report:


“I am wired for skepticism. I cannot leave the questions alone. They unravel everything. My skepticism is like an old screen door. There is a metal smell and old dust that stings my nose. There is a tiny hole in the screen, which I can’t help but worry larger with my finger.”

— Sarah Hart

What that text had to do with the movement, the elegant, thoughtful, considered and highly physical dancing presented at Performance Works Northwest last weekend beats me, but Daniel Addy’s installation, consisting of a screen door with a moist green landscape projected behind it, and on the other side of the studio, a window with a watery view, framed The Portland Project handsomely.

TouchMonkey. Photo: Performance Works Northwest The show began with TouchMonkey, in the persons of Carolyn Stuart and Patrick Gracewood, who are longtime practitioners of Contact Improvisation, a form based on trust and the ability to make on-the-spot kinetic connections. Stuart was wearing a black cloth over her eyes, which meant her responses to Gracewood were entirely by touch and contact.  Their duet, titled Special Alembics, (nice pun!) was performed to music played live by Eddy Deane, Alley Teach, and David Lyles of The Contact Lounge Band.

The performance was at once sensual and intellectual, and downright suspenseful. My God, what are they going to do next? I thought at one point, as they entwined and re-entwined their bodies on the floor, becoming at times a single body that appeared to have eight misplaced limbs. Nobody “wired for skepticism” can dance with a partner blindfolded, it seems to me, particularly one on whom she depends to shape the next step in the dance.

Tere Mathern, one of this city’s most cerebral choreographers,
came next with Phase Phrase, performed by Hannah Downs, Sally Garrido-Spencer, Vanessa Vogel and Mathern herself. As they went along they embellished the propulsive phrase they performed and then stripped it down again, characteristically geometric and angular.  The four women to some degree played off one another, but this dance was pretty clearly planned ahead of time, with plenty of contact — one dancer touching another on the shoulder, causing that dancer to extend her arm in a straight line — but little improvisation. Tim DuRoche created a score that was minimalist to the Nth degree; I’ve liked his previous collaborations with Mathern and Mary Oslund, but this one I found exasperatingly repetitious.

Sometimes dancing is just about dancing, despite the program note about Gregg Bielemeier‘s Tracings that explains it is a duet working with the idea of distilling form, vessel and shadowing. And what a pleasure to watch Taylor Alan Young, a recent arrival in Portland, incorporate Bielemeier’s relaxed-appearing movement style into his own body. That kind of ease, that comfort in one’s own skin, is hard to come by, particularly the juxtaposition of small movements of head, neck, hands, against large, traveling ones.

What all three choreographers have in common isn’t Hart’s intriguing text, but rather the experience and wisdom to abstract from it a mood, or an atmosphere, or a dance that expands the horizons of the audience and at the same time provides a great deal of pleasure.

The Portland Project was skillfully curated by Anne Furfey, who produced it along with Linda Austin as part of Performance Works Northwest’s Alembic series.

Taylor Alan Young (left), Gregg Bielemeier. Photo: Performance Works Northwest

Martha Ullman West on Dance United: a personal take

Like so many great art forms, dance is a series of interlinked relationships and memories, a tradition that continually redefines and reinvents itself. It lives in the past, and the present, and the future, and its story is written in the memories and associations of open-hearted observers as well as the muscles of dancers and the patterns in choreographers’ minds.

Dance writer Martha Ullman West, one of our best observers, took in last Friday’s Dance United, and for her it was like biting into a madeleine: The reminiscences and connections just began to flow. Somehow, no matter how far-flung, they all looped back to Oregon Ballet Theatre, its history and successes, and this extraordinary event to keep the company alive and vital.

Here is the link to Martha’s review in The Oregonian of the performance. And here, below, is her more personal report on what it all meant:

Daniel Ulbright, New York City Ballet. Photo: BLAINE TRUITT COVERTReally, it was a cross between a potlatch and an Obama rally, a gathering of the clans.

Dancers came from Texas, Utah, Massachusetts, Canada, Washington state, California, Chicago, Idaho, and that other geographical location, in New York called Downtown, here designated as Portland’s modern and contemporary dance community.

