PICA's Time-Based Art Festival is over, and with it our 10:30 commitments to the Works, waiting in line to see sold out shows (some featuring old folks talking about sex), eavesdropping on art conversations, and hanging out in a warehouse that once held window blinds. Here's what we saw over the past couple days as TBA drew to a close:
Thomas Ross watched "a panel of Portland’s friskiest seniors...describe, year by year, their sexual history" at Mammalian Diving Reflex's All the Sex I've Ever Had. He did not name names.
Jenna Lechner attended Evelyn, Chanticleer Tru's dance party to end all dance parties, where she saw a man dressed as a plush disco ball, party roller skates, and videos of Jem and the Holograms. Elsewhere, she sat through two hours of "butts and mayhem," and witnessed GERMINAL, a performance that should not have been possible, but was, delightfully.
Matt Stangel looked for America in Liz Harris (aka Grouper) and Paul Clipson's neon signs, nameless roads, and broken windows.
I watched Jack Ferver perform an exorcism, and experienced the IRL equivalent of this at Oneohtrix Point Never's Friday night performance at the Works—except with a projection of what looked like a video game landscape full of disembodied humanoid objects instead of poignant emojis:
Did you miss TBA?
You didn't really! Well, okay, you did. But you're also in luck! Many of the pieces from "As round as an apple, as deep as a cup"—visual art curated specifically for TBA—will stay up through the end of this month, some into October—and admission is free. Free art, everyone!
That means you still have time to see work by seven TBA artists, including Wynne Greenwood, whose installation, Stacy, is a lo-tech precursor to the Tumblr teen girl aesthetic, with sculpted heads made out of found materials (one is a soccer ball), looped sounds of bratty, sing-songy teenage girl voices, and multiple projections of Greenwood's 90s punk feminist band, Tracy + the Plastics, in which she played every member.
Today was the official, final day of this year’s TBA Festival (phew!). Last night ushered it in with a big celebration: Chanticleer Trü’s Evelyn. Folks made figure eights on roller skates, circling a giant disco ball wrapped in a pink tulle bow in the middle of the room. Balloons hovered a few feet above the floor, and videos from the ‘80s—of aerobics, nail art, and Jem—flashed on a giant screen.
At the entrance to the space was a graffiti wall—puff paint sat on the table as an invitation to draw. Nearby was Michael Horwitz, working steadily at his portraiture project. A man dressed as a giant, plush disco ball wandered the room, and party hats punctuated the heads of the attendees. It was like an underground disco party with an ‘80s infusion. The color pink was pregnant in the room (I'm pretty sure that's the only way to put it)—in the attire, in the lighting, in the flashing neon “Evelyn” sign.
Evelyn was booked as an art installation turned night club, which is fair enough: a party may be exactly what's needed after an exhaustive week of demanding contemporary art. The name of the party came from disco queen Evelyn Champagne King; King would’ve been proud.
Saturday night at PSU's Lincoln Hall, vocalist and musician Liz Harris (aka Grouper) and experimental filmmaker Paul Clipson performed Hypnosis Display for the first time on US soil. The 75-minute, live audiovisual collaboration, commissioned by Opera North, is sourced from Harris' field recordings and Clipson's in-camera-edited films that capture naturalistic and manmade American landscapes. The performance notes on PICA's website hint at the piece's significance: "Hypnosis Display envelops viewers in deeply felt connections to landscape, environment, and place. With an attentive yet neutral eye, the film reflects on the American experience and what creates a sense of being at 'home.'"
The piece starts with a tangled and cacophonous take on nature: Using an array of cassette players, Harris mixes together sounds of water, while Clipson matches the ominous rumble with overlapping closeups of turbulent, oceanic surfaces. The water travels forward, across America. Breaking waves wash over the hard lines of pipes and wires, across unnamed roads and flashes of faces. Water beads up on green leaves, hangs in drops from blades of grass, feeds into the lush and later, the concrete. We're never in one place at one time. Both audio and visual layer and stack locations and subjects. Jittery edits of broken windows introduce an increasingly intense pace and, meanwhile, juxtapositional content becomes the rule. The piece moves from coast to continent, shuffling together instances of city infrastructure and places where the natural world edges back in, looking at technological order, human order, and ecological order (and where these forces fit into one another) with kaleidoscopic irreverence for the divisions in between.
As the title suggests, we're dealing with a hypnotic and dreamlike piece, though in terms of reflecting the American experience, I'm not sure that I follow. The sights and sounds didn't really bear an appearance I would describe as uniquely American. Undersides of bridges and closeups of disembodied legs, neon signs and streaks of light could be from anywhere where these things exist. We're told that the films and field recordings are of America, therefore about America, but what is being said about America—about "a sense of being at 'home'"—isn't really clear. Is it that America is now a place like any other place? That what makes America distinct is its most indistinct features? Is it a way of pointing out the hegemonic quality of Western culture? Or, like the craftsmanship of the piece, is it that America is frantic, always divided, a culture in superposition and chaos?
I couldn't say.
