There were five birds last Thursday evening at Tollefson Plaza, orange and black and bound with thick black cords. Played by dancers from BQDanza, the “birds” danced out a new piece by Tacoma choreographer Carla Barragan called “Thick”, inspired by the Gulf Coast oil spill and presented free in Tollefson as part of both ArtWalk and Spaceworks. They’ll be back next ArtWalk as well on Oct. 21 as part of the Arts Crush month of free events.
And that’s a good thing. “Thick” is well-designed, graceful and captures that particularly impotent sense of regret whenever one imagines all those land, sea and air creatures so devastated by the thick black gunk coating their world. Barragan’s dancers, clad in orange and black tunic and pants, roam the plaza, claiming it as their own. This unlikely feat is very hard to do in Tollefson’s wide space – plenty of performers have tried it and failed – but “Thick” does it with serenity. As the dancers move with arched, angled bird-like movements from street benches to ramp to steps they tell tales of beauty fettered.
Whether bound with stretchy black cords to the upper railing or trying desperately to unpin themselves from the railing that borders the plaza’s upper side, these dancers work just like real birds, morphing from parallel movement to synchronized. Even Thursday night’s drizzle became part of the performance, creating – along with the soundtrack of bird and frog calls – part of a Lousiana swamp atmosphere.
Through it all resonated the recorded voice of Tacoma poet Luke Smiraldo, whose words enveloped the spill’s events with sad metaphor.
And when the dancers finally moved into Tollefson’s pools, one to each step-level, it was as if they’d been made for it: sweeping and kicking soaring sprays of droplets above the plaza in a celebration of the clean, pure water that humans have now contaminated.
“Thick” returns to Tollefson Plaza at 6 p.m. on Oct. 21. Free, as part of Arts Crush and Tacoma Art Museum’s 75th birthday celebrations. Tollefson Plaza is at South 17th Street and Pacific Avenue, Tacoma. www.bqdance.com, www.tacomaartmuseum.org, www.artscrush.org