The tenth anniversary edition of the TBA festival wrapped up on Sunday. Some final thoughts:
• One show this year made my short list of all-time best TBA performances: Gob Squad's Kitchen.
• I'm having trouble thinking of a recent TBA show that's been as polarizing as Keith Hennessy's Turbulence was this year—Claude Wampler's piece in '07, maybe? I found it (unproductively) stressful and grating; others found it playful and inspiring.
• I'm ready to be done with Washington High School as TBA's HQ. The cleaned-up old high school was exciting to explore the first year; the second year, comfortably familiar; by now, I've seen one too many depressingly under-attended late-night shows in that auditorium, and those unisex bathrooms are just gross. Plus, this year the lines and security were almost comically unpleasant to deal with. Wait in line to wait in line for a show to start late? No thank you.
• It was nice to see former artistic directors Mark Russell and Cathy Edwards attending the fest—speaks well of PICA that past employees still want to hang out.
• I said it two years ago, and I'll say it again: NEEDS MORE PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT. I don't think TBA needs to make their programming more accessible—I've had this argument before—but I do think PICA needs to provide more points of entry for the general public. Remember the days of free public performances in Pioneer Courthouse Square?
• Overall, I'd say new artistic director Angela Mattox's pledge to bring in artists from underrepresented parts of the world paid off. There were some clunkers (the lineup of performance art from the Balkans was unbearable), but I'm glad I got to see Lagartijas al Sol (Mexico) and Cheltfisch (Japan), and my biggest festival regret is missing Faustin Linyekulas (Democratic Republic of the Congo).
There was a point during poet Gozo Yoshimasu and experimental musician Otomo Yoshihide's performance for Voices & Echoes at PSU's Lincoln Hall when Yoshihide started throwing loose change at his modified turntable— the contact mics inside it amplifying the metallic collisions— and I was reminded of this time that I asked a Japanese graffiti artist to explain wabi-sabi.
“Wabi-sabi?” he asked, considering the question for a slow second before giving his explanation. “Your shoe. Right now, it is wabi.”
Before I knew what was happening, he pulled my shoe off my foot and threw it across the parking lot we were standing in.
“Now, it is sabi.” He had no further explanation.
“Oh, okay,” I responded, trying to judge if he was messing with me or not. Then I hobbled over to my shoe.
Wikipedia translates this experience into boilerplate American English: “Wabi-sabi represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.”
Loose change thrown at a turntable sounds a bit like that, though I bring up my wabi-sabi story not to describe the intentions of Voices & Echoes' Japanese performers, but to illustrate my unfamiliarity with the Japanese cultural identity, and to segue into the disclaimer that I'm sure there's a lot of referential stuff in the performance that I missed.
Limited cultural understandings aside, I'm gonna try my best to describe what I saw at Lincoln Hall.
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.
Yesterday afternoon I stopped by for the live presentation of Claudia Meza's Listening to Space: Sonic City PDX, billed as a QR code walking tour consisting of “thirty local musicians, composers, and sound artists'... favorite local sonic spaces.”
East of the river under the Morrison Bridge, performances of experimental compositions spanned the sublime (Luke Wyland, Like A Villain, etc.) to the abrasive (Daniel Menche), and over the course of the afternoon I couldn't help but think back to Meza's End Things piece at the White Box, “Water”— consisting of 30-some Califone tape recorders loaded with sounds of water— and how the field recordings included in the installation acted like windows into unknown physical spaces, conjuring sonic sources and abstract, amalgamated poly-environments.
Sonic City PDX's digital home presents a similar (but slightly different!) relationship between sound and physical space. The project's Tumblr brings together field recordings and writings that detail contributing musicians' favorite spots— like “Water,” getting at the connectivity between a sound and its source, though stripped of all abstraction (here's the place, here's what it sounds like, rather than, here's a sound, imagine where it came from). I took this slight difference as deliberate, each project acting as the key to understanding the other.