Japanese playwright and director Toshiki Okada's theater group chelfitsch specialize in a certain kind of discomfort. In Enjoy, which saw it's Portland premiere earlier this year at CoHo, that discomfort manifested in the way characters addressed the audience. His characters, members of Japan's "lost generation," frequently seemed to plead with the audience to understand them, or at least laugh with them. Realizing that the audience was laughing at them seemed to break their hearts.
In Ground and Floor, playing last night and tonight at Imago Theatre as part of TBA, the discomfort again arises from the way the characters interact with the audience. Unlike Enjoy, Ground and Floor is performed in Japanese. Subtitles are projected onto a screen on the stage, and the characters seem sometimes to know this is happening. One of the characters, a shut-in who has retreated into herself and in her loneliness speaks too fast for the subtitles to keep up, openly resents the need for subtitles, and that translates into a combination of resentment and pride about Japanese.
If that sounds complicated, keep in mind that that's one of five characters, only a few of which are alive. Okada seems to be interrogating the idea of life in Japan, actually weighing its virtues in an eerily morbid way. Some of these characters are ghosts, some only resemble ghosts.
Chelfitsch plays often include strange, deliberate choreography, requiring the characters to repeat odd motions endlessly. At first it's jarring, but it quickly becomes hypnotic. In Ground and Floor, characters dance these strange dances to an original score of alternately ethereal and percussive music from somewhere offstage.
It's a spare play, slow and often nearly silent. It centers around a woman, her husband, his brother, their mother, and another woman, Satomi, from the couple's past. Much of the actual content of the play is laid out plainly but briefly, offering strings to grasp at, but pulling on those strings seem only to wind up the odd mechanisms that send the actors reeling and dancing.
Loneliness, pain, duty - meaning in Ground and Floor is difficult to get at. It's a ghost story, but one gets the feeling that the whole population of Japan is either made up of ghosts, or about to be. The politics are subtle, and meaning is obscure and challenging. It's unlike any theater experience you'll have at TBA or elsewhere.
Ground and Floor is playing tonight at 8:30 at Imago Theatre. Get there early!
TBA performances are winding down this week, so it seems safe to say: GERMINAL has to be one of the best performances of the festival this year. GERMINAL is a piece of theater, created by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort, that probably shouldn’t work. (I’m not sure what I like more: this performance, or the fact that they were able to pull this performance off.) The premise is four individuals, who, “if they had the opportunity to start the world from scratch, how would they do it”? It sounds like it would be a mess—just look at this chart they create during it—but it isn’t. Instead it’s actually really fun, playful, and smart.
GERMINAL begins in darkness, with a dim, searching spotlight on the stage. Soon the lights on stage are flickering, and we see our four protagonists seated, fidgeting with controllers. They realize through gestures that they are the ones controlling the lights. They live in a closed universe, we find out later, which is the empty stage. We follow them through the next 75 minutes as they learn how to voice their thoughts, classify information, understand finiteness, and establish laws of physics. And on that note, yes, I am aware of how boring this sounds. But you just have to take my word that it's a lot of fun. FOR INSTANCE: At one point our protagonists hack into the stage with a pickaxe and find a guitar, and a “manual” to their universe (also known as a laptop). At another point, they unearth a guitar amp, and a “swanky swamp" which is full of packing peanuts. (See? Fun.) The piece is mostly spoken in French, with English surtitles.
GERMINAL is about language, communication, meaning, and it’s about theater itself. There’s a lot of moments where it is a self-reflexive mind-fuck; it made me think back to early conceptual work, like One and Three Chairs by Joseph Kosuth—it’s a piece that explores the space between concept, meaning, and object. It's a piece that exists between the lines of theater, visual art, and theory, and in that way reminds me a little bit of that critical favorite The Method Gun, which was at TBA in 2011.
Tonight is the last performance of GERMINAL, and I so hope you were able to catch it. TBA is host to the U.S. Premiere of GERMINAL, however it will be at Seattle's On the Boards Festival next week before returning to France.
At the beginning of Mammalian Diving Reflex’s new show “All the Sex I’ve Ever Had,” the audience was asked to stand and take a pledge not to gossip. For the next two hours, a panel of Portland’s friskiest seniors would describe, year by year, their sexual history. With admirable, impossible candor, these three men and two women described not only all the sex they’d had, but the sex they’ve missed out on, the loves found and lost, the obstacles overcome, the lessons learned and not learned.
The show swings easily from sweet to sad, funny to fucked up. Periodically, the panel would poll the audience based on one of the vignettes they’d just offered. “Dear audience, how many of you have paid for or been paid for sex?” “Who here is into BDSM?”
Between the panel’s incredible openness and the oath not to gossip, raising one’s hand and even sharing stories (MDR casually questioned certain audience members) feels comfortable, safe, even cathartic. I found myself wishing they’d ask about my specific sex stuff, just so I could raise my hand and announce it semi-anonymously.
