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