In a semicircle around the gallery, roughly 30 Califone tape recorders hang from the ceiling like a giant, abstract chandelier. The tape recorders are arranged in three rows, those dedicated to low, mid, and high frequency ranges. Visitors are invited to start and stop individual recordings to generate new soundscapes, and the Califone's tone and volume wheels open the piece up to deeper experimentation.
Arriving in the space with a musician friend, I observed dozens of little Christmases light up in his eyes when Meza's “Water” came into view. A gallery attendant explained the rules— green-lighting the go ahead and mess around— and we went to work pressing buttons and standing in different places to test out the dynamics of the piece.
Brooklyn-based artist Thu Tran and sound artist Matt Fitzpatrick took the stage last night with food demos and slideshow lectures, imparting Tran’s findings after months of studying different food under a blacklight.
The night turned out much like you would expect: a few giggles shared over some Frankenstein junk food, e.g. a nutritional yeast and Emergen-C sprinkled atop a donut made from Pillsbury dough. This was scored to some goofy, keyboard lullaby music, with Tran singing off key (but with an endearing urgency). Tran has a sweet stage presence that makes her both super likable and fun to watch; it’s that personality you might know from her puppet cooking show series Food Party—it's zany, but done in deadpan, with a dark sensibility that every now and again creeps out of the edges of her permanent, toothy grin.
Tran's performance of Yes and No of Blacklight Food was done at the Cinefamily 24 hour telethon fundraiser, in Los Angeles, at 3 am. In lieu of a video from last night, here's a video from the telethon:
As has been mentioned regarding other shows at TBA, the Washington High School venue was a little inappropriate. The performance would’ve made better sense in a smaller, more intimate space (i.e. a small telethon stage). Watching an intimate act like cooking in stadium-like seating—as a projected live video feed, from a distant balcony seat in Washington High School—is peculiar, and feels counterintuitive (it also cut away from the open, communal, all-inclusive collaborative approach that Tran generally takes to her work).
Regardless, the auditorium was packed; the lower level was full, and the seats in the balcony seemed to fill as well. The show actually started on time last night! And it only ran about 45 minutes—any longer, and it might’ve been grating, but the 45 minutes was just long enough to enjoy some aggressive wafts of microwavable popcorn, and to create silly atmosphere to ease us into the last couple days of elusive and challenging variety of art that TBA tends to offer up.
In our TBA blog comments a few days ago, I picked on Mexican company Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol a bit for their sloppy use of supertitles. That show was translated directly from its original language, where Japanese performance troupe Cheltfisch's Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech felt adapted.
Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech is three linked vignettes, all set in an office, that use the repetition of movement and language to lampoon contemporary Japanese office culture (and, presumably, the society-wide implications of a large, homogenous white-collar workforce). It's a show in which small matters take on overlarge significance; in which the petty concerns of the office become life-defining constraints. The show is stylish and at times funny, though I was most interested in how well the show's translation from Japanese was handled. The supertitles included humorous explanatory asides (Wikipedia was invoked to explain several references) and the show's heavy reliance on repetition meant that there was plenty of time to take in both the movement and the language. It made a sharp contrast to the aforementioned Lagartijas show, where I always felt a step behind the wordy script.
That being said, though, this is one of those shows that next year I will have forgotten I saw. One of the dangers of TBA's dense programming is that smaller, less flashy shows like this one are apt to get lost in the shuffle. It's a diverting hour, to be sure, but probably not an essential one. There's one more show tonight.
First of all: Poor Alexis Blair Penney. His show last night was a classic Works misfire, and it really wasn't his fault.
Penney is an Oakland-based drag performer probably best known for the song "Lonely Sea." The songs he played last night were melodramatic and urgent, and he had real presence, as he stalked the stage in high heels and makeup, head bare. A live feed projected images of Penney and his band on screens behind them, and if we'd been in a small crowded club it would've turned into a sweaty dance show, no question. But we weren't in a crowded club, we were in a cavernous high-school auditorium, with theater seats where the dance floor should've been. Penney was clearly aware that the room was mostly empty, and that a theater-crowd audience was watching with arms crossed. "Know what it's called when you take this kind of thing seriously? Art, apparently," he said at one point, which is my favorite quote of the festival so far. A few diehards danced in the aisles, but otherwise the poor dude just didn't have much to work with. This would've been a different show in a different venue. Like say... the beer garden? <—SEGUE ALERT
After Penney's show, outside in the beer garden, a drag performer led an enthusiastic crowd in a routine of sorts—I wasn't paying too much attention, but there was definitely jumping, wiggling, and gyrating. What did this experience have that Penney's didn't? It was the right size for its venue. Also, it had a whiff of the types of "public engagement" projects that TBA used to feature more prominently, the lack of which I bet has contributed to what feels like a decline in the fest's visibility this year.
