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Thursday, September 23, 2010

TBA: The Aftermath

Posted by Alison Hallett on Thu, Sep 23, 2010 at 12:01 PM

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  • MINH TRAN

Okay, my physical and intellectual TBA hangover has finally subsided, and after a few days to reflect (and a serious no-art-allowed TV binge) I'm finding myself a little underwhelmed by this year's TBA offerings. My assessment? Overlap with MusicFest Northwest, early onset SAD, and a lineup that ultimately offered only a few must-sees all conspired to strip TBA:10 of some of the momentum I've come to expect from the festival. In years past, friends have badgered me for TBA recommendations; this year, responses were more along the lines of "Oh, that's happening?"

One thing I'm missing, I think, is the citywide programming that former artistic director Mark Russell emphasized—Khris Soden's Portland Tour of Tilburg; the Halprin project, which brought Anna Halprin's modern choreography to Portland fountains designed by her husband, Lawrence Halprin; that ill-fated scavenger hunt; big opening night spectacles involving Portland's public spaces. Sure, they were occasionally underwhelming and/or ridiculous, but at their best they lent the festival a sense of adventure and excitement. This year the focus felt narrower, as though the festival was speaking more to PICA members than the rest of the community—a contrast highlighted on closing night, when those of us who didn't drop $35-45 for dinner found ourselves waiting impatiently for that meal to conclude, so the festival's final performance could begin. (And after all that, this happened.)

This is not to say the festival didn't have highlights: the Wooster Group's interactive movie; Emily Johnson's sincere, personal dance piece; Mike Daisey's The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs; the parts of John Jasperse's Truth, Revised History, and Flat Out Lies that I actually understood. But to a large extent I felt like I was having these positive experiences in a vacuum, due to the lack of general conversation around the festival. It's a recession thing, I guess; tickets are spendy, local arts coverage is down. All I know is we've got a pretty solid TBA blog this year and it's got about 10 total comments on it. There was no Claude Wampler confusing the shit out of everyone; no DK Row starting fights about accessibility. Portland Monthly had some great coverage, courtesy of Anne Adams (my comma nemesis!) and an imported blogger from the New York Times, but they fared little better than we did on the comments on front; ditto the WWeek. I still can't navigate the O's website so I have no idea what's going on over there, but the #TBA10 hashtag on Twitter seemed more often used for promotion than for conversation (we were guilty of that, too), and the beer garden at the Works was more often than not half empty. Plus, the Holocene food cart ran out of tacos RIGHT BEFORE I tried to order one. I'm complaining less about the work than about the atmosphere surrounding the work—I have no real beef with Cathy Edwards' programming, but I wanted more excitement, more fights, more action. Instead I got, "Yeah, the Polish play was pretty good."

It does sound to me like our visual arts critic Matt Stangel made more of TBA's visual art offerings this year than last—and those shows, BTW, are on view at Washington High through October 17—Thurs-Fri noon-6:30, Sat-Sun noon-4 pm.

I dunno. It's possible too that all of this is in my head; that I had a down year thanks to picking up a midfestival cold, and of course that whole taco situation. If anyone has any thoughts, post 'em in the comments, though it seems like wishful thinking to ask that now people start talking about the festival.

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