Because I pledged not to gossip, I feel I shouldn’t print exactly what happened last night. But in the spirit of encouraging you to go one of the next couple nights, here is an edited list of excerpts from last night’s show:
“I saw Grandma in just her ______ and _____. She _____ed me.”
“I was tapping my _____ with a _____ _____.”
“He was seventeen, tall, and identified as a _____.”
“I find that my _____ is already _____. I’m disappointed.”
“His ____ is not _____ but is very _____ and _____.” “_____, that’s a good word.” “I know, you just want to bite it.”
“_____ _____ _____ dungeon, with _____, _____, and _____.”
I’ll give you a clue: One of those blanks is “scientist.”
If you're into gently kinky talk, senior citizen dance parties, or oral _____ (I meant "storytelling!" Get your mind out of the gutter!), you have to check out “All the Sex I’ve Ever Had." The show happening tonight and tomorrow night at 7:00pm at the PSU Shattuck Hall Annex. Get there early to get on the waitlist, as it will sell out!
"I never wanna stay for the Q&A." That's how Jack Ferver opened his TBA performance, "Mon, Ma, Mes," at Ecotrust last night. And why would he? At worst, post-show Q&As can seem like exercises in cruelty*. So I have to admit, the conceit of Ferver's performance—an artist Q&A that isn't really an artist Q&A, also a retrospective of his performance work—seemed like a tall order. How do you mimic something so universally understood to be boring, and make it interesting?
By making fun of it, obviously. Which is exactly what he did, selecting unsuspecting audience members, giving them pat, dull questions to read aloud for him to answer, then acting surprised, and going off on absurd, self-mythologizing tangents in response. For example:
Question: "How did you achieve so much at such a young age?"
Answer: Rumination over childhood drawings, and how great they actually are, but he didn't know it at the time.
Question: "How old are you?"
Answer: No answer. Lengthy pontification on what it's like to be any age, and connecting with his inner child, so sometimes he feels three years old, and sometimes "a million!"
Question: "What was your favorite film growing up?"
Answer: Return to Oz, followed by a lengthy, highly detailed plot summary of Return to Oz.
You get the picture.
When you're at a post-show Q&A and hear questions and responses like this, it's frustrating. But when the audience is in on the joke, when everyone present knows exactly how softball the questions are and how batshit crazy the responses—it becomes something else. On some level, it becomes broad comedy. For 45 minutes, Jack Fervor embodied every embarrassing self-serious art world cliché, and the audience loved it.
Then there was a shift. Ferver stopped taking questions, and launched into an autobiographical litany about his childhood, about abuse, trauma, about his anxious mind and exchanges with doctors, a raw monologue implicating his totally engaged audience as witnesses to cruelty. Ferver punctuated these almost confessional moments by dancing frenetically, with repetitive, laborious movements, with the performance style so intense it's gained comparisons to exorcism. At one point, he asked Jordan Kindell of the Oregon Ballet—helpfully planted in the audience—to physically carry him. It was a weirdly tender moment. By the end of Ferver's performance, the room felt deflated, and also electrified.
I left with more questions than answers, which is as it should be.
*I have also been to great, productive Q&As where I definitely even took a lot of notes and chuckled along with the audience over art jokes. Those totally exist. I have been to them. Just not as frequently.
Many comics argue in favor of stand-up being an art form; both Patton Oswalt and Kyle Kinane have said as much on their comedy albums. And there is a real case to be made on their behalf. Most long stand-up sets are arranged much like a symphony or a Broadway musical: a strong opening riff to draw you in, an extended middle section where little motifs and beats spark and dazzle along the way, and a big closer to send you out into the night beaming.
It was great, then, to see comedy given a big showcase as part of an arts festival like TBA, and to see the stand-ups invited to be part of the night by host Jason Traeger (he takes the pictures on the Portland Stand-Up Comedy Photo Album blog when he's not doing comedy himself) bring so many different variations of the form to The Works.
The biggest surprise of the evening was an appearance by former Portlander Ron Funches. The jocular co-star of the NBC sitcom Undateable was apparently in town, in part, to finalize his divorce, a situation that he was quick to make light of in his signature lackadaisical style: "At least I know who is to blame for this situation...[long pause]...my son. Have to put the blame squarely on his little shoulders." (I'm paraphrasing this so forgive me if I didn't get it exactly right.) It was obvious the situation wasn't getting him down, or he's just been enjoying some local weed, as he seemed downright giddy up there, snickering at his own punchlines and not seeming phased when the stairs leading off the stage collapsed underneath him (he didn't get hurt, by the way).
Otherwise, we got an array of familiar, and mostly male, faces. And if there was a theme to be teased out of the night, it was an emphasis on some absurdist voices. Tim Ledwith ceded most of his time to a hilarious PowerPoint presentation that had AppleTalk reading a long suicide note he supposedly wrote when he was 12, accompanied by a slideshow of childhood pictures. Christian Ricketts, on the other hand, presented a long bit that involved a mute ventriloquist's dummy named Lou that warned of the dangers of tobacco products before apparently ranting about a Zionist conspiracy. It was one of those set pieces that goes from really funny to not funny at all back to being funny again, if only by dint of the sheer ridiculousness of watching a grown man wrestle a felt puppet onstage.
