By Oluyinka Akinjiola
This summer, 2,697 miles away from Hartwell hall, I found myself feeling a little bit closer to the Brockport community in an unforeseen sequence of events. Almost three months preceding, I inquired to Conduit Dance, located in Portland, Oregon, about joining the non-profit organization as a summer intern. Despite the director, Tere Mathern, and I being complete strangers, she openly invited me to join Conduit’s team.
Soon after flying across the country, my tasks began with the staff and volunteers in preparing for the Just 17 Annual benefit on June 16th, 2012. The evening of the benefit revealed the gravity of Conduit dance to the community of Portland, and its importance as a venue for contemporary and modern dance. To commend the hard work of the founders of Conduit, a woman I had never met or heard of addressed the audience. Her name was Randee Paufve, who has built a decade-long relationship with the studio, and continues to bring work to Portland while incorporating local dancers into the work she presents. Randee Paufve Dance was to premier Randee’s most recent work, “So I Married Abraham Lincoln…” the following weekend.
Following the Annual Benefit, my tasks continued with the volunteer coordination of ushers for the showing of Randee’s work and house managing the theater on closing night. Without knowing much of the premise for the work (other than the title) I watched the piece with an open mind on opening night. I was awe stricken as the Paufve Company and chorus of Portland dancers executed the complexities of Mary Todd Lincoln’s life of agony, insanity, joy, pain and survival after the assassination of her husband. The transitions throughout the hour long show were seamless as the audience was taken through Mary Todd’s mental journey. The line between audience and participant merged as the crowd joined the performers in a séance on the floor in an effort to make contact with the departed Abraham. The crowd was brought to tears with the conclusion of an a capella gospel song, seeming to bring peace to the end of Mary Todd’s life.
After the show, I asked Randee about her inspiration for the work. She replied that after seeing Bill T. Jones’ work based on Abraham Lincoln, she thought, “what about Mary Todd?” And thus began her choreographic research. After the over packed house was cleared, only Randee and I remained to close the studio for the night. As we struggled to reset alarms and lock up the studio, she asked me “where are you from.” I responded, “well…I am currently getting my MFA in a small town in New York called Brockport.” Randee’s disposition towards me shifted from a rush to leave to an elated stance as she said “I got my MA at Brockport! Is Jacquie Davis still there?” Our already pleasant relationship immediately shifted to feeling like long lost family members. We embraced at the corner of 10th and Ankeny and said our goodbyes. Even though we were both almost 3,000 miles from Brockport we still had a small community that not only stretched across a distance but also generations.