Oslund & Company Dance – 2000

March 23, 2000

Mary Oslund & Company/Dance

PCC Sylvania Performing Arts Center

Portland, Oregon

March 23?25, 2000

Reviewed by Martha Ullman West

Put a videotape of Mary Oslund’s Behavior in a time capsule marked 2000, and a century from now viewers will know about the impact on the human psyche of the high-tech, high-speed American zeitgeist at the turn of the millennium.

Oslund is this city’s most cerebral choreographer: Her approach to movement design is speculative, thoughtful, exploratory and highly imaginative. In many respects, her latest evening-length work, created in collaboration with designers Kirsty Munn and Yariv Rabinovitch, is the most intellectually oriented dance she has created to date. Nevertheless, Behavior packs a powerful emotional punch.

This is in part due to the music, a taped collage of mostly electronic sound created by Portland composer Dale Svart with a score by Australian composer Darrin Verhagen and a snippet from The Orb. White noise and piercing sound accompany sections of dancing that have the propulsive energy of a rocket lifting off a launchpad, with no small physiological affect on the viewer.

Oslund’s idiosyncratic fusion of Cunningham technique and the push and pull of contact work is stretched and manipulated, revved up and melted down in a series of solos and duets that, however they are accompanied, are consistently interesting to watch, although at seventy-five minutes with no intermission the piece does test the endurance of the audience.

Feet and hands are often flexed and the shape of the choreography is angular and harsh. Partnering is highly physical, weighted and balanced with lifts that are sometimes tender, occasionally violent. Movement for the eight-member ensemble is very much designed?diagonals pierce the stage like arrows, giving Behavior pattern and shape.

Most of the dancing is done at very high speeds, but occasionally a swooping, lyrical solo, such as one for Portland dancer Carla Mann, provides some much-needed respite from the relentless pace. Rinda Chambers, whose inherent elegance is brought out by Oslund’s choreography, and the explosive Veronica Lee gave other fine performances; both are new to the Portland dance scene. Oslund’s own solo, which began with running in place and getting nowhere and had some characteristically jittery moments, could be construed as autobiographical, although it has no narrative content.

The visual aspects of the piece?costumes that radically changed the appearance of the dancers and a strip of lights at the back of the stage that at intervals changed color and looked a good deal like airport runway lights?gave it a highly surrealistic atmosphere. Lighting designer Jeff Forbes is not listed as a collaborator on the program, but should be; saturated colors used as a backdrop enhanced the choreography in some startling ways; shifts in the intensity of the lights defined the work’s changing moods. Behavior is very much about the impact of technology on human relationships in contemporary life; Forbes’s lights clarify the message.