The comic that seemed to wake the late night crowd up the most was Amy Miller. As you may know, her style has a more traditional stand-up bent, but that seemed to spark something in the 300+ strong audience. Having seen her set a number of times now, I can safely say that the X Factor was the confidence with which she delivered the material. Her riffs on dating younger men and growing up in a trashy family were familiar to me, but I still found myself guffawing away at them anew. If anything came out of last night's fine comedy showcase, it's that my money is on Miller becoming the city's next breakout star.
A drag show inspired by (WHAT ELSE) Paris Is Burning, adult ghost dress-up time, and sounds that make us feel present in our bodies or just confused—if you haven't been to PICA's Time-Based Art Festival yet, here's what you've been missing:
Alison Hallet was a pink ghost in Not About Face, Luke George's performance piece that requires adults to dress up as classic sheet-with-eyeholes-cut-out ghosts, sing together, and bump into strangers. Emphasis mine because being invisible seems thrilling and great:
Upon entering the studio where Not About Face is performed, each member of the 50-person audience is draped, one at a time, in a bedsheet that smells like it's just been through a hotel laundry. For a few minutes, everyone just roams the space freely, getting their... ghost legs? Most people seem to take to their sheets quickly, flapping and swooping and twirling. (Or, if you're me, giggling uncontrollably because you've got the Diarrhea Planet song "Ghost with a Boner" stuck in your head.) There's a video monitor at one end of the room, showing a picture of the space we're in—but on the monitor, the room is empty. We're ghosts! We're invisible. And it's hard to be inhibited when no one can really see you.
Matt Stangel found the "remedy to noise-culture listlessness" in Tim Hecker's "minimalist, synth-and-acoustic-sample melodic arrangements."
Jenna Lechner unpacked a whole lot of gender politics and/or performance in Eisa Jocson’s Death of a Pole Dancer and Macho Dancer:
Jocson’s performance is mostly a study in movement, also in gender. After her performance on Friday night, I was left thinking about what it means to move in a masculine way: so many of the movements in Macho Dancer are about making yourself look bigger, about broad stances, about lunging forward (and pelvic thrusts, naturally). It’s helpful to see Death of a Pole Dancer and Macho Dancer together, for comparison. As Jocson said in that same interview, “Pole dancing is vertically oriented and works with the illusion of lightness and grace, while macho dancing is horizontally oriented, and works on the illusion of weight and volume. It’s more compact.”
Bob Ham listened to Chris Sutton read from his Tumblr to a soundtrack of DJ Shadow and Thelonious Monk, and came to the very true conclusion that "a mixtape without context feels like an odd gift."
Alison Hallett reports that Critical Mascara: A Post-Realness Drag Ball, TBA's raucous, glorious drag contest inspired by (seriously though) Paris Is Burning was exactly as fun and over the top as it sounds. Pictures were taken:
See them all here.
Remember yesterday, when we said a PBOT draft document indicates Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick will propose a $11.56 per month street fee? It's still too early to say whether that will indeed be the number. Hales and Novick will formally unveil their proposal at 9 am. But here are some shots of the document we were talking about to give you a sense—or maybe an exact picture—of what's coming.
Of note in this draft: Even though it doesn't suggest a $12 fee—and would generate something like $13 million less a year than the $12 formula PBOT had talked about—it hews to the same spending ratio: 53 percent for street maintenance, 44 percent to safety initiatives, 3 percent for other stuff. Under the $8 per month ratio PBOT had also come up with, safety improvements got a smaller piece of the pie.
We'll update when we know more.
Itai Erdal is a lighting designer, not an actor. He explains this to the audience right away during his one-man show How to Disappear Completely—he's just a good storyteller who's had an interesting life.
Born in Israel, Erdal moved to Canada as a young man. When his mother got lung cancer, he flew back to Israel to care for her. Because he was, at the time, an aspiring filmmaker, he filmed his mother's decline, with her permission, with the ultimate goal of making a documentary. That footage forms the basis of How to Disappear Completely. Providing live voiceover translation in lieu of subtitles, he screens interviews with his mom, a good-humored woman who is pragmatic about her fate, and with his sister, who disapproves of the documentary-making enterprise. Heartbreakingly, there's footage of his stepfather shaving his mother's head, pausing to kiss it. It is a son's homage to his dead mother, and it is moving.
Alongside this personal account, Erdal interjects lighthearted tutorials about lighting design, and how different lights can be used to convey different effects. He's got a little portable lightboard onstage so he can control some of his own lighting cues; he explains to the audience what each light on stage does and why he's using it, and jokes about how much control the lighting designer has over a production.
Erdal is a likable presence, and his crash course in stage lighting is fascinating. But the two elements of the show—the personal and the technical—don't fit together particularly well, and I'd argue that they actually work to blunt the show's emotional impact.
