Shaun Keylock greeted an audience at Lincoln Performance Hall on Nov. 13, reminding everyone that it had been two years since his namesake Shaun Keylock Company took the stage in this way, and that they were so grateful to be on hand. return. It was the second and last evening of the company ROMPa retrospective of works choreographed by Gregg Bielemeier.
Affirming its commitment to the city’s LGBTQ+ dance alumni, Keylock has teamed up with Bielemeier to present this retrospective of nine massive works created between the early 90s and early 2000s. For those unfamiliar with the historical ins and outs of Portland’s complex dance scene, Bielemeier became a dancer around 1971 with the Portland Dance Theater, and pursued what we might today call “contemporary” concert dance in a myriad of ways . as a teacher, performer and choreographer.
I’m wary of concert dancing presented in this way – it’s often plagued with uproar and violence in its attempts to bring down any kind of meaningful spectacle for an audience that can pay (in this case, at least $20 the post) in the current social context. conditions. However, I found this evening full of substance and heart, tracing lines of influence that crossed an underexplored generational divide and tugging at the threads of lineage locally. There is an intimacy to the dance scene in a city this size, which ROMP drawn from the living archives of Bielemeier’s work.
The first dance of the evening, Suit side in (1996), nicely organized the whole evening based on Bielemeier’s tendencies and aesthetic preferences. The most obvious costumes were faithful recreations of Adam Arnold, with heavily padded shoulders. These suits popped up as seven performers filtered onto the stage, with reverse features such as back flap pockets and external undergarments. This first dance also featured the staggered formations that Bielemeier would go on to invoke, as well as the dynamic leaps, high kicks and (almost) restless gestures, which often overturned more presentation moves.
For the second number, One more time, Aaron Peite performed a brilliant solo with a lot of ballet influence, set to accordion music. He wore a ruffled orange shirt and gray capri pants, all fashionable since 1998 when the piece debuted. Watching Peite dance, I wondered: Did Gregg Bielemeier originally dance this solo? Who will play Gregg tonight? The choreography felt imbued with a clear historicity, activated in the performance by this young dancer. The differences in generational aesthetics, with lines that go back before this lifetime, closed for a moment.
another solo, The swan rises, came next, in a charming performance by Liane Burns. This dance was set to a melancholy string composition by Camille Saint-Saëns, which was originally popularized in the famous ballet solo The dying swan (1905). But Bielemeier’s choreography reversed that swan’s death: it began when Burns collapsed on stage. She turned silent floor work into a flourishing dance, then abruptly walked away, leaving a searchlight to search for her. In traditional Bielemeier fashion, the choreography for this solo would stray away from finished lines, as if to let the audience know that the presentation is just a joke and that conclusions rarely happen as intended.
The third solo of the evening, Rilda’s walk, was performed by Annie Borden. This dance was full of turns, with the timbre of a jig. Puffy pillows were thrown onto the stage throughout the dance, and some even collided with Borden, who happily continued to perform his dance. This whole ordeal reminded me of my attempts to take line dancing lessons at home during the Covid-19 lockdown. At the end of the solo, Borden muscled in an impossible attempt to remove all the pillows from the stage at once—failure and humor emerged as twin themes that night.
The number before the intermission, ManTango Opera Lounge (1993), stood out as such a robust work that it deserves more context. Originally, Bielemeier executed this work with Minh Tran, another longtime local dance artist and educator at Reed College. Tonight’s re-enactment featured guest dancers Kenny Frechette and Edromar Undag. As I watched the two dance side by side in their black lace costumes, backed by a smoldering orange canvas, I wondered: How gay could you be, publicly, in Portland in the 90s, when this work was made?
The duo performed their rigorous choreography for what seemed like an extremely long time. As the dance progressed, a subtle intimacy resurfaced through the layers of athleticism. One dancer leaned over while the other sat on top (dare I say mounted?) and then slid down. The two lying side by side in ambiguity. This dance did not make urgent demands from an identity point of view, but it was imbued with an affective queerness for those who wished to experience it… I did it, and it was moving.
After the intermission, Keylock emerged to play SK Swan (excerpt)-a short solo for which he wore a belt of many loose ties. Somehow, it seemed fitting that Bielemeier repurposed those gender-silly accessories into a whimsical skirt, which offered plenty of movement for dancing. A whole piece, Sfumata (2002) came next, full of spirited partnerships and duets that blurred into trios.
Why are you (1993) concluded firm performance. In the past, I had noticed that the way dancers took turns on stage often had an undercurrent of function, allowing them to rest and rest between moves. But the way this athletic trio of dancers shared the stage seemed meaningful, allowing me to notice each one’s individuality. I imagined Bielemeier putting in the work, maybe with friends in Portland.
ROMP concluded with a video projection of a younger Beilemeier, dressed in a suit with a red jacket, performing Romantic Dance (excerpt). Suddenly, the same red jacket came down from the theater ceiling. Bielemeier jumped down from the wings, took the jacket from its perch and put it on. The dancers and Keylock joined him on stage for a series of closing bows to end the program.
Something about a strange story of friendships hit hard at the end of ROMP, as if the performers were not only tracing the movement but also the threads of various relationships that had existed over time. The choreography was distinctly Bielemeier’s – stylistically energetic and cardiovascularly challenging, with a few moments of stillness or stillness. Yet he didn’t ask the dancers to bend on every conceivable axis, thrash about in violent gestures, or break their knees in the service of compromising floor work. In short, it didn’t seem to exploit their relative youth and mobility in those all-too-familiar ways, so I didn’t worry about them (as I often do). Instead, I was able to soak up the generous and unique contributions they each made to the intimate and strange structures of Bielemeier’s living archive.