Of the many challenges a dancer/choreographer can take on, 60 minutes on stage solo is about as hard as it gets. Second hardest would be dancing with props. For her TBA show, Three Trick Pony, longtime Portland dance-maker Linda Austin combined the two. She also added a third risk, using sculpture for the props, in this case, by longtime local sculptor David Eckard.

As the lights came up at the Conway performance space, Austin shook up and down almost pneumatically. Dressed in beige shorts, red tank, and near-knee-high black riding boots, she then began shaping a vocabulary of moves that seemed drawn from a very restless night in a ‘tweener’s bedroom. Eckard populated the stage with objects that fused his longtime themes of made-up function, pageantry, torture, and playful eroticism—stuff you might find in a Calvinist’s dungeon imagined over a glass of wine between John Waters and Robert Gober: a large, medieval-looking (but pink!) plunger-like thing, a big paddle-like implement with a brush, the side of playhouse, some furry steps equipped with a harness,  a rolled up futon hanging in the air equipped with a carnivalesque button you know will eventually get hit.

Linda Austin/David Eckard: Three Trick Pony
Con-Way
Mon at 6:30; Wed at 6:30

Austin makes dances out of regular life’s gestures. Her movement’s considerable discipline is all but invisible. In Three Trick Pony, she swims, falls, prays, scribes letters, puts on lipstick and kisses, and, occasionally does a Vaudevillian jig, many of these in pas de deux with Eckard’s objects—all to a very enchanting score of saxes, flutes, voices, and found noises by Doug Theriault and lit by Austin’s ever talented partner (in life and art), Jeff Forbes. (In the program, Austin says the ‘three’ in the title refers in part to the three-way collaboration between Eckard, Theriault, and herself).

Austin generally likes to dance around any literal themes in favor of more pure, kinesthetic, and simple visual connections. (My favorite moment was when she simply draped her hair over the side of Eckard’s house-side sculpture: the gesture brought the object to weird life.) But in much of the first half of the show it’s hard to miss the concept of alienation from the very objects she’s surrounded by. But as she repeats a variation of the choreography a second and then third time (another way her three tricks play out), she starts to incorporate the sculptures, her relationship with each gradually growing deeper, and soon she is even combining them into tools. The rolled up bedding’s button punched finally offers its treasures. And by the end, Austin has found a kind of harmony.

Apart from being one of the only local shows among TBA’s mainstage events, I eagerly awaited this work for the fusion of two different but potentially combustible aesthetics. Austin is one of Portland’s most respected and fertile creators and no stranger to risk. A veteran of Manhattan’s downtown performance-art scene before she moved here in the early ‘00s, she’s worked with, among others, the fearless experimentalist Richard Foreman. Both she and Eckard are talented, surprising, and, often, very funny (the latter an ingredient both dance and vizarts could use more of these days). And, indeed, there were moments of high craft, concept, and, once in a while, humor.  Yet, unfortunately, this was a dance longer on transitions than fusion. As it progressed, I felt like I was spending a lot of time waiting for the next enchanting move.

But, as in parachuting (at least most times), performance offers second chances (Monday at 6:30) and, in the case of her TBA run this week, a third (Wednesday at 6:30). Austin’s been in the biz far too long to not tighten Three Trick Pony up and make the next jump more exciting and the landing more solid.
 

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