On the one hand, Erdal the storyteller is sharing anecdotes about his family and friends and particularly his mother, and those are revealing and funny and quite moving. On the other hand, there's Erdal the stage technician, explaining how lighting can be used to manipulate an audience's perception of an actor or a story. The stagecraft element is fascinating, and Erdal ably connects with the audience when he's joking around and sharing his expertise as a lighting designer, but those elements coexist uneasily with the show's intense footage of his mother's decline and death.
There are plenty of ways that lighting can function as a metaphor—from the notion that lighting is outside of an actor's control to the temporary, arbitrary nature of the spotlight to the fact that everybody fades to black in the end. And while I'm ordinarily not one to argue for making metaphors more obvious, in this case I don't think it's enough that all of that is implicit.
There's a moment in How to Disappear Completely where, if you're not completely on Erdal's side, he will lose you. He lost me, and I think part of the reason he lost me was that, though I found him quite a likable presence, his digressions about stage lighting actively encourage the audience to consider how the elements of the production have been selected and manipulated. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a problem. However, ordinarily, you're not asked to watch footage of someone's dead mother.
If Erdal wants to tell a story about his mother's death, fine, but he needs to make sure all of the show's elements serve that purpose. If he wants to tell a story about how he is telling the story of his dead mother, that's fine too, but he needs to make that intention more clear. Without that clarity of intention, the whole show runs the risk of seeming exploitative and self-serving. I'm in the critical minority on this one—I've heard nothing but raves—but I came away frustrated with the show's unrealized potential.
Also tonight, the first night of Chop Theatre's How to Disappear Completely, a one man multi-media show by acclaimed Canadian lighting designer Itai Erdal, about his mother's death from lung cancer. That's tonight through Saturday at Imago; details here.
And tonight at midnight is your last chance to see Third Angle's excellent In the Dark, a contemporary chamber piece performed by a string quartet in the pitch-black planetarium at OMSI. (I do hope they bring this show back, I'd like to see it again.)
I've got a pair of passes to the Works—TBA's late-night programming at Con-Way—email me by noon tomorrow, with "TBA passes" in the subject, if you want to win. Only catch is that you have to be able to stop by the Mercury office downtown tomorrow to grab 'em.
"I'm getting a little bit of ASMR," my husband leaned over to whisper to me about half an hour into last night's performance of Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People's And Lose the Name of Action, giving me a thumb's up. ASMR stands for "autonomous sensory meridian response," and is defined as "a recently described perceptual phenomenon characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, back, or peripheral regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, olfactory, and/or cognitive stimuli." Although it's still the subject of some controversy in the scientific world—it's difficult to study, and not everyone experiences it—it seems like an ideal response to a show that makes its business the link between our physical selves and our perceptions, by way of neurology, philosophy, ghosts or "insubstantial bodies," and the experience of performing and watching dance itself.
Artists' statements are notoriously opaque, and while waiting for seating to begin I read Gutierrez's, whose work I've seen at several past TBAs, and have appreciated for its multimedia dynamism (film, monologue, and singing all appear prominently in his repertoire) and because he has a relieving knack for injecting small, perfect moments of humor into his work, often using it to clear the air after attaining dramatic climax. (Also, to thoroughly disclose: My tiny dancer brother-in-law sometimes collaborates with Gutierrez back in New York.) In the statement for this show, he discloses the fact that his father has suffered a number of neurological problems over the past half-decade, circumstances that led him to his interest in the body/mind connection, and how it's been studied.
How does one translate that into modern dance? Anyway you want, really—the medium pretty much demands liminality. But here's how Gutierrez chooses to proceed: an all-white set with projection screens that occasionally animate with a pacing professorial type who waxes philosophical; a cast that varies along lines of age, race, and body type; and neutral toned costuming that mutes to suggest Socratic philosophers and academia, as well as some light nudity.
The action itself, without giving too much away, involves a séance; a wonderful, talkative scene that devolves into the cast chasing each other around the room yelling "Fuck you!"; a lot of beautifully controlled chaotic movement that suggests the organic/chaotic complications of cells and neurons (and probably drugs) interacting both functionally and disfunctionally; contrastingly deliberate, directed motions that recall both ballet instruction and physical therapy; and spectral muttering and screams. (And yes, a little bit of well-timed comedy.)
Performances wherein you're given a little bit of information, followed by vague, interpretive action, always result in an inner turmoil for me where I'm both trying to assign narrative and meaning and trying to stop myself from doing so too literally, but I will say that the solos were when I felt most tapped into what Gutierrez meant when he said that dance "constantly disappears and haunts."
I was starving when I showed up to the venue for the 6:30/suppertime show, and somewhat crestfallen at the utter lack of refreshments available for purchase—a mood further darkened upon the realization that the show was nearly 90 minutes long. It says something that I was surprised when it ended; it didn't feel like that much time could have possibly elapsed. I wasn't even hungry anymore. There are two more shows this week for And Lose the Name of Action, on Friday and Saturday evening (details are here), and plenty more TBA action and reaction to talk about on the Mercury's lively TBA blog.
