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Thursday, September 25, 2003

Sv. Nikolai needs more ideas 

The opening moments of Hinterland Theater's "The Wreck of the Sv. Nikolai" hold much promise. Three musicians: a singer, an accordion player and a cellist begin a haunting, heart stopping mix of klezmer, folk and classical music. The rises and falls in the music evoke lost love, danger, torment and hope.

Two actors appear on stage dressed in big coats painted with tribal images. They wear rings on their ankles suggesting chained legs. They open an ark on the stage and reveal a miniature ship hanging over a painting of a dark, portentous sea.

So begins this operatic story of an 1808 shipwreck of the Sv. Nikolai, a small schooner en route from Alaska to Oregon and the tragedy that occurs when the ship's passengers encounter the native people of the Pacific Northwest.

What begins as a magical telling using puppets, innovative costumes and shadow play with live musical accompaniment, quickly turns into a plodding, dull tale. For the next 55 minutes, not much happened on the stage, besides repetitive movement by puppets and actors and some small backdrop changes.

The libretto has some lovely poetic language, for example when one of the characters says he is so hungry "he could drink the juice form your fingers." But the music and singing, which is done as a background to the visuals, can’t hold our interest for a full hour.

It's a delightful surprise when the actors turn their backs on us to reveal different characters painted on their backs and faces made with masks worn on the back of their heads. To make this show work, we need more of those lovely surprises that the Hinterland Theater so beautifully executed. As the show stands right now, the story described in the program is more interesting than the one that unfolds on the stage.

-- Gigi Rosenberg

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Quasar 

Much like the Iyer/Ladd show (which I wrote about in an earlier post), Quasar’s “Lend Me Your Eyes” was a well-crafted performance with a social message that didn’t leave room for critique or inspiration. The performance consisted of two general themes related only by their geographic origins. The first was a series of short dances inspired by the group’s “interventions” in Brazilian cities, most of them involving the dancers mimicking the actions of homeless individuals. The latter half of the show transitioned into a documentary-based piece about elderly folks, appropriately beginning with their nostalgic storytelling and ending with their fears about impending death. The dancers were highly talented, the choreography inventive and often engaging, daring to go beyond beautiful movement to explore the grotesque in a way that I have rarely seen even in contemporary dance. Throughout the entire performance, I was caught between wanting to enjoy the piece purely for its physicality and being forced to follow the loose narratives, which were not particularly engaging.

Katherine Bovee

Coco Fusco-The Incredible Disappearing Woman 

The Incredible Disappearing Woman was certainly the most challenging work I’ve seen during the tba festival, not because it dealt with necrophilia, but because it tediously piled theme upon theme, leaving a messy jumble of provocative themes within a package that looked, smelled, and acted like contemporary performance. Inspired by the story of an American artist who went to Mexico to rent a female corpse and committed an act of necrophilia as body art, IDW takes place in the set of a film for a live chat room that is part of a larger museum of perversions. The extended fantasy that unfolds is dictated by feedback from a virtual audience, transmitted via a red LED board displaying their messages, and an offstage director whose dictates boom like the voice of god to the two actors on stage. There is no lack of provocative themes, as IDW is endlessly expansive. On her website at http://www.thing.net/~cocofusco/disapwman.html
Fusco writes that this piece is about how we “make the actuality of political violence intelligible in an information-saturated culture dominated by simulation.” Unfortunately, the piece also contains a slew of other topics including a critique on museum curation; a critique of the potential abuses for technology; an exploration of human perversions that exposes a dangerous gap between simulation and reality; a critique of gender, race, and class relations. While the form is ostensibly light, mimicking a piece of poorly executed, amateurish impromptu theater, the content is so densely layered that the final product is muddy and no satisfactory exploration of any one of these themes is ever achieved. For example, the robot that joins the two actors on stage is a potentially crucial prop for exploring notions of the cyborg. However, this robot is not just a robot, but a non-white, female, elderly, Catholic, disabled, poor, victimized robot who is confused about human/robot identity and has a fear of death. Dialog with the robot only complicated an already complex and overlong performance. By juxtaposing one of these human attributes, say fear of death, with a robot, an interesting tension would have emerged; by juxtaposing all of these human attributes with the robot, the tension is completely lost. That said, there were still some provocative themes embedded in the performance, namely the implication of visual arts curation as a sort of necrophilia, especially in regards to performance, an art form which is “dead” when it is no longer performed, yet is revived by curators in an act of simulation, who provide props and documentation to allow the audience to “reenact” these experiences. I wanted to like Fusco’s IDW, but as the performance progressed, the contemporary form of the piece gave way and I found myself wallowing in its content.

