It’s fall here in Portland, which means the trees put on their annual magnificent color show before the city turns into a water well. Autumn also brings with it the third Union PDX, a dance festival organized by the Portland company push / bend and played from November 4 to 7. Organized in 2020 by a panel of local dance professionals through a global open application process, Festival: 21 featured local, regional and national artists to share their work at the Hampton Opera Center.
On the program were Evelyn Tejeda, a contemporary urban experimental dancer and choreographer recently emigrated from the Dominican Republic; Tom Tsai, a Taiwanese dancer and choreographer based in Los Angeles mainly influenced by the modern dance technique Breakin ‘and Lewitzky; Samuel Hobbs, director and choreographer for the presentation of the company push / FOLD; Rebecca Margolik, contemporary dancer and choreographer based in New York; and Oluyinka Akinjiola, director, dancer and choreographer of Portland’s Rejoice! Diaspora dance theater.
Composed of four solos and a final group piece, the evening was faithful to its festival framework. The works executed were a patchwork quilt with a more abstract than linear stroke. Although the post-show conversation brought the pieces together under the general concept of movement-based identity research, I found the pieces to be very different from each other.
The first was that of Tejada Impossible to explain, a title at war with the program notes, which resonated with the need to be understood, seen and connected. “Do you understand me?” Tejada asks in her room. “Am I clear?” The setting for the dance is a mix of breakthrough and acro-contemporary groundwork, but the most poignant aspect of Impossible to explain is Tejada’s facial expression and his realistically executed tics. As Tejada crept around a circular carpet placed in the middle of the floor, her choreography was punctuated by repetitive contractions so believable and yet so perfectly interwoven into the choreography that I began to wonder if some of the work could be done. improvised. Tejada’s finesse in and out of this seemingly involuntary movement and back into extremely complex groundwork was impressive and well rehearsed.
In the post-show talk, Tejada confirmed that the piece was inspired by Tourette’s syndrome and that his research on movement had primarily focused on the juxtaposition of extremely fast tic-like movements with slow control. As the somewhat tortured labor drew to a close, Tejada’s tics progressed with audible vocalizations, each consecutively more laborious over time. Impossible to explain marries the most uncontrolled expression of human movement with the precision of professional dance in a way that makes the two seem more alike than different.
Then Tsai took to the stage with his self-choreographed solo from 2017. A fantasy of coming home. Deeply moving and evocative of Taiwan’s continued struggle for total independence, the piece is comprised of a multitude of news clips that bring together the historical tale of Taiwan’s marginalization over the past decades and set the tone for the bombings. repetitive injustice, censorship and the erasure of a country and its people. For Tsai, a descendant of victims and survivors of Taiwan’s martial law era, the work is personal. Part of the performance was a narration of her experience in 2018 with a dance festival in Singapore, in which the festival decided their music was too politically charged and denied their use of sound clips that directly refer to the struggle of the Taiwanese people. Ultimately, Tsai replaced the track with a “more sanitized” version and described the consequences of his own censorship for exposure and visibility as inauthentic and a process that “ultimately he didn’t there wasn’t much to be proud of. ”
Fast forward three years, and Tsai is here in Portland, doing the job with her initial integrity and sharing her story. A fantasy of coming home is patiently choreographed, using the full length to slowly experience the life and emotions that exist beneath the news clips. In an age when turning on the radio means tapping into the world’s latest monstrosities, we are oblivious to the real-life lives of those making the headlines. Tsai’s work brings the humanity of the Taiwanese people a few feet from onlookers, instead of an ocean of distance. His raw and inclusive movement opens a window to the marginalized communities of which he is a part. In the conversation, Tsai mentioned that the piece started out as an eight-minute solo. Now, A fantasy of coming home expanded to twenty minutes as Tsai adds recent news clips and continues to tell the story of his homeland and the dream of returning.
Before the intermission break, the first act ended with Hobbs’ new work Ghost pipe. Choreographed and danced by Holly Shaw, founding member of the push / FOLD company, Ghost pipe is inspired by Monotropa uniflora, a sacred medicinal plant also known as “Phantom Pipe”. The play began with Hobbs circling around the space, dropping white petals (reminiscent of the colorless petals of the Ghost Pipe plant) in their path as Shaw stood still in an inverted posture. The ceremonial start set a precedent for the duration of the play. Once Shaw released his posture and started moving, the choreography rehearsals mimicked Hobbs’ initial loops and took on a hypnotic tempo.