[Weird "Seen at TBA" last night: A slightly tense showdown between a dude who was determined to climb a tree in the beer garden, and a security guard who was equally determined to get him down. The guard was straight up threatening, while tree-dude pulled the "I'm just climbing a tree, bro, what's the harm" routine. I have to admit, I was a tiny bit disappointed when PICA staffer swooped in to defuse the situation—I wanted to see the security guard try to climb the tree. But anyway, it was a total callback to Keith Hennessy's show, when he pointed to the fest's security as reminder that though they do good work, PICA is beholden to The Man in many ways.]
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.
To see a perfect example of how simplicity will always trump spectacle, do yourself a favor and go watch Faustin Linyekula’s Le Cargo. The piece is honest, at times breath taking, and completely void of unnecessary bells and whistles.
There is no set, save a handful of floor lights placed to scatter shadows against the theater walls. There are no projections, or tricks with video. The piece is bare-bones performance at its best, and you might be surprised how easily Linyekula holds your attention through the 60-minute duration.
Le Cargo is essentially a performance recalling Linyekula’s first memories of art and ritual. He tells us early on in the piece that he is trying to “learn how to dance again”, which for him, means revisiting his childhood village Obilo, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where his first memories of dance are. But more so than that, I got the impression that in order to “learn how to dance again” Linyekyla felt as though he needed to make this a shared experience. In many ways, the show feels less about him and his personal history, and more about what it is to explore origin and ritual in a broad sense of the terms.
There is indeed a clear sense that gradually comes out in the piece that the audience is just as important to the success of it as Linyekula is. Which is something I found to be incredibly refreshing considering how often it seems in contemporary performance that the audience comes second to the art being displayed. I would even go as far to say that
Linyekula attempts in Le Cargo to bring the audience into his ritual, that as he moves, narrates, sings, and even jokes, that you, as a sounding board, are helping to further his work to “learn how to dance again”. It is a cyclical aspect to the show that isn’t fully revealed until close to the end (no spoilers!) and one that exhibits that, on top of being a captivating mover, Linyekula is also a talented writer.
I could probably go on and on about this piece. It is easily in my top three things I’ve seen at the festival this year. Linyekula is charming, magnetic, modest, and talented. His piece is beautiful, thrilling, moving, and good. You should go see it. It plays for two more nights at The Winningstad.
Just gonna put it out there: I pretty much want to live in The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, the live documentary written and performed by filmmaker Sam Green and scored by Yo La Tengo (originally commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to be performed during the 2012 San Francisco International Film Festival).
Last night at Washington High School, as Yo La Tengo played behind Green's friendly narration and slideshow of videos and stills detailing the life of Buckminster Fuller, I was reminded that strong entertainment value and contemporary art aren't mutually exclusive forces. This reminder has become something of a TBA tradition: each year I'm bombarded with challenging art of elusive value/meaning, I get tired, frustrated, etc., and then in the middle of the hairiness something just blows me away with its entertainment value, relevance to everyday life, and clear and present meaning (sans unnecessary codifications or large, showy art moves). In short, I left Love Song with the same sort of joy for storytelling that I walked away with after seeing Mike Daisey perform The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at TBA:10. That's a tall order, and I couldn't be more happy with this particular 'art is worthwhile' moment.
Dear Mercury—Why will no one admit that Parenthetical Girls is an emo band?
GOOD QUESTION, ISAAC. Also, I WILL ADMIT THAT PARENTHETICAL GIRLS IS AN EMO BAND.
