Fifty Infants’: terrifying, capricious movement reborn

Fifty Infants
A concert of new and reconstructed work by Mary Oslund, 1994-present
Fridays, Saturday and Sundays
April 12-28
8:30 p.m.
$12-students, artists, seniors
Conduit Studio, 918 S.W. Yamhill, Suite 401
Reservations:503-221-5857, ext. 3 or [email protected]

To understand Mary Oslund is to watch her company pull you through an evening of movement. I say “pull” because it is exactly that: a coaxing, a duel of sorts, a body seemingly suspended, yet moments later plummeting to a floor-slapping finish. The dancers and the choreography pull you through the soundscape of a swarm of bees, through the pounding of an anvil in some ancient shop and through a tropical night replete with crickets, warm wind and tribal politics.

Oslund emerged in the mid-’90s, after two decades of dance and choreography, as the region’s most celebrated modern choreographer. Her work has been lauded in the local and national press; Dance Magazine called her 2001 body of work “visually stunning.”

Even after the assault on the arts funding at the regional and national level, Oslund has remained an acute cultural critic. She often astonishes her audiences with searing commentary on technology, interpersonal relationships and the bodily binding associated with modern, and especially, urban life. The necessity of such a voice has been acknowledged with grants and citations from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Regional Arts and Culture Commission and the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts.

In the last five years Oslund has created a collection of modern dance both arresting in its technical complexity and replenishing in its emotional relevancy: “Terrifying Grace,” the PICA-commissioned “Behavior” and recently “9 Red Steps.” Attendance at a recent rehearsal revealed the corps of dancers engaged in the creation of “Fifty Infants,” an evening of reconstructed and new work beginning Friday at Conduit Studio (918 S.W. Yamhill).

Even while sewing machines hummed, lighting was tested and cues were debated, Oslund and her dancers burned through abrupt angle changes, disconcerting rushes to the front of the studio and choreographed disturbance seen not only on the body but on the face.

In one particularly poignant moment, dancers (in what can only be described as inconvenient polyester skirts and pants that harkened to an American heyday of prescription pain pills and depressing hospital-induced dreams) advanced toward the audience, sending a perceptible chill. In another, dancers moved through what suggested an aerobics class verging on chaos; producing a sense of whimsy coming terrifyingly undone.

Later, dancers Carla Mann and Rinda Chambers appeared instantly, in near-confrontation with the front of the stage. They proceeded with a challenge to themselves and to the audience: Can you keep up? Rapid-fire movements were twisted into arm angles, nearly an inverted-reflection of MTV-style choreography, yet so brief that it bordered on the illusory.

“Fifty Infants” promises to be an exhilarating evening of modern dance and movement. It should not be missed.