Traversing the spectrum

One of the most endearing qualities of the Portland art scene is the "Let’s put on a show!" attitude of its more energetic participants. Performance is approached with a childlike vigor where nothing appears impossible and no obstacle is insurmountable. At the same time, Portland artists temper this exuberance with a measured maturity and introspection that is purely adult. The results can be jarring, sublime and often confounding. The delicate balance between intention and ability is found with difficulty. The collaborating artists who created the six performance pieces for "Chroma," a meditation on color presented by Telegraph at Gallery 500 last weekend, certainly exhibited their vigor and ability though their intentions may have at times been elusive.

The performers played to a standing-room-only crowd Sunday at Gallery 500. On the show’s third evening, it was clear that word had gotten out that audience members should expect an evening of eclectic expression. After the dimming of the lights and two false starts the audience was treated to an intense barrage of visual and auditory stimuli.

Of the six pieces, "Red" was the only performance that deftly alternated the focus between its two elements, Justin Westcoat Sanders’ film and the choreography by Tahni Holt of Monster Squad. Holt’s highly physical choreography cleverly and subtly mimicked the action of Sanders’ surreal film. Between black-and-white scenes in which two men antagonized each other with an obscenely aggressive toothbrushing marathon, dancers Daniel Addy and Angelle Herbert breathlessly bounced and propelled one another across the stage. The color, revealed at the end of the piece, is in a pool of blood and toothpaste swirling in the bathroom sink in the final scene of Sanders’ film.

The piece closest to "Red’s" interplay of film and dance was "Orange." In this piece, three dancers in orange safety vests careen violently about an orange safety netting enclosure, as if to present the idea that safety is not always safe, despite what precaution we might take. Occasionally the dancers freeze, allowing the animation of Randall Davis Wakerlin to be projected upon them. The action was also interrupted by two conservatively dressed women, who appeared to mock and challenge the dancers. One particularly nice touch was the citrus scent that pervaded Orange after the two women mangled some particularly juicy oranges.

The most beautiful use of video and dance was "Blue Tapes," in which dancer and choreographer Mike Barber was manipulated and eventually immobilized by dancer Jenn Gierada as they moved between two levels in front of Jeremy Bird’s creepy film that traveled between rapid montages of figurative scenes and undulating backgrounds that created halos and auras around the dancers.

The music of the pieces created the third nuanced layer of the already complicated pieces. Several fine examples stood out in terms of aural contributions. The music of William Helfrich, Travis Engle and Annie Van Thillo was a lovely indie rock soundtrack for "Purple," as symbol splashes accented the purple explosions of Orland Nutt’s animated mollusks, while a trio of dances swayed through the aquatic choreography of Susan Davis. Also of note were the color-guided modulations of Tara Jane O’Neill’s single spoken phrase that provided the score for "Green." The undulating composition, meant to mimic a neurological disorder, was the saving grace of this highly confusing and difficult piece.

In the end, what spoke most to the show’s success was the effect created upon leaving the Gallery at the end of the performance. After being so focused on the monochromatic world created by the collaborating artists, the outside world – the city streets of Portland – was never so vivid and saturated with the amazing spectrum of hues normally taken for granted in day-to-day life.