Fall Dance Concert “this place, displace/d...” tackles the issue of houselessness in Salem
Through Nov. 19, the Willamette theatre department is presenting its 2021 Fall Dance Concert, “this place, displace/d...” The performance, a product of Artist Director and Choreographer Cher Anabo, contemplates the ever-growing housing crisis in Salem through a unique combination of movement and different interactions with space.
Like most of Anabo’s compositions, “this place, displace/d...” is a “social crisis, a call to action.” The choreographer stated, “Most of my work has been political or addressing something that is blatantly in your face.” Indeed, houselessness in Salem is one of those blatant issues. According to the City of Salem and its local partners, more than 1800 citizens are without homes, including those staying overnight in shelters, living in their vehicles, or camping in tents.
Anabo stated that her move to the city and subsequent observations of the overwhelming number of houseless individuals is what inspired the performance: “[For the unhoused, one’s idea of] home is going to be constantly contested, constantly deconstructed, constantly redefined.” Through “this place, displace/d...,” Anabo also sought to make the bodies of people experiencing houselessness more visible. She said, “The idea of the movement is a meditation on homelessness, and also the bodies that we don’t acknowledge in the streets.”
The performance is a captivating one—dancers ebb and flow at some points, and flee across the stage at others. The choreography is also very physical, with the dancers pulling at their own costumes, as well as holding and lifting each other up. The stage as a space is also constantly explored. Though very simple in design, it is undoubtedly a central part of the performance, and is just as important to the overall message as the dancers themselves. About the use of space in the performance, dancer Jade Brandow (‘25) said, “I love it. The way we take up space, the way we grow and shrink, the way that we use the space is very interesting.”
Though the dancers’ varied, sometimes fluid, sometimes erratic movements could perhaps be interpreted in a number of different ways, the music, composed live on stage by Mike Nord, shoves the performance’s intended meaning directly in the audience’s faces. At several points during the performance, Nord whispers to the audience, “Houseless people in Salem report experiencing discrimination daily.” He then follows it up with an aggressive plea to not talk to or try and make the houseless population ‘feel better’, but instead to actually fix the problem.
The live music is at times hauntingly beautiful, and other times harsh and grating. Overall, “this place, displace/d...” is a sensory experience for the audience, likely to be different from anything they have ever seen before. Those involved with the production of the show echo this idea—Brandow said, “It’s been very interesting, it’s very different from any dance that I’ve done...it’s more abstract and has deep meaning. You can tell it has a lot of thought put into it.”
Indeed, every aspect of the show is thought out and intentional. Costume Designer Austin Conlee said, “[In] this [performance]...everyone is in fleshtones. Everyone is in a neutral look that feels exposed, and they almost feel unified. Like if you look and you see them moving around, you have to pay attention to who is who because you can lose track very easily.” He added, “That’s the point, to have these anonymous figures...they don’t necessarily have an identity of sorts, and what does that say about our society?”
Truly, watching the performance challenges the audience to consider the societal issue that is the houselessness crisis, broader housing instability, and the identity erasure that comes with it. How many times have you crossed the street to avoid a tent, or slid your eyes past someone holding a sign? Anobo’s collaborative, multisensorial contemplation of space is a much needed reminder of the individual behind the houseless identifier, and is both an experience and a call-to-action that the Willamette community should not miss. “this place, displace/d...” is open through Nov. 19.