The Rumpus Room Dance website bills RESA as a chance for directors Stephan Laks and Rachel Tess to “renew their commitment to exploring the theme of tension and transition in Portland’s evolving urban neighborhoods.” Curiosity as to how they would do this without resorting to corny interpretive dance brought me downtown to the Ace Cleaners on Saturday. (Oh, and Alison asked me to go—but she sensed my curiosity, I think.)
Long story short, I didn’t get what I came for, but I did come away trusting that if Rumpus Room’s full-length, choreographed show at Disjecta (starting tonight) is as cleverly designed as this improvised trailer was, then it will be entertaining at least—thought-provoking at best. Now please, Rumpus Room, don’t let me down. It’s hard enough for me to trust, let alone people as pretty as yourselves.
On Saturday, Rumpus Room successfully turned Ace Cleaners—a blank canvas of an art space—into Portland’s living room. (Sorry Pioneer Square, but you’re out. Dave Chapelle has made a cuckold of you.) Imported furniture like a library card catalog, worn antique couches, and an earthy-toned still life of a stump helped cultivate the Northwest hominess. At the center of the room was a dining room table littered with glasses, like the remnants of a very long dinner party. As the dancers moved in pairs, trios, or alone around the table, the Ace’s wrap-around windows became eye candy for downtown pedestrians.
The experience for those who ventured in was at once relaxed and taut. People came and went freely, swapped seats and got up for glasses of wine as they pleased, adding to the living-room feel. The dancers skirted around them, adapting their moves spontaneously, and creating the element of you-better-not-take-your-eyes-off-this. Viewers (on the outside) stopped to gaze and/or light a cigarette, providing yet another display for those inside. I’m always skeptical of artists who claim they want to make their work “more accessible” and “reach new audiences,” but Rumpus Room backed up the talk.
After the preview, I still wasn’t sure how RESA would express solid ideas about Portland neighborhoods. While I saw elements that could be expanded to communicate a point of view—like a spoken narrative accompanying some parts—I didn’t get a cogent story at the preview. But it was a just a teaser, after all. It’s not supposed to give too much away.
Turns out though, I was wrong all along. RESA isn’t a show about “tension and transition” in Portland’s evolving neighborhoods, it’s one about “tension and transition” made in Portland’s evolving neighborhoods. It was assembled and rehearsed Kenton, at the Disjecta Theater, and lastly at Ace Cleaners. Director Stephen Laks points out that the company would be remiss to even attempt such a statement, since Tess is the only Portland native, and the six dancers spend as much time here as they do scattered abroad. (Rumpus Room Dance is dually based in Portland and Göteborg, Sweden.) Erghnm, uh, oops, my bad.
Rather, “Portland comes along in little pieces,” says Laks. “It’s like aging wine in a barrel. It takes on the quality of the wood.” Resa is the Swedish word for journey, so fittingly if any one topic is the centerpiece here, it’s “journey both physical and non-physical.” It’s not about Portland, but it’s in Portland, which is one of many stops on a longer journey for the performers.
I’ve cleared up my misconceptions about the show, and if I’m understanding it right, it should be good.
RESA premieres tonight at Disjecta (8371 N Interstate Portland) with shows at 7 and 9 pm, and runs until August 1st.
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