They were last night, anyway. A friend remarked that the main part of their show reminded her of a My Chemical Romance concert, and she was right: loud and shiny and spectacle-y, with Zac Pennington dramatically walking out wearing what's probably best described as a flesh-colored unitard (somewhat awkwardly, this is what I had chosen to wear to the event as well), over which he had a harness connecting him to two massive, helium-filled balloons. This was followed by five women, credited as "Valkyries" in the program (a document whose cover simply boasted the giant words PRIVILEGE IS OVER, a Masonic Square and Compasses, and "PARENTHETICAL GIRLS, ET AL."), walking through the crowd, one by one, spitting something into Pennington's hand—I was sitting in the back, so I couldn't see the details, but I have been informed that they were "glitter eggs," which Pennington then threw, because this is what you do with glitter eggs.
All of this was accompanied by three massive video screens, and all of this had been preceded by performances from Jherek Bischoff, and Golden Retriever, and Classical Revolution PDX, and dancer Allie Hankins—topless! covered in glittery gold!—all of whom collided onstage for the Pennington-led finale, which felt like a big, sonic wash that kind of obliterated everything that had come before—Golden Retriever's intense, Vangelis-score-for-Blade Runner-y performance with Classical Revolution PDX, Hankins' (similarly intense) dance. Pennington's a hell of a showman, talented and confident and (this sounds weird to write about a dude I used to work with and—disclaimer!—am still friendly acquaintances with, but okay) somehow both sexual and androgynous at once. He's fun to watch, and the general sense of the performance—lavish melancholy—came through strong, even though the sound system in the Washington High auditorium is, turns out, pretty shittily equipped to handle the sort of grand, complex sound the show was based around.
The sound system was bad enough, actually, that the show briefly stopped as they tried to work out some sound issues, with an understandably testy Pennington complaining before giving up and moving on. The show ended shortly afterward, abruptly and surprisingly soon—it's TBA, so who knows, maybe that was the plan, or maybe, as was suggested by a few people afterward, Pennington had cut it short. The performance as a whole—with all of its associated acts—didn't feel short to me, but the final, Parenthetical Girls-focused segment, which concluded with a camera following Pennington through the halls of Washington High before wandering outside the school, the resultant broadcast on those big video screens, did feel like it ended too soon—it might've been overwhelming and blurry, but the music is solid, and what can I say? I like this sort of stuff. I like My Chemical Romance too.
Two of our writers saw Keith Hennessy's improv-based Turbulence on the same night. Jenna was sharply critical of the piece; here's Noah's response, which I'm pulling from the comments:
I am of people who really liked this show. And for all intents and purposes, following my own standards, I should have disliked it. I usually hate unscripted theatre, I am not a very big fan of dance that lacks choreography, and I usually loathe audience participation. But for whatever reason, I found this loosely structured, chaotic mess of a piece to be compelling.
Why, though? I can't say for certain (yes you can call BS). I am still making up my mind about it and why I'm continuing to think about this piece and what exactly made the impact but...
I think I liked it because it wasn't afraid to be hated.
I think I liked it because it didn't feel like a performance but a school yard game.
I think I liked it because it was messy.
I think I liked it because it wasn't trying to teach me anything or change my mind about something.
I think I liked it because it was some hippy shit, it was some 1980s San Francisco shit, and it was also its own shit.
I think I liked how genuine Hennessy was. And how that translated into the room.
I realize that what I saw and what I think I liked I will probably not see or like again as the nature of the show is to change. But I think I like that too. And I would even go on to guess that that is one of the main ideas behind the piece.
Anyone else want to weigh in?
“If a sculpture is a story, the inverse process is also possible,” states artist, novelist, and performer Alex Cecchetti in an interview with PICA Visual Art Curator Kristan Kennedy, commenting on the combination of performance, object-based story telling, and installation that's presented in his TBA:12 End Things contribution, “Summer Is Not the Prize of Winter”— a piece that aims to transform a narrative into a sculpture.
