Sunday, September 21, 2003

Lend Me Your Attendance 

It’s too bad there weren’t more people at Quasar’s first show, because it was really, really good. That’s it. That’s as plain as I can say it, and if Quasar is as much about the "de-eliticization" of art as their program promised, that may be exactly the kind of review they’re looking for.

Audiences usually want a more meaty evaluation, though, and at fifteen dollars per show in a down economy, who can blame wanting to get your money’s worth. It’s an attitude to which the Brazilian troupe seems sensitive. Hailing from a country that’s been economically depressed for some time, Quasar is intent on addressing the results of a long fiscal downturn on Brazilian urban life. Poverty, community, violence, and isolation are all issues tenderly and thoughtfully regarded during their performance of "Lend Me Your Eyes."

From the beginning, Quasar uses a deliberate approach towards communicating their message to the audience. On a stage interrupted by glass panels, a figure casually begins adding white blocks to those already arranged at the back of the stage, and soon a wall appears. Onto this, a black and white video of an urban street scene is projected. A homeless person joins the men on the makeshift screen at the same time as a dancer walks stage right towards the projected image. Suddenly, she begins a slow descent towards the floor, mimicking the falling motion of the beggar projected behind her. She performs a long and frenetic solo that recalls the movements of someone in the process of being arrested. Her free form interpretation simultaneously evinces wonder and compassion when you realize that it’s based on the harsh circumstances of someone living on the streets.

Your position in the theatre can further complicate how you receive her actions. Depending on where you’re sitting, dancers are either blurred behind a glass panel or clearly seen. Quasar plays with that notion of perspective throughout the performance, asking the audience to consider the lens by which they view the vignettes that compose the first section of "Lend Me Your Eyes."

Using video footage of "interferences," as the program calls them, to introduce each vignette, Quasar follows with a masterful physical reading of the effects of urban life on the body. The interferences, mostly shot with members of the company, take place in various sites around Goiania, the company’s home base, and show the dancers in familiar scenes of life in a large metropolis. In one, a dancer plays the role of a drunkard, swaying in the middle of a subway car until he eventually falls over from the motion of the car. The other riders watch him warily, and none offer a hand when he collapses. In another interference, a woman huddles on the floor of a busy interior intersection while all around her, passersby travel. Her hunched body is an oasis among them. With such projections behind them, the dancers, dressed in tattered street clothes, offer their own interpretation of the scenes, often cueing off of a particular movement, like the drunk’s stumbling progression in the subway car.

An hour-long performance that cycles one depressing scene after the other would dull the effect of each, and Quasar skillfully transitions the next portion of "Lend Me Your Eyes" to focus more personally on Goiania’s inhabitants. The rent in the narratives stitched in the first half of the performance comes with the projection of an older man on the largest wall at the back of the stage. Unlike the previous images, his is in color, instantly adding a warmth that had been missing from the stage. A dancer garbed in a large white shirt stretches it so that it acts as a screen for him to "carry" the older man’s image to the front of the stage where the other dancers hold a sheet onto which the image is transferred. The man’s voice is soon overheard, and on the sheet, the audience reads the translation of his speech, narrating a long life of hard work and personal tragedy. He seems to conclude his story by stating a readiness for death and questioning the need for the old songs, for singing, but Quasar belies his bitterness by cutting to an excerpt of him singing. The man’s voice contrasts neatly with the mechanical instrumentals Quasar uses to great effect through most of the performance. Older human voices sing vernacular folk tunes and interrupt a soundtrack largely associated with contemporary urban environments, confirming that the old songs are still needed.

So proceeds the rest of "Lend Me Your Eyes," which leans on narratives from the elderly to meditate further on the themes of isolation and community as they occur in urban settings. Here are lives equally understood by those who live them as "used up" or as "wasted" as those of the characters that filled the first half of the performance. Quasar approaches both sets of stories with choreography that mixes wit, technical luminescence, and, ultimately, sympathy. The dancers use their physical prowess to create a miracle of syncopation that produced audible gasps from the audience, and in the end, a well-deserved standing ovation. Portland doesn’t entertain this caliber of international performance often nor does modern dance offer many pieces as accessible and as generous as "Lend Me Your Eyes." Go and see it if you can, but if you miss it, check out the tape at PICA’s Resource Room after the festival.

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