Katherine Bovee

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

BS Heard Here: Bradlee Simmons Speaks 

Bradlee Simmons has been spreading his special brand of public outreach throughout the city for the last year, and PICA was lucky enough to showcase him for the TBA festival. In a double billing with Amos Latteier on September 12, Simmons shared his message of hope and urgency to a largely receptive audience at Body Vox. Stunned by his testimony and vision, TBA Press Corps member, Cielo Lutino, caught up with Simmons last weekend at his favorite Portland coffee shop, Common Grounds, to rap about the issues that are important.

CIELO LUTINO: Do you live off Hawthorne, or are you still at the hostel?

BRADLEE SIMMONS: You know, I don’t actually feel comfortable revealing that because the seminars I’m doing right now are so much about the different places in town that people live. I sort of feel like, if I were to tell people where I live, it would really qualify people’s responses and change the dynamic in the room in a way that I’m not comfortable doing.

CL: Okay, okay, I can respect that.

BS: But it’s not a bad question.

CL: No.

BS: It’s not an offensive question.

CL: Okay, well, I--

BS: It’s just me.

CL: I’m curious about your move to the Bay Area in the 1990s. It seems like a lot of people moved there around that time. What’s different about the experiences you had there from when you moved here?

BS: It was a really, really crazy time there. I mean, it was super cool, but it was also too much, ultimately, for me. It was like getting on a roller coaster, and I had to get off after eight months. Moving here to Portland has been more like getting on a ferris wheel. It’s been a lot more gentle, and I feel like I’ve had enough time to look down and see the sights and to talk to the person next to me, as opposed to just screaming at them.

CL: Well, but it seems like…you didn’t start CAGE (Council Against Geographic Entitlement) there, you started it here, so in terms of gentleness…

BS: That’s…that obviously was the big…I don’t want people to get the wrong impression. For the most part, Portland people have mirrored Portlandia in the sense of a real spirit of welcoming arms, but there, you know, there is, there have been exceptions. And I don’t want to unfairly characterize the reception I got in Portland, but it’s like, you know, when you have, when you buy a bushel of apples, you don’t think about the ones that were tasty and juicy. You think about the one that was rotten.

CL: Uh huh. Hm. So what is next for CAGE?

BS: Well, we’re looking at opening a permanent office, and one of the, one of the, as far as the organization growing, there’s so many young people moving here. I think that everyone who moves here is a potential recruit. As I am becoming more comfortable here and having my own life and personal and professional life blossom, I’m really hoping to hand over the reins. I’m hoping that Frances will rise to the occasion, but I’m not sure if she’s open to that.

CL: Oh, okay, I see. Uh, who is she?

BS: She’s just a really special person who moved here from Texas. And um…she can tell you about it, but she had a…there was an incident at a party that she went to where she heard some people denigrating the state of Texas, where she’s from, and she defended it. Push came to shove, and she came to CAGE to sort of try to heal some of the wounds.

CL: You know, you talk about CAGE having recruits down the road, but it seems—

BS: Well, we’re recruiting people now.

CL: Okay, but don’t you think that CAGE is fundamentally a really hopeful organization and therefore…you know, I can sort of see, if it works out the way that you would want, there wouldn’t be a need for cages and CAGE.

BS: Yeah! Yeah, that’s the idea! We wanna get the animals back out of the cages and into the jungle, out of the zoo. Yeah, yeah. No, I think CAGE is all about taking anger and starting from this place, this place where you’re on the defense, and, and you know... CAGE is a lot like what I do. I’m an IT systems manager, and when I’m doing a good job, nobody notices. It’s only when I screw up that I get noticed and yelled at, but if everything’s going fine, nobody notices. I sort of feel like, if CAGE exists, it’s because something’s a problem, but once CAGE disappears, you know, we wouldn’t have to think about it anymore.

