Last night, PICA's artistic director Angela Mattox introduced Three Trick Pony referring to Linda Austin as a cornerstone in Portland dance. What does a cornerstone of Portland dance look like? Last night’s performance looked partly like an absurdist play—there's no plot, just atmosphere—and partly like a quirky creative person (*cough*myself*cough*) alone in his/her apartment; Austin murmured to herself; she mumbled showtunes under her breath; there were hip shimmies.
Austin previously referred to the show as having cartoon qualities. The score (by Doug Theriault) supports that. It’s comprised of different horns, honk sounds, and very few words/lyrics, something like a score to a slapstick comedy. Austin is the only dancer in the performance, accompanied by props built by David Eckard. The props are excellent, formally and also in terms of how they move. They’re sculptural but also interactive; they’re minimalist, built out of wood, some built out of metal. One of them looks like a giant q-tip. One prop is made from wood and has a translucent screen; it has a wooden arm that pulls up to reveal a white, wing-like fabric attached to it. It looks like a sailboat, the fabric gives off a brilliant gleam from the lighting, and it is a showstopper (figuratively and literally, as it cues the end of the show).
Austin interacts with the props with playful curiosity. At times the show reminded me of watching my baby nephew as he discovers his toys and discovers how to play with toys, and also as he discovers his own limbs and comes to the slow realization that they're attached to him and that he exercises control of them. Austin repeats the same actions over and over; she throws her hair over her face and sings showtunes, “All I want is a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air,” she murmurs. Sometimes she grabs her props and nestles up to them, in a desperate-looking attempt to snuggle. There are occasional chuckles from the audience.
When the lights went out, there were a few hesitant claps…silence, waiting. Austin emerged from under a prop and stood up. Finally full-on clapping ensued. The show was over, but no one knew it was over, because it’s the kind of show that goes on and on and that seems like it could continue to go on and on, in some parallel universe, something like a Samuel Beckett play. Which means, it’s slow. (A couple people walked out of the show—there’s no narrative or build-up.) However it also means that it creates its own solid, absorbing, self-contained environment. Austin has truly built her own vocabulary of movement, and, in Three Trick Pony, the props, the music, and the lighting all coalesce to create an atmosphere all its own.
There are two more shows of Three Trick Pony, one tonight at 6:30pm and Wednesday at 6:30pm. Austin will also be in conversation with choreographer Karen Sherman this Saturday at PICA, at 12:30pm.
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