Allowing for inversions, I suppose it's fitting that I came into Cecchetti's work a bit backwards— backwards in that his installations are the result of his performances, and I didn't spend any long hours with his room at Washington High School until Monday afternoon, when it was empty of performers and visitors, dotted with a smattering of objects, assemblages, and wall/chalkboard drawings.
“The first day it's empty,” explains Kennedy, “and [visitors] walk in and they say, 'Is the air the exhibition?'”
No, it's not. After each daily performance objects are left behind, the room becoming more and more full as time wears on.
“The stars,” Cecchetti says of the things that remain in the room— explaining that these metaphorical balls of gas stay so visitors can create narrative constellations between them. With his finger, he draws angular examples in the air in front of himself, narrating, “You can make the bear, or you can make the scorpion, or you make... What else? A lion.”
Yet, these DIY star charts aren't just for audiences, but also for other performers who replace Cecchetti (and one another) over the ten-day evolution of “Summer Is Not the Prize of Winter.” Cecchetti's replacements do their best to reproduce his story and performance for audiences, simultaneously teaching it to the next performer. (The process is compared to “a game of telephone” and "relay performance" in program notes, with Cecchetti relearning the story from his final surrogate before relating the new, transmuted version on the last day of the festival.)
But back to the stars. When I come to them on Monday afternoon, never having seen Cecchetti's performance, I'm at a serious loss as to how I'm supposed draw the constellations.
Ugh. Does anyone actually want to talk about Keith Hennessy’s Turbulence? How about, instead, we just stay home, get high as fuck, and wobble around our living rooms? We can touch each other. And wear spandex. It’ll be a reenactment! Even if you didn’t see the performance, no matter. The dance is always changing.
Luckily I photo-documented a cardboard list of things that Hennessy shared with us, things that he said he wanted to happen during his performance. Here is what you need to do:
Did I mention, the dance should be about the economy? Oh hey, the dance should be about the economy!
Except it’s okay if it’s not at all about the economy. In fact, if you have a bottle of champagne at home, grab that. Turn your attention to that. Take a sip of that. Now grab a rubber mat. Take another dreg of champagne; dump the rest of it on the mat, and, get naked…Because that rubber mat has officially become a slip'n'slide.*
Be sure to roll around and touch each other for a solid hour. Don’t forget the human pyramid.
In lieu of any drawn-out convo on this ridiculousness (which, you may have gathered by now, was an hour and-a-half of carefree improv BS), I’ll post some quotes I gathered from last night. In chronological order:
“This is some hippie shit up in here.” — Noah Dunham. (The show hasn’t started.)
“Want a donut?” — Dude hanging from the railing. (The show has started?)
“Who wants a donut?” — Donut dude, now in the audience, handing out donuts.
“Aimless.” — Guy in the audience.
“Well, if the party is in option…I’m gonna take that option. And get out of here.” — Woman behind me.
“DICK. I wanna. See. More. Dick." — My friend, now desperate, and hoping they open the floor to audience suggestions.
“I am so over contemporary art. I am so sick of how self-indulgent this field is.” — My friend, the art professor.
“I just want to see something pretty :( ” — Me, five days into TBA.
I understand: art can have value, even if you don’t like it. You don’t have to like a piece of art in order for it to be enriching. I didn't like this piece, obvs. But I also don't see where the value was. And I am very patient with these things!! Since I saw the work, I’ve kept trying to give the performance the benefit of the doubt, insisting to myself, “I must be missing something.” But, no.**
At a certain point, art stops being “difficult” and starts being an abusive and self-indulgent waste of an audience’s time. The majority of the performance felt this way to me, with the few exceptions being when Hennessy got on the microphone, and made some genuinely eloquent remarks on...well, love, essentially. At another point, Hennessy began wandering the stage, inciting, “Get Mad. Get angry. Go to the window.”
And that’s where he left us. Or at least me, and the people around me. I honestly cringe at the fact that, at this moment, there is a fresh batch of people who are walking out of the theater who have just experienced this, and who probably paid to experience this.
That being said, if anyone else saw this piece and has a different take (I hope someone does), please sound off in the comments!