You know what's hard? Listening! Click on over to our TBA blog for reviews of Third Angle's incredible In the Dark, performed... in the dark, at OMSI's planetarium, and to find out which TBA show provides Lucky Charms and whiskey at intermission.
Oh, and if you haven't checked out photos from Saturday's drag ball—it was bananas!—do that too.
Tonight at OMSI, a string quartet from the Third Angle New Music Ensemble performs In the Dark, a piece by Georg Friedrich Haas meant to be played... well, in the dark.
There's a decent chance I'm going to fall asleep—these late nights at the Con-Way warehouse are taking their toll!—but I'm really looking forward to this one. For our TBA guide, Matt Stangel interviewed Third Angle's Ron Blessinger; the conversation is insightful:
BLESSINGER: [Performing in the darkness] places a lot of pressure on us because we have to play the piece from memory. Now, the good thing is, it's more like jazz than it is like classical music in that there's nothing literal that we have to memorize. We just have to understand the rules. And the rules are that the piece is in 18 sections, and each section has a gesture—it could be a sound, it could be a noise, or it could be a pluck, a pizzicato, something that is an invitation—and that invitation can be accepted by someone else in the quartet or not. If it's accepted, then that section is played. And if it's not accepted, then we kinda wander around in the darkness until someone makes another invitation gesture for another section, and then we accept that or not. So there's a lot of wandering around, and we find our way through the sections of the piece, and so the call-and-response aspect has a religious significance, too, that's very orthodox. And that's kinda loosely the structure.
We'll have a review of the show tomorrow on our TBA blog!
At last night's performance of We Put It Together So We Could Take It Apart, the collaboration between musician Khaela Maricich and visual artist Melissa Dyne (AKA the Blow), I was reminded of Reggie Watts' TBA performance at the Someday in 2008, where he collaborated with dancer Amy O'Neal and used a loop pedal to create dizzying, hilarious improvisations.
The Blow's show isn't as funny as Watts' was, or as showily virtuosic, but there's something similar underpinning the two productions: Both are heavily improvised, both explore the limits of collaboration, and both feature performers really trying to take risks in front of a live audience.
The setup for We Put It Together is simple: Maricich stands on a bare stage, a giant triangle projected onto the wall behind her. In the back of the room, Dyne stands at a table, controlling light and sound. Maricich sings songs, and dances to beats laid down by Dyne, and responds to nonverbal cues from Dyne about where to stand or what to do next. She banters a bit with the crowd, frequently returning to questions about authenticity: The idea that the person onstage is different than the person who, say, wrote the songs that she's singing. (She also shakes her butt a lot.) The whole time, she's focused on Dyne, who is helping to guide the show with light and sound cues. Dyne and Maricich are partners, which gives the setup an interesting dynamic, like some intimate communication is happening to which the audience is only sorta privy. The overall effect is of a sort of post-modern cabaret, with Maricich performing a live deconstruction of her role as performer. And if that sounds boring, the songs are actually really great, poppy and dancey while retaining that lyrical specificity that characterizes Maricich's work. Everyone in the "I stopped listening to the Blow after Jona Bechtolt left" camp should probably reconsider that position.
I imagine the show will be different tonight than it was last night, and I imagine it would be more different still in a different venue. I don't think the Winningstand is the best place for this one, in fact; the show's energy flagged toward the end, and I think the big formal theater setting didn't help. I thought this one was fun and engaging, though I talked to a few people after the show who were aggravated by the apparent lack of structure.
There's one more performance tonight at the Winningstad at 8:30 pm—tickets here
And, of course, there's a weekend's worth of reviews stacked up over on our TBA blog!
We're on day four of PICA's Time-Based Art Festival, and I gotta say: It's been a good one so far.
Last night's "post-realness drag ball," hosted by Kaj-Anne Peppper and Chanticleer Tru, was so goddamn much fun. It was also a super sharp programming decision: One of the festival artists, Trajal Harrell, is performing two pieces inspired in part by the voguing scene in Harlem, where gay men in drag held elaborate "balls" (as documented in Paris Is Burning, a fascinating film that's on Netflix Instant, if you haven't seen it). PICA's drag ball, then, was just one step away from Harrell's challenging performance work, but it's a step that brings with it a hugely engaged fanbase for drag and queer performance. So the show was thematically on-point and also incredibly fun, and absolutely packed with a young, queer, lively crowd. As one respected local arts administrator drunkenly hollered at me last night, "It's gay as shit in here!"
So probably nothing is going to top that, but tonight's late-night show actually sounds like a great bet, as composer Nick Hallett has rounded up a posse of local musicians including Holcomb Waller for what I think is going to be one of those art world rarities, a high-concept show that's also enjoyable:
As for the performances, I've only seen a couple so far, but I highly recommend catching the last showing of Lola Arias' The Year I Was Born, which explores life under Pinochet from the point of view of performers in their 20s and 30s. That's tonight at 6:30 pm.
The reviews are stacking up over on our TBA blog! And crazy pictures from the drag ball are on the way, never you fear.
