Robert Tyree

LOVE FIRE immediately declares how it intends to relate to its audience: brashly. There’s a man, a woman, a greatest hits collection of classical waltz music and a title I can’t read without a smirk.

WALTZ – What does it make you think of? Probably something vaguely historic.

There’s most likely traditional male and female roles, a clear lead-and-follow dynamic. Not the most holistic portrayal of the way we live relationships today.

On the other hand, if you’ve
experienced waltz on the movement or musical side of things, the term might also make you think of a waltz’s characteristically catchy rhythm: -/ down up up / down up up /-

“The vigorous peasant dancer, following an instinctive knowledge of the weight of fall, utilizes his surplus energy to press all his strength into the proper beat of the measure, thus intensifying his personal enjoyment in dancing.” -Approximately attributable to early waltz forms in 16th century Europe. Thank you, Wikipedia.

One way to watch Love Fire is as a series of blown out waltzes without the buttoned-up precept that a man leads a passive woman through an orderly public becoming in grace. Still the musical structure remains, propelling these waltzes through an often syncopated foray into the juicy pandemonium of Love Fire. The suspensions and glides are all there, but boy are they endearingly freakish and meticulously inventive.

Randomly select a show from a given week’s dance listings here in Portland, and I’ll be damned if at least half the show doesn’t consist of two compositional conventions: limbs making clear lines and bodies moving in unison.

Love Fire contains almost no unison between its two dancers, and once I started watching for it, the only clear line I caught had gone as soon as it appeared. Not only that, that long leg line was -wait for it- oriented straight toward the audience, rendering it nearly unappreciable.

I found this deeply refreshing. Some will find it unbearable. In fact, Love Fire is the boldest production I’ve ever seen White Bird present. Shoot, it would be daring in PICA’s TBA programming, much less as part of the ostensibly risky Uncaged series. The opening night audience felt a bit the deer in the headlights at times, but for the most part, reactions from the audience revealed that Love Fire registered on many wavelengths, be they humored or offended.

The dancers glow character – passionate pathos. Choreographer and performer Yasmeen Godder and her counterpart Matan Zamir whip through exquisite, evocative postures. When the movement resolves, we encounter bodies poised anywhere from a bit off to a lot off. Imaginative poses like this could intrigue me for days.

The performance operates most overtly through melodrama that slides from raunchy to manic, ecstatic to emphatic. But for for all of Love Fire‘s abandon, the dance stays on track through an unerring commitment to articulating distinct relationships between the two dancers on stage. If you took a picture every 10 seconds, you’d be able to fill in a comic bubble speculating on the psychological drive of each performer with some degree of certainly in 3/4 of the images.

What distinguished Godder’s work for me were numerous shifts which instantly reoriented what I thought I was observing. Watch for the moments when all tends blue and then a sharp movement lands the same moment yellow, and sticks that shift. These transformations are folded into the piece, and each time one unfolded, I had to run blindly to catch up with where it was headed. Those are thrilling moments that the performers achieve marvelously.