*Still not sure if this was irony or ignorant opulence (re: our fucked economy).
**And I really WANT to appreciate Keith Hennessy’s piece!!! I watched him at Ten Tiny Dances, and I enjoyed him!!! I love his earnesty. He's funny. When he speaks, it’s obvious that he’s smart and talented (not just anyone can balance themselves on a Culligan jug)!
Things I was looking forward to seeing last night at The Works: Weston Currie premiering a new film with a live soundtrack provided by Portland's own Liz Harris (Grouper). And B-Movie Bingo presented by Wolf Choir, in which audience members play bingo using movie cliches from Bulletproof starring Gary Busey(!).
I didn't see them though. I left The Works at 1:15am and the basically cleared out theater was still being setup for these two portions of last night's Future Cinema. There were murmurs going around that neither of these films/performances were even going to happen.
What I did see last night: a two hour Google+ chat amongst five seemingly intoxicated friends made increasingly tedious with obscure inside jokes and failed audience participation.
This was Terrifying Women, a program of videos and performances by current and past Portland artists Alicia McDaid, Tanya Smith, Wendy Haynes, Sarah Johnson, Diana Joy, Kathleen Keogh, and Angela Fair. I think the idea here was to have a modern day panel of sorts in which work could be shown and then discussed by each of the respective artists participating. But what was actually presented was more of a confusing conference call interrupted at times by videos and loosely structured live compositions. As an audience member I felt bewildered and also a bit put out that I was either not in on the joke, or just completely missing it.
Some of the videos were interesting however. The ones shown by Diana Joy in particular were impressive in regards to production value and content. But on a whole this loosely structured and meandering program left me cold and wishing I stayed out in the beer garden.
More photos after the jump if you'd like to take a gander...
Last night for THE WORKS, Global and Mobile Pop filled the stage at Washington High School with screens in triplicate and African-sourced sounds.
Curated by musician Chris Kirkley, aka Sahel Sounds, the night featured performances by local experimental-pop trio Brainstorm, Somali pre-civil war legends Iftin Band, and sound and video artist Jason Urick, who took the stage for the night to publicly surf the web on topics related to the performance (streaming videos from YouTube or Vimeo, scrolling slowly down Wikipedia tabs, and exploring the digital footprint of what was being presented on stage).
The visuals on the three screens consisted of, from stage left to right, Urick's aforementioned Internet, prerecorded video mash-ups (also by Urick) and Skype sessions with African musicians, and live tweets corresponding to #globalmobilepop on the final, right screen.
The experience was at once meditative, chaotic, informative, fun— designed almost perfectly to overload a person's senses, encouraging info consumption to a point just beyond the comfortable.
It's press day at Mercury HQ, so I don't have much time to write about Perforations, but in a nutshell: I didn't like it.
The program of performers from the Balkans was intermittently boring, irritating, and boring again. I left before the fourth and final piece in the show, after sitting through three segments of the type of performance art that are exactly why so many of my friends refuse to go to TBA, even if I wave free passes in their face.
Segment 1: The crowd is waiting in the the hallway when a volunteer tells us that if we're claustrophobic and/or incapable of standing for 20 minutes, we should skip the first segment of the program. We don't skip it, and so we're ushered backstage, where for the next 20 minutes we stand uncomfortably in the dark, listening to spooky music and wishing we could see what was happening. Since what was happening was that a performer was creating an intricate yarn-web over the doorway, we weren't wishing that hard— we were trapped! In art! Art that felt a lot like a Nine Inch Nails fan's basement! So that was boring and uncomfortable.
[Unexplained interlude lasting approximately 40 minutes.]
Segment 2: Back in the main auditorium. A woman moved squares around over a light board (projected on a screen above) while pretty music played, then she rolled around on it for a while. I found this part sort of relaxing, but I also sort of wanted to leave.
Segment 3: A woman in a white dress gave a "political speech" inspired by Pussy Riot, while a slide show of stock vagina photos played in the background. This segment had some potential, except it lasted for 600 years, long enough for the vagina slide show to cycle through four times. I wrote down a lot of quotes from this, mostly alliterative pussy sloganeering, but I'm not going to transcribe any of it because it's frankly not that interesting. Basically it was yelling about how we need a vagina-based political party, and then it was some spoken word poetry that involved reciting the names of past presidents while porn sounds played.