CL: It seems like you fit in really well in Portland. You talk about meditation and really liking Hawthorne. So for someone who talks about being an outsider, it seems like the city has really taken you into its fold. You’re in the TBA—

BS: Yeah.

CL: Yeah. So, in some ways, it seems like you’re not in a cage anymore.

BS: I feel like I’ve got most of my body out of the cage, but there’s still one foot. And I think it’s more of a psychological foot than it is a physical foot.

CL: So you’ve been out and about, I imagine, enjoying the TBA. Have you been going to Machineworks?

BS: Oh, yes, I have. And it’s been a lot of fun.

CL: And what have you really enjoyed at TBA?

BS: Oh, they’ve got a different cocktail every night, and so that’s been a lot of fun. When I walk over there, I play a game where I try to guess what the cocktail’s going to be, so that’s been really fun… and so, this is a little embarrassing, but I’ve been sort of having conversations with the ram. Just kind of communing with the ram between the different wonderful acts that have been happening onstage.

CL: What kinds of conversations have you been having with the ram?

BS: Just trying to tap into his alternate life and the kind of adventures he’s had, other animals he’s had to do battle with, his mating rituals, that kind of thing.

CL: You know, I think all the girls out there want to know. Are you seeing Frances?

BS: I might like to be seeing Frances, just like I might like Crystal182 to e-mail me back, but that’s for me to know and for you to find out, I guess.

CL: Yeah, no. I don’t mean to pry. I just know that there were a lot of ladies asking, I think, after the show.

BS: Like who?

CL: Maybe some of the dancers, some of the dancers…uh…yeah.

BS: I’m actually a pretty physical person. I was gonna try to do a little dancing in the show. Just cause I wanted to try to incorporate all the different elements of the festival, sort of to pay homage.

CL: I noticed. You had a video, and then there was the talking. Are there other ways you think you might express your message, some other media?

BS: Don’t forget I had the triangle, so I was trying to use music. Dance is something I want to integrate. And the healing arts, sort a hybrid of yoga and poekoelan that we’re working on.

CL: I know that the performance ended rather quickly, but it seemed like people were really enjoying it and wanting to stay there instead of moving onto possibly the next TBA performance. Is there a summation you want to give to the end of the piece?

BS: I just want to say thank you. What happened that night was a pretty important epoch in the Saturn return I’m going through right now, and I feel like the rebirth that I initiated by moving here has come to fruition with that experience. I’d just say thank you, Portland, for welcoming me and showing me the rest of the bushel of apples and not just the rotten ones.*

Monday, September 22, 2003

Ta-Done Photos 


Are now available by clicking here.

silt - Luminal Lines 

The program guide calls it “Liminal”; clever, very.
People are still black shadows; they are more interesting than moving white light.
The wheeled mechanism creaks across the marley; someone should turn off the soundtrack so we can hear it better.
silt has a single thing; they should add it to a more complex project.

Aaron Betsky Lecture - Slow Space 

Betsky has an idea to share; his lecture is about nothing.
He says utopia is nothing; I remember my brief infatuation with Rem Koolhaas.
Culture, city, modernism, crossroads; reducing, sprawling, dissipating, open.
The Newmark’s sound system fails; Betsky’s voice is fading to nothing.
Betsky struggles to make his slides work; He says the best designs are lazy.
The Dutch are hyper-aware of artifice; they know how to arrange information.
It took an hour to say one thing; new architecture is about making space empty.
There are no problems to solve; I wonder if my clients would feel the same.

The Hinterland Theater Association - Shadow Puppet Play 

The Hinterland Theater has a play to work on; it is currently 60 minutes of nothing.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Love's Foul - Brava Vitucci 

The stage is exposed; a man sweeps upstage right to left.
Another man tunes the piano; he eats from a bag of cheese puffs.
He is funny at first; the joke becomes cliche.
The audience wears Sunday casuals; we are still at PICA.
Video screens and clothespins contrast scale; never trust wireless mics.
I long for actors and sets that store in a box; I am recovering from an 11 hour weekend rehearsal.
Here you see a chicken who has loved and who has lost; Evita for foul minds.
Vitucci turns away every time her assistant places the next setting; there is a way things must be done.
Chris likes the show for its lack of pretense; it does not want to be groundbreaking.
It’s always forever and it’s always you; we enjoy the walk home.