This new work fits in perfectly with Hobbs’ previous work, showcasing their swirling technical style that feels bound by the dancer’s center of gravity but requires an advanced understanding of the body’s natural pathways of movement. As always, Shaw carries out Hobbs’ work with strength, humility, and precision. Before the light even shines into the space, you can feel Shaw’s energy: alertness and attention to his body and his breathing. She is the kind of performer who fully exists in her movement, and Ghost pipe was no exception to this feature. Overall, the artwork feels like a fleeting experience: there and then gone, much like the existence of the Ghost Pipe plant, which is known to bloom above ground for only a week before dying, to turn black and dissolve in the earth.
If there’s one thing that Festival: 21 hasn’t lacked, it’s talent. After the intermission, the evening kept the bar high and the energy higher. Resume with the self-choreography of Margolick Bunker, the program fell back into personal and cultural reflection. Influenced by Margolick’s archival research of the women who resided at the 92nd Y Residence and the Clara de Hirsch Home for Girls Who Worked between 1899 and 1950, Bunker is a response to the diaries of the employees of these facilities which housed immigrant, lower-class and predominantly Jewish women. In an interview with the contemporary dance festival M1ContactMargolick explains that she felt connected to the stories of these women, having immigrated to America as a young Jewish woman herself at the age of 18. they often did not get married right away, instead they support themselves and live alone or with friends.
From the memories of these women, Margolick created Bunker to capture their life story through its own lens. The result is a tactile performance in which you feel both pain and resilience seep through Margolick’s art. On the choreographic level, the work uses contemporary dance as a means of traveling from expressive gestural movements to more methodical and pedestrian postures and prances. Similar to A fantasy of coming home, Bunker superimposes personal experience on history. Its depth is both dependent and elevated by its nods to a bygone era. Parts like Bunker and A fantasy of coming home questioning the linearity of time by bringing history into the living theater; as Margolik notes in the program, the work “reflects parallels, struggles and shared history across generations”.
Ultimately, Rejoice! Diaspora dance theater took the stage to end the program on an upbeat note. The band played Who we transport, which was created during the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to reclaim power and transform grief and loss through the ancestral roots of the Ring Shout traditions of the Gullah Geechee, Yoruba Orishas of the African Diaspora and the land from the Pacific Northwest. Led by the founder, dancer and choreographer Akinjiola in collaboration with the dancers, Who we transport animates Ring Shout traditions through the Afrofuturist vision. Based on an article titled Create new worlds with black art by the poet Aja Monet, Akinjiola drew prompts from the text to share with the dancers as a starting point for exploring the movement.
The piece begins with the group going around in circles, clapping and walking in rhythm with each other. From that initial moment of fellowship, the energy of the dancers remained in sync for the remainder of the performance, even when they broke up solo and in a group. During the post-show talk, company dancers Malik Delgado and Decimus Yarbrough commented on the deep ancestral roots of their dance. “Growing up, dancing came from my community. It’s my identity. When I do these movements, I think of the people who came before me. Being part of the street culture is how I connect with my ancestors, ”said Delgado. He explained that even breathing is part of the lineage passed down through dance. Yardbrough explained the posture in more detail: “On the ground, chest flush with the ground, knees bent, connected to the ground. It is ancestral. It is not technique. When we take the tour, it’s not just a BBoy Cypher. It goes back thousands of years.
The choreography is mixed with more everyday scenes, such as hanging the laundry on a rope brought when they enter. The care taken in group meetings as they went from solo dancing to quieter clothesline moments demonstrated the community rootedness that Yarbrough and Delgado referred to. The more literal interpretation of the title Who we transport suggests the becoming of one: with those you love in this life and those whose spirit you carry. In Who we transport, Rejoice reminds us that the living and the dance are one.
Overall, the festival performance was a success. They say the third time is the charm, but for this third annual iteration of Union PDX, the third time was just the beginning, as push / FOLD and festival collaborators continue to make a name for themselves, Union PDX. begins to fit into the city’s annual fall patchwork, as does the long-awaited and long-awaited turning of the leaves.