At this point PICA volunteers tried to usher us upstairs, for the evening's fourth and presumably final segment (it was 10:15; the show started at 8:30), but we ran free into the night.
There's one more showing of Perforations tonight, if you really want to challenge yourself. Or you could just watch this clip 120 times.
One annoyance of TBA this year has been that cute little old-timey announcement board in the hallway where the night's show schedule is posted. At least three times now, I've shown up for a show that's listed in the program and online as starting at 10:30 pm, only to find that damn board telling me it won't be starting til 11 pm. A half an hour's not a huge deal, but it's indicative of a larger problem: there's a LOT of hurry-up-and-wait at Washington High. Last night's Perforations was scheduled to start at 8:30 pm, and it did, but the 20-minute segment from 8:30-8:50 pm was followed by a solid 40 minute of waiting around for the next part of the show to start. Not to mention the general pain in the ass of waiting in line outside of Washington High, only to get in and wait in another line inside of Washington High.
Per official channels, "Things get backed up around using Washington High as a venue for 8:30 mainstage shows (particularly last night and tonight). Set changeovers can delay performers, so 11 is generally a safer bet. But doors always open by 10."
With the disclaimer that I tried the "11 is a safer bet" approach two nights ago, and missed part of Miniature Dramas. SIGH.
One mark of a promising theater company, to me, is the ability to do a lot with a little. Tackling a centuries-long, war-addled saga in a foreign language with a cast of two and a set comprised mostly of produce boxes? Yeah, I’d say that counts.
All right, I’m sorry to say it, but my public school education taught me very little about Mexico’s history, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one. But you know what that means? Asalto al Agua Transparente, the drama of the perpetual struggle for water as power in the Basin of Mexico, is like a brand new story! Shiny.
Luisa Pardo and Gabino RodrÍguez, the founders of Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol, slip seamlessly between then and now, weaving a present-day scene of two lonely city-dwellers between a tag-team storytelling reenactment of sorts… It’s kind of hard to explain because I’ve never quite seen it done like this—another sign of exciting new theater work.
Last night's Works two-part program Miniature Dramas actually started on time, an event I was so unprepared for that I unfortunately missed the first few minutes of Laure Heit's charming set. Our photographer described it, aptly, as a resembling a live-action indie comic—hunched over her tiny world of paper cutouts, Heit told clever little stories about a tiger-riding girl and a boy who caught on fire (real fire! the magic of live theater!). She then pounded a glass of wine before launching into a segment called "27 pictures of myself naked," 27 drawings of a little naked figure riding a bike, popping, telling a secret, "talking on an old-fashioned phone," and more. Her miniature paper stage was projected onto a big screen behind her; it was fun to watch both the images on the screen, and Heit herself on the stage, intently focused on her tiny creations.
I was less captivated by the evening's second segment, David Commander's In Fight. The setup was similar—a live, small-scale production projected onto a big screen—only his featured a large paper-machÉ airplane populated by Star Wars action figures (Princess Leia flight attendants? That is someone's very specific fantasy, I'm sure of it). Commander's manipulation of sound and cameras was impressive, as he took the audience inside the plane, then inside the TV programs the people on the plane were watching (SkyMall's nefarious influence featured prominently). But while technically impressive, the we-are-all-passengers-on-a-crashing-plane subtext seemed too obvious, and frankly not interesting enough to justify the amount of effort Commander expended on the production.
We wrote about Ten Tiny Dances yesterday—here are some pictures to go along with the words.