September 19 

Bill Shannon is very attractive. I’m just going to say that and get it over with. It’s not just me that thinks so. There was a general consensus. He’s got those Brando eyes. Now, about the work. I’m not a dance aficionado and do not know how to talk about it. But I really like the way Mr. Shannon interacts with the “real world”. The video clips of him drawing out the sympathy of passersby are both funny and painful. An exploration of the awkwardness of empathy, grabbing the inner elbow. I would probably do the same thing if I saw someone falling, so I could empathize with the empathizers while at the same time getting his point, I think. It was good to hear him talk about his work and for talk to mingle with the music and the dance, even if he was just resting his arms and DJ Tempo was salty-sweet. During the actual dance part, the crutches seemed like armatures for wings. He spread them like wings and folded them like wings. I’m sure this analogy has been used, but I couldn’t help thinking of Icarus. Icarus, as we all know, flew too close to the sun with wings that his father made and when the wax of his wings melted, he fell into the sea. So much of his dance seemed like falling, but falling with grace and style and never quite crashing into the sea, just skimming the surface then coming up to fall some more.

Later went to machine works with a small gang of girls on bikes. Seemed appropriate for the show there, the house of you-know-what. Very funny burlesque style entertainment. Kind of Saturday night live when it was good. So many people there, it was hard to see. I stood on my toes and saw snippets. I was impressed.

September 16, 17 

Miranda July had me in the palm of her hand. I left that theater feeling like I would do just about anything for her. She knows exactly how to manipulate an audience and does so with smartness, charm and finesse. The video of the people in the airport, which animated their personal space as big chunks of color bumping into each other, was fresh and surprising. As were the other audio and video clips and stories, tied together by a to do list on an overhead projector. The stage was empty but seemed full. Her ideas are simple and brilliant, funny and startling and become so large that they expand around her frame to fill not only the stage but the entire auditorium. Her work resonates with truth. Even if it's all lies... or partly lies...or all true. The whole audience seemed to want to take her home. I left feeling like a teenager with a crush.

On Wednesday night, I went to machine works to see Sarah Dougher. The upright piano, in particular, complimented her voice. She performed sneak previews of songs that are part of a longer piece based on the Odyssey. Mixing her PhD in Latin together with a background in Northwest Indy rock she makes a smart and interesting dish. The atmosphere at machine works was more subdued and palatable than usual. People seemed calm. The grass and small trees were nice. That's all I'm going to say about it.

Lend Me Your Attendance 

It’s too bad there weren’t more people at Quasar’s first show, because it was really, really good. That’s it. That’s as plain as I can say it, and if Quasar is as much about the "de-eliticization" of art as their program promised, that may be exactly the kind of review they’re looking for.

Audiences usually want a more meaty evaluation, though, and at fifteen dollars per show in a down economy, who can blame wanting to get your money’s worth. It’s an attitude to which the Brazilian troupe seems sensitive. Hailing from a country that’s been economically depressed for some time, Quasar is intent on addressing the results of a long fiscal downturn on Brazilian urban life. Poverty, community, violence, and isolation are all issues tenderly and thoughtfully regarded during their performance of "Lend Me Your Eyes."

From the beginning, Quasar uses a deliberate approach towards communicating their message to the audience. On a stage interrupted by glass panels, a figure casually begins adding white blocks to those already arranged at the back of the stage, and soon a wall appears. Onto this, a black and white video of an urban street scene is projected. A homeless person joins the men on the makeshift screen at the same time as a dancer walks stage right towards the projected image. Suddenly, she begins a slow descent towards the floor, mimicking the falling motion of the beggar projected behind her. She performs a long and frenetic solo that recalls the movements of someone in the process of being arrested. Her free form interpretation simultaneously evinces wonder and compassion when you realize that it’s based on the harsh circumstances of someone living on the streets.

Your position in the theatre can further complicate how you receive her actions. Depending on where you’re sitting, dancers are either blurred behind a glass panel or clearly seen. Quasar plays with that notion of perspective throughout the performance, asking the audience to consider the lens by which they view the vignettes that compose the first section of "Lend Me Your Eyes."

