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Portico Dans Theatre and Tulsa Camerata

Portico Dans Theatre joins forces with the Tulsa Camerata this evening and tomorrow evening at 7pm at Guthrie Green‘s outdoor amphitheatre for a free performance called “Contemplations.” The evening explores the theme of loss, but don’t expect to leave bummed out. These artists charge everything they do with heart. (The only bummer might be rain; plans in that case are still to be determined.)

Portico Co-Artistic Director Jen Alden gave me the low-down on what to expect from this collaborative event.

The first piece is called “Train,” set to Steve Reich’s “Different Trains” for string quartet and pre-recorded tape. Both [Co-Artistic Director] Michael [Lopez] and I choreographed this, it is a new work. It begins as a process of what the body feels when riding a train and then moves into the emotion of riding a train. I think our thought is that when you ride a train you often have the time to think and be contemplative as you may have left someone to go somewhere or are going to meet someone. We explored the different feelings of both the romantic and not so romantic feelings of riding on a train depending on an individual’s circumstance.

In “Tears” (first performed for Project Alice, Summerstage 2010), the dancers embody water with flowing movement. One of the most important components of “Tears” is the 3 long pieces of stretch fabric in which the dancers are connected to each other. This is one I just love performing outside. I felt it was contemplative only for the reasons that when constructing the piece originally it was the summer after starting Portico and I spent a lot of time outside by the pool really watching the water intensely and that’s how this piece was created. It was one of the first pieces I did that just really came organically — basically the water gave me the movement.

At this point the Camerata will perform Jacob TV’s “Garden of Love,” for Solo Clarinet with pre-recorded tape and animation by Amber Boardman. This work explores sonic possibilities in the poem “Garden of Love” by English Romantic writer and artist William Blake with musical “commentary” provided by a solo instrument. (Dutch composer Jacob TV (aka Jacob Ter Veldhuis, 1951) started as a rock musician and studied composition and electronic music at the Groningen Conservatoire, where he was awarded the Dutch Composition Prize in 1980. During the eighties he made a name for himself with melodious compositions, straight from the heart and with great effect.)

Our next piece is “Orphan Train” (first performed for eMerge Dance Festival 2012). This work is inspired by a discussion with Steve Liggett of Living Arts when contemplating a work to be done for the eMerge Dance festival which was a site specific work to be done as part of the TyPros Red Fork Revival Street Cred.  The piece is based on the history of the orphan train, which was a social experiment that transported children from crowded coastal cities of the United States to the country’s Midwest for adoption. The orphan trains ran between 1854 and 1929, relocating an estimated 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children. The children were transported to their new homes on trains that were eventually labeled “orphan trains.” This period of mass relocation of children in the United States is widely recognized as the beginning of documented foster care in America. Displacement and loss of identity are themes that are prevalent throughout the movement. It includes live drumming by Dianna Burrup and spoken word recited by Deborah Hunter. This piece too came quite organically and for some reason is one of the most moving to me personally of what I’ve done. Each of the individual pieces (Heartbreak, Identity, Chattel, and Hope) [is] choreographed by a different person to really give each segment a different “feeling” as well as emotion. “Heartbreak” was originally choreographed by me for two of the students from Central high school. They play sisters that are riding on the orphan train and one dies before they reach the destination. “Identity” was originally choreographed by Cassie Hampton and now revised to fit Linda Clark is essentially about trying to find one’s identity and not knowing how to fit in to a new place. Linda is taking it a step further and is playing a boy also trying to determine his sexuality. “Chattel” was originally choreographed by Abbe Lansdown and revised by Maria Tate Reed. It is essentially about slavery and how some of the children were essentially sold as slaves to men; it explores loss of innocence. And the last was choreographed by Katie Feoick McCall and she came back to set this solo on me. It’s about a girl who misses her mother and is thinking about that as she rides the train but then at the end she is hopeful for the future.

“Persistence of Loss” (first performed for BorN, Summerstage 2012) explores the feelings of loss and, eventually, hope after coming to terms with loss. Each dancer represents a different form of loss: loss of a child (loved one), loss of love, loss of innocence, and loss of identity. Although I never told this to the company, I choreographed this piece for my Director who died when I was a senior in high school. So essentially all those feelings of loss, regret, etc. were put into the first piece and the second piece was more hopeful, remembering everything he gave me and how I get to share that with others.

Finally, we’ll perform a new work choreographed to Jacob TV’s “Jesus is Coming,” for Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Clarinet and pre-recorded tape.

(Notes from the composer: “’Jesus is Coming’ was composed in 2003, commissioned by the Dutch Fund for the Creation of Music. The composition is based on sound bytes from the streets of New York: an angry street evangelist on Times Square, and a small choir of the Salvation Army. The groove is based on rhythmical baby talk from 2 Dutch girls: 18 month old Welmoed and 2 year old Amber. The work was inspired by the post-9/11 trauma and the role of religion in the history of man: ‘God kills’. Is Jesus really coming? It is about time…”)

This one was really hard to choreograph because the music is very harsh and while I’m not a religious person, I didn’t want to be disrespectful to religion or religious people, nor did I want to disrespect the score or composer. So after a long discussion with Justin on it I formed the dance around in general what happens to a person as they grow and become religious or not religious (the belief in God, etc.) We start as babies, really having this innocence and not necessarily “needing” religion, but as we grow older and begin to be able to “sin,” religion plays a part in making sure we as a society don’t stray from social norms. Of course sometimes  and throughout history it has gone the other way when the religion is used in a literal way to persecute others. So really it was this juxtaposition of good and evil, religious vs. not, although not giving a commentary of whether either is good or bad — just that they exist. In the end it’s the idea if we went to back to being as innocent and truthful and good, as we were as children, we might be better off. In general this piece is about religious identity.

Sounds like a meaty evening of music and dance. What a joy to have these composers, choreographers, musicians, visual artists, and dancers bring such rich sights and sounds right into the heart of the easygoing bustle of downtown Tulsa. See you on the Green!