The gifts they brought were generous: their talent and their time. And they were welcomed to Keller Auditorium with the same enthusiasm as Obama’s supporters do and did, reaching into their wallets with many relatively small donations to keep Oregon Ballet Theatre alive. On Tuesday, OBT had in hand $720,000 of the $750,000 it needs to make up THIS season’s deficit.

I’ve been watching dance in Portland and elsewhere for more decades that I wish to reveal, and professionally since 1979, when I wrote an essay on postmodern dance in New York for Dance Magazine. In so many ways, this gala triggered some Proustian moments, also making me think of all the ways that dance and dancers are connected to each other.

Linda Austin’s thoroughly postmodern “anybody-can-dance, any-movement-on-stage-is-valid” Boris & Natasha Dancers (on catnip) took me back to New York’s SoHo and a performance created by Karole Armitage consisting of a group of dancers on their hands and knees, painting stripes on the floor, in humorless silence. They were not skilled at either painting or dancing, but it was the same democratic approach to the art form as Austin’s new dance, which featured such pillars of the Portland community as two Bragdons (Peter and David), Scott Bricker, James Harrison and Peter Ames Carlin galumphing across the stage, one of them wearing red sneakers that I wondered if he’d borrowed from White Bird’s Paul King. (Armitage, you may remember, also made work on OBT’s dancers on James Canfield’s watch.)

Sarah Van Patten Damian Smith, SFBallet. Photo: BLAINE TRUITT COVERTThe Joffrey Ballet’s Aaron Rogers, performing Val Caniparoli’s Aria, recalled for me the profound pleasure of watching Val work with Portland dancers, first at OBT’s precursor Ballet Oregon, and then at OBT. Caniparoli’s kindness and courtesy in the studio turned out to be extremely productive when the company performed his Street Songs and other work. Rogers looked like he was enjoying himself, flirting with that mask, and certainly seduced the audience in the process.

And I thought about Mark Goldweber, ballet master at OBT under Canfield, then for some years at the Joffrey, and now at Ballet West. (He gave the only authentic performance in Robert Altman’s dance film The Company, in my view.) I wondered what Mark thinks about the way Adam Sklute, now Ballet West’s artistic director, staged this version of the White Swan pas de deux.

When I encountered this ballet’s real-life Prince Siegfried, Christopher Ruud, at OBT’s studios earlier in the week, I spoke with him about his father, who had helped Todd Bolender at Kansas City Ballet (Bolender is the subject of a book I’m working on). Ruud told me he had staged one of his father’s pieces on the company several years ago.

Continue reading Martha Ullman West on Dance United: a personal take

The smooth meets the idiosyncratic: Skinner/Kirk+Bielemeier

Let’s just say we’re about to face-plant along a truly scouring patch of financial gravel road. Let’s just say. And those responsible for the emotional health of the citizenry (who would that be exactly?) start looking for a way to cheer us up, bread and circuses before we become an angry mob. Who should they call?

Here’s a vote for Gregg Bielemeier, because nothing brings a smile to your face faster than a Bielemeier dance. His dances are a little like those old Tex Avery cartoons, Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny, with maybe a little Fantasia thrown in to class up the act a little, the amusing bits of Fantasiaanyway. They have their own madcap illogic, the same happy spirit, the same invitation into an absurd world. And at the end of the day, or the show, they are gentle somehow, too, even Utopian a little bit. We dance, and that is good.

As I was grinning through the “+Bielemeier” contribution to the Skinner/Kirk+Bielemeier dance concert, which runs through Sunday, Half of Some, Neither of Either, I finally just clicked my pen and put it back in my pocket, leaving the note-taking to someone else. I just wanted to connect to the jazzy mix of David Ornette Cherry’s winsome music and Lyndee Mah’s scatty vocals, to Bielemeier’s own madcap solos, to the sweetest duet imaginable from Habiba Addo and Eric Skinner, to the funny little bits and general joy of living tossed off by the rest of the dancers as if they didn’t have a care in the world.
Continue reading The smooth meets the idiosyncratic: Skinner/Kirk+Bielemeier