Using video footage of "interferences," as the program calls them, to introduce each vignette, Quasar follows with a masterful physical reading of the effects of urban life on the body. The interferences, mostly shot with members of the company, take place in various sites around Goiania, the company’s home base, and show the dancers in familiar scenes of life in a large metropolis. In one, a dancer plays the role of a drunkard, swaying in the middle of a subway car until he eventually falls over from the motion of the car. The other riders watch him warily, and none offer a hand when he collapses. In another interference, a woman huddles on the floor of a busy interior intersection while all around her, passersby travel. Her hunched body is an oasis among them. With such projections behind them, the dancers, dressed in tattered street clothes, offer their own interpretation of the scenes, often cueing off of a particular movement, like the drunk’s stumbling progression in the subway car.

An hour-long performance that cycles one depressing scene after the other would dull the effect of each, and Quasar skillfully transitions the next portion of "Lend Me Your Eyes" to focus more personally on Goiania’s inhabitants. The rent in the narratives stitched in the first half of the performance comes with the projection of an older man on the largest wall at the back of the stage. Unlike the previous images, his is in color, instantly adding a warmth that had been missing from the stage. A dancer garbed in a large white shirt stretches it so that it acts as a screen for him to "carry" the older man’s image to the front of the stage where the other dancers hold a sheet onto which the image is transferred. The man’s voice is soon overheard, and on the sheet, the audience reads the translation of his speech, narrating a long life of hard work and personal tragedy. He seems to conclude his story by stating a readiness for death and questioning the need for the old songs, for singing, but Quasar belies his bitterness by cutting to an excerpt of him singing. The man’s voice contrasts neatly with the mechanical instrumentals Quasar uses to great effect through most of the performance. Older human voices sing vernacular folk tunes and interrupt a soundtrack largely associated with contemporary urban environments, confirming that the old songs are still needed.

So proceeds the rest of "Lend Me Your Eyes," which leans on narratives from the elderly to meditate further on the themes of isolation and community as they occur in urban settings. Here are lives equally understood by those who live them as "used up" or as "wasted" as those of the characters that filled the first half of the performance. Quasar approaches both sets of stories with choreography that mixes wit, technical luminescence, and, ultimately, sympathy. The dancers use their physical prowess to create a miracle of syncopation that produced audible gasps from the audience, and in the end, a well-deserved standing ovation. Portland doesn’t entertain this caliber of international performance often nor does modern dance offer many pieces as accessible and as generous as "Lend Me Your Eyes." Go and see it if you can, but if you miss it, check out the tape at PICA’s Resource Room after the festival.

Creative Capital launches new workshop on "Strategic Planning for Artists" 

"The hardest thing about being an artist is not the money, it’s the on-going struggle to maintain the faith to keep making work." This message was at the core of the presentation given by Esther Robinson, program director at Creative Capital, a NYC-based group which funds individual artists.

Unlike other granting agencies, Creative Capital takes a "holistic" approach to funding artists. "We want to know where this project fits in your personal and professional landscape. We want you to become an artist with a lifetime of projects, somebody who is going to make art for maybe 60 years. We want to assist artists with the larger trajectory of their work," said Robinson.

The staff at Creative Capital understands what it’s like to be an artist because everyone who works there, except their full-time director, is a working artist who spends 20 hours a week in the office and the rest of their time pursuing their own artistic careers.

Artists who receive funding are required to make a realistic budget so that they know how much the work is really costing including line items like babysitters. Once the artist has this real budget, which Robinson admits can be painful to make, the artist can ask: Is this sustainable? Usually the answer is no. But, that’s not necessarily bad news. It’s just news that the artist can work with to make changes to how they create their work.

The kind of changes artists must make include keeping track of their time and billing more per hour, making goals, a five year plan, and getting the resources they need which varies for each individual artist. For example, some artists need to hire a public relations firm, some need to purchase essential equipment.

Creative Capital encourages artists to change the way they look at the money they spend making work. For example, an artist might be complaining that over the last two years, she’s spent $50,000 on making her work. Creative Capital looks at it a different way. They see an artist who has acted as a granting agency and has made two grants of $25,000 over the past two years. Okay, the grants may have been made to one artist, but this encourages the artist to look at the money she’s spending as an investment in herself, her work and her career.

