Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Quiet Genius of Harper Piver

Harper Piver is the most focused, driven artist I know. She also happens to be my wife, but that is immaterial to the conversation.

Or is it?

Certainly it was Harper's intelligence and beauty that initially attracted me, but I have to admit that the Wall of Chili played a part too. You see, one evening very early on in our courtship, I found myself staring at two hundred or so cans of Hormel chili stacked against the wall of her kitchen. Not only was this an unusually large concentration of a single food item, it was doubly perplexing due to Harper's vegetarianism.

The owner of the cans was, at that moment, getting ready for our night out. When she wandered in and saw what I was looking at, she laughed.

"They're for a dance piece," she said.

My expression betrayed my deepening confusion, so she "clarified": "It's going to be a post-apocalyptic statement on consumerist culture. We're also using shopping carts, helmets...and roller skates."

Oh. At that moment, I began to fall in love.

I have discovered in the years since that Harper has an uncanny knack for taking highbrow concepts and transforming them into electrifying performances that push hard against the boundaries of her medium. On paper, you could say that she is a dance choreographer, but that is only a partial truth. Yes, she operates in the field of dance--primarily because her language is movement. But she incorporates film, sound collage, and dialogue into her work, and spikes the whole thing through with large doses of humor and pathos. The aforementioned post-apocalyptic canned foods piece was ambitious and mind-blowing without falling prey to pretension; Harper's sincerity allows her to navigate the treacherous waters of Art well clear of the shoals that routinely beach the rest of us. And Cache, her thesis performance at Arizona State University, was a hallucinatory tour-de-force: an extended meditation on family and illness that featured improvised monologues, psychedelic Sesame Street clips, the herding of the entire audience onto a balcony halfway through the show, and a disheveled madman playing "Eye of the Tiger" on his accordion as he stalked the fringes of the set. The sold-out attendance for its three-night run surprised only Harper, who remains blissfully unaware of her own greatness.

Don't you wish you had been there?

I am not particularly qualified to write at length about modern dance, but I can tell you that my wife lives and breathes her art. She does not compromise. If she gets an idea to have thousands of bouncy balls dropped from the ceiling at the climax of a performance, she will find a factory that makes bouncy balls and buy them wholesale. I know what I'm talking about here: I had to help her haul the damned things from rehearsal to rehearsal. In fact, I think we still have them in a giant plastic bin somewhere.

Harper Piver can barely contain the multitude of visions that crowd her mind. They make their way out into the world not only in dance, but also in photographs, sketches, the glide of her violin bow across the strings, and the cryptic bites of poetry that roll off her tongue in between breaths. It is a privilege and an inspiration to share my life with her, and I simply cannot imagine how things would have turned out if I hadn't seen her across the room at Fat Tony's one winter night almost six years ago.

Ah, but that is another story.

Here is Oscar, one of my favorite of Harper's short films. Enjoy.