Last night was TBA's free opening night show, featuring original riot grrrl Kathleen Hannah's new band The Julie Ruin and adorable openers from School of Rock and the Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls.
First things first: God, it's good to get out of Washington High School. That venue was cool—especially the first year—but it was consistently strained beyond capacity by opening night crowds. Security posed challenges, there were endless lines, the unisex bathrooms were time-based experiments in total grossness... In comparison, the giant Con-Way warehouse feels goddamn luxurious, with plenty of room for last night's crowds. (Though it remains to be seen how ticketed shows with less of a draw will fare—it's an awfully big space.) The line to get in to the venue moved fast (once I found the grownup entrance), the lines for food and drink were long but manageable, and at no point did I get the refrain from "Hater's Anthem" stuck in my head, which... kinda usually happens on opening night at TBA.
Con-Way is a warehouse space slated to turn into a New Seasons soon. It's an adamant return to the days where TBA was a roving, pop-up operation in a different space every year, and PICA clearly poured a ton of work into transforming it into a venue suitable for multiple sizes and types of shows. In addition to the main stage, there's a small gallery and I *think* another small theater space, though I didn't have a chance to fully explore last night. It's a really cool space—the kind of thing you wish Portland had all the time—and I'd recommend checking it out before it starts selling organic fruit snacks and locally fermented miso.
I'll be curious to hear what other people thought of the show last night. I loved it, but it was an almost defiantly un-arty choice for a festival opener. (That's why I loved it. I like to see a few big, everyone-is-welcome events at TBA every year, in addition to the more specialized and less accessible stuff, and I particularly liked that this show tapped into the history of riot grrrl in the Pacific Northwest.)
I'm not sure I've ever been this excited for a TBA opening night show—yes, even including that year everyone dressed in all-white and paraded across the Broadway Bridge (TBA!). Tonight, the festival kicks off with a free show from the Julie Ruin, the new project from Kathleen Hanna, frontwoman of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre and arguably the most influential figure of the riot grrrl era.
When I was in high school back in ye olde 1990s, it seemed like there was a show in Portland every weekend from some great feminist/queercore band: Sleater-Kinney, The Need, the Gossip, the Bangs, the Butchies, Bratmobile, Cadallaca, and plenty more I'm forgetting either because I'm old or they weren't that good. And while these days it's much more common to see women onstage (unless you're at Warped Tour), I do sometimes miss that sense of a highly engaged community around supporting female artists.
WHICH IS WHY I'M SUPER EXCITED TO SEE KATHLEEN HANNA TONIGHT! According to early reviews, the band is playing a mix of new songs and tracks from Hanna's great 1997 solo album Julie Ruin, which inspired the current tour. Hanna pulled together a full band to tour with, featuring Kathi Wilcox, Kenny Mellman, Carmine Covelli, and Sara Landeau. And the event listing also says "Featuring Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls and School of Rock"! So maybe something cute will happen.
The show is tonight at 10:30 pm at the Con-Way Warehouse (2170 NW Raleigh), which is where TBA is hosting all of their late-night programming this year. (The Washington High days are over, and it's about time—the limitations of that venue were really starting to show, as cool as it is.) And it's free and all ages. Which means it will be packed.
$20 to any man who pushes his way to the front to take pictures :D JUST KIDDING
TBA—Portland's annual festival of contemporary visual and performing art—kicks off of this week, with a promising lineup that includes a free fest opener from The Julie Ruin and a "post-realness" drag ball featuring a former member of Sissyboy (remember them?), as well as plenty of heavy-hitting dance programming and the usual lineup of "this sounds weird but might be mind-blowing" performance art.
Starting today, over at our TBA blog you'll find the same thing we do every year, Pinky: Reviews, gossip, artist interviews, photos, giveaways, and more.
We're kicking off the blog with a giveaway: Click through to win tickets The Cat's Meow, an evening with Thomas Lauderdale and Australian cabaret sensation Meow Meow.
And when you're planning your TBA, our detailed event listings are here to help you navigate the crowded, occasionally inscrutable lineup.
PICA's annual Time-Based Art festival is just under a month away, which means it's time to start sifting through the festival's program. One thing that jumped out at me immediately is that this year's lineup features some of my favorite musicians, in familiar and unfamiliar guises:
The Julie Ruin
In 1997, Kathleen Hanna released a solo album under the moniker Julie Ruin. It was dancier and more accessible than what she'd been doing in Bikini Kill, but nowhere near as polished as her later work in Le Tigre—the album effectively bridges those two more prominent phases of her career. This year, TBA kicks off with a performance from The Julie Ruin, Hanna's new band with Kathi Wilcox, Kenny Mellman, Carmine Covelli, and Sara Landeau. A couple tracks from their forthcoming album have been released so far, and this one is the best:
The former Sonic Youth bassist/ongoing badass is performing with Bill Nace under the monicker Body/Head, which the internet says is a "noise guitar duo" with an album out from Matador this September.