Last night was the first and last performance of Fluid Hug-Hug's Glowing. If you missed it, my apologies in advance: It would be a lot better to see the dance—it’s so much about the subtleties in seeing—than to read whatever recap I will muster about it. Check this out, at least:
The majority of the piece is performed in silence (you can barely hear the dancers’ feet hit the floor). This means all of the attention is on the visuals, and there’s a ton to see indeed. The lighting and the movement are masterful. Choreographer Kota Yamazaki has a Butoh background, but infuses it with a lot of other dance influences. Yamazaki’s company, Fluid Hug-Hug, is comprised of six dancers, hailing from all over: Japan, America, Ethiopia and Senegal. The name "Fluid Hug-Hug" says a lot—the word “fluid” kept coming to mind during yesterday’s performance. From Yamazaki’s website: “Yamazaki believes that a person is fluid and has to keep flowing, like water, so that exchange between people from different backgrounds can become more easy and free. The name of Fluid hug-hug came from this idea of fluidity and meeting people from all over the world.”
Glowing is a dance that makes you marvel, for one, at how controlled the body can be, but also at how it slows down movement to make you closely examine the body's form itself. The dancers use the entirety of their selves and their motions. From full-out seizure spasms to the tiniest flicker of a finger—from head to their toes, they have a complete awareness of their body. As for overriding themes, the emphasis is on lightness and darkness (the costuming is strictly black and white, the floor is white and the curtains are black). Yamazaki was inspired largely by the essay In Praise of Shadows, by Japanese author Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s. In terms of plot, in terms of rising and falling action, nothing really “happens” here—which maybe sounds boring (it’s definitely not what I would consider a crowd-pleaser), but, if you're patient enough to pay close attention, there’s a lot to offer.
In Tanazaki's essay, he talks a lot about dishes and lacquerware, which (bear with me!) is actually super relevant to this performance. It gets at that tight attention that turns into a dreamlike quality, which pervades much of Glowing. Here, this passage:
Lacquerware is light and soft to the touch and gives off hardly a sound. I know few greater pleasures than holding a lacquer soup bowl in my hands, feeling upon my palms the weight of the liquid and its mild warmth…With lacquerware there is a beauty in that moment between removing the lid and lifting the bowl to the mouth when one gazes at the still, silent liquid in the dark depths of the bowl, its color hardly differing from that of the bowl itself. What lies within the darkness one cannot distinguish, but the palm senses the gentle movements of the liquid, vapor rises from within forming droplets on the rim, and the fragrance carried upon the vapor brings a delicate anticipation. What a world of difference there is between this moment and the moment when soup is served Western style, in a pale, shallow bowl. A moment of mystery, it might almost be called, a moment of trance.
And, with that, I’m going to go get rid of all my Tupperware now. Have fun at the Works tonight; maybe I’ll see you there.
This is one of those TBA performances that will make you irritated and possessive with your time. Confusion, frustration, and disorientation: you’re apt to feel all of those. But that’s the point. Last night was the second and final run of the piece Miriam. I saw it Friday, and I’m still trying to make sense of it.
In short, it’s a difficult performance, and it’s good to have some background information (our print preview of the show will give you some clue). Zimbabwe-born choreographer Nora Chipaumire works with ideas of displacement, gender, and African identity. Also performing in the piece is dancer Okwui Okpokwasili, who was born to Nigerian parents but is Brooklyn-based. Miriam is booked as a dance, but it’s a lot more like theater—like Absurdist theater, or Dada theater, where there are a lot of indecipherable grunts and gasps (more so than actual sensible words).
They call it everyone's favorite. Saturday night confirmed that: the Works was packed last night for Ten Tiny Dances (now in its tenth anniversary). If you could endure the long and annoying wait for the show to start, you’ll agree, it will probably be a standout of this year’s TBA—amazing in how a small platform can “snowball” (more on that later) into something immersive and transformative. And, as we've said before, it's a welcome reprieve from some of the more challenging, feature-length works at the festival.
Most likely, since you’re following TBA, you know the premise of Ten Tiny Dances: five-to-10 minute dances designed by 10 different folks for a square, 4’x4’ platform. The spatial constraint serves as a catalyst for creativity. Last night’s performance showcased a huge range of solutions to the constraint, from improvisatory to rehearsed, from silly to serious, from introspective solos to a stripshow-turned-all-inclusive dance party. Also, a kid goat (eh? See: Hana Erdman).
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