Who doesn't like the Blow? WHAT KIND OF A PERSON DOESN'T LIKE THE BLOW?? For the TBA, Blow founder Khaela Maricich teams up with conceptual artist Melissa Dyne for We Put it Together So We Could Take It Apart, a show that promises to combine songs from the new Blow album, improvisation, and... art?
The tenth anniversary edition of the Time-Based Art festival wrapped up on Sunday. We've got final thoughts over on our TBA blog, including how new artistic director Angela Mattox's internationally focused programming fared, and why it's time to move on from Washington High.
This year, TBA closed out its ten-day run with a show by Laurie Anderson, a returning TBA artist who's just about as big as it gets in the contemporary art scene. I'm not sure why PICA decided to close the fest with their big event, rather than opening with it as they've done in years past—it may have just been a logistical decision—but I liked it. A fancy event at the Schnitz that might make a snoozy opener instead offers a gentle comedown from the fest.
Anderson performed Dirtday!, a mild-mannered rumination on natural selection, tent cities, death, sleep, and her piano-playing dog.
Dirtday is predominantly a storytelling show—music provides punctuation and atmosphere, but is rarely the focus. On a bare stage dotted with candles, Anderson's voice settled into a dangerously soothing rhythm, occasionally distorted by a voice modifier or broken up with a riff on the electric violin. Each story was more or less a few jokes wrapped around an aphorism ("if we didn't have regrets, we wouldn't have all that much music"), plus the aforementioned YouTubes of her dead dog, which were beautifully out of context on that stage and very endearing at the same time. A fire alarm went off onstage at one point, and Anderson's handling of that distracting was as gracious as could be. She was gracious in general, in fact, peppering the show with plenty of humor, but I nonetheless I struggled to connect the pieces of Dirtday. She opened with a reference to the name of the show, in suggesting that we rename earth "dirt," because it's "funkier, like we are," but all I can think to say about the rest of the subject matter covered is that it is all relevant to being a human. The evening's undeniable highlight was when she returned to stage for an encore to play an electric violin solo, a beautifully precarious number in which every tremor of her bow transmitted both fragility and control. I wish Dirtday! had offered a few more of those moments.
There are two performances left of Gob Squad's Kitchen (You've Never Had it So Good). Go see it.
Hilarious, technically ambitious, surprising, thoughtful—this show is wonderful. To explain it is to make it sound a lot more pretentious than it actually is, but: It's a contemporary reenactment of a handful of Andy Warhol's movies, filmed live by ridiculously gifted improvisers, with the most seamless integration of audience participation I've ever seen. (I was assured by a performer after the show that they seek out participants who seem open to being onstage—my strategy of staring intently at my hands whenever I hear the words "we need an audience member!" will work fine if you're allergic to the spotlight.)
The actors talk a lot about how their characters would be feeling and acting in 1965, when Warhol's Kitchen was filmed. In one of my favorite moments, a performer named Sharon (a pixie-haired Edie Sedgwick stand-in) is talking about feminism and oppression when another actor begins showering her with corn flakes. In any other contemporary art piece, this would be some sort of symbol, left to audience interpretation—in this show, Sharon said, "What are you doing that for?" It was a small moment, but it made me laugh, and it sums up the directness and humor that made the show work so well.
Gob Squad's Kitchen is a reminder that complexity and accessibility are not mutually exclusive. It's about nostalgia and influence and optimism and change; it's unabashedly entertaining. I might write a more in-depth review of this piece on Saturday, after it's ended, but at this point I don't want to spoil the experience for people who haven't seen it yet—it's an incredible pleasure to watch it unfold. Definitely a top-ever TBA show for me, up there with Elevator Repair Service's Gatz and Rude Mech's The Method Gun.
There are showings tonight and tomorrow at 8:30 pm at PSU's Lincoln Hall. Tickets are $30; buy 'em here.
Well, you missed last night's wonderful The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, a "live documentary" that saw filmmaker Sam Green narrating an introduction to Bucky's life and work, with a soundtrack provided by Yo La Tengo. (You shouldn't have missed it. We told you. You never listen.)
But there's still one weekend left of the Time-Based Art festival, and plenty to see.
Tim Etchells and Ant Hampton's intriguing tour of written and spoken language, The Quiet Volume, set in the library, runs through Sunday and is absolutely worth experience. Reservations are required. It's $10. You can afford it. Don't be a baby.
Andrew Dickson's Life Coach, in which a real-person "patient" receives a life-coaching session from Dickson in front of a live audience, has four more shows on Saturday and Sunday. As unassuming as this show is (it's in a tiny conference room in the basement of the Mark Spencer Hotel; there's really nothing high-concept about it), it's probably the most memorable thing I've seen so far. It's free. You can afford it. Don't be a baby.
Keith Hennessy's Turbulence runs for two more nights. Audience opinion has been divided on this one, including among our writers: Plenty of people have found the show's immersive freakiness thought-provoking and playful; some haven't.
There are also a handful of shows opening this weekend, including the anticipated Gob Squad's Kitchen (You Never Had it So Good), a mishmash of live theater and film riffing on Andy Warhol's films. Details!
For more, browse our TBA events here.
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