Based on their experience helping artists, Creative Capital designed a two-day workshop for up to 20 artists to learn strategic planning. Working with a local arts organization, like PICA, Creative Capital provides the curriculum and six teachers – all working artists — and the local organization provides 20 hand-picked participants who are ready to apply strategic planning to their own artistic careers.

The workshop focuses on marketing, public relations, fundraising and strategic planning. Artists learn how to talk about their work, how to make goals, prepare press kits and work samples, deal with the media, track their time and do financial planning.

The workshop also provides a way for artists to meet each other which solves the debilitating problem of isolation. "More important than getting money is finding an artist who inspires you so that you can stay excited about making work," said Robinson.

Meeting other artists also helps because sometimes all a creative person needs is for another person to say to them: "I recognize you’re an artist and a good one," she said. This kind an affirmation can get you back to the studio and making work in a joyous way.

The small class size means lots of one-on-one attention for the participants. Then, Creative Capital does a three-month follow-up with all participants to find out where individuals are getting stuck.

"We’re interested in moving artists from a poverty mentality to an abundance mentality," said Robinson. "We want artists to record their hours and expect to get paid for them."

"We are looking for an abundance model, not a scarcity model," she said. "There is money in the world. We work on how artists get access to it."

Robinson warned that not every artist is ready to do this kind of work and how important it is to be ready. "For the people who are ready, this can be life changing," she said.

The power comes, she said, from naming what you do and owning what you do and changing your relationship with money, with yourself, even with the second job you might have to take to finance your artistic career.

"Some artists need to have a second job. This isn’t a personal failing, it’s just the system. But manage that relationship between the second job and your art-making. Make your second job work."

At the end of her talk, many participants wanted to know how Portland could get Creative Capital to come here and offer this workshop. It’s takes money, a local institution to support it and a community to be ready for this kind of work.

How do we get ready? Many of us wanted to know. "Don’t get ready for Creative Capital," said Robinson. Because Creative Capital can only work with a small number of artists, Robinson encouraged us to get going on our own. The workbook from this Professional Development Workshop will be available for the general public from Creative Capital’s website.

"Be an artist who can sustain a lifetime of work. Make a five year plan, make goals, schedules and a budget and stick to them."

"Get out of the cycle of being a dynamic crisis manager. You have to name where you want to go and the work will take you there. Goal setting doesn’t limit your choices. The structure gives you a system that helps you embrace change."

That’s the paradox: by applying more structure in the form of sound business practices, an artist can find the joy in making art and be able to financially and psychologically sustain a lifetime of making work.

"Can you make work and feel joy? That’s the question," said Robinson.

-- Gigi Rosenberg

Saturday, September 20, 2003

2003 A.D. - An Interview with Andrew Dickson 

When I first met Andrew, it was a little over a year after I graduated from college in Portland. I could’ve moved away to some other city, but quite honestly, it never occurred to me. There was always something interesting going on in town, like the fashion show that was held in somebody’s backyard or the time the Halo Benders played in that crazy hot basement. Those were the days before the birth of Seaplane and the death of the X-Ray Café.

Andrew’s work contains a lot of kooky characters that, in many ways, I think could have only been given the breath of life here in Portland. From "Hunter Dawson" to "Autographss.com," Andrew introduces characters that live in worlds more fantastical than yours or mine. I sat down with him last weekend after his show to talk about his latest character, Bradlee Simmons, and the various reasons that draw people like Bradlee, Andrew, and me to this city.

CIELO LUTINO: Bradlee is such a lighthearted character that I wonder if the audience takes the piece seriously.

ANDREW DICKSON: In some ways it’s an easy piece to dismiss because Bradlee is hard to take seriously. I hope the audience gets some social commentary out of the piece, though it comes across as entertainment, not preaching.

CL: You and Bradlee aren’t from Oregon, but a lot of your work has focused on this part of the country.

AD: Everything I’ve done recently has been specific to Portland, but I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a regional artist.

CL: Well, how long have you been here?

AD: Eight years.

CL: And that doesn’t make you a Portlander? At what point does a person become a bona fide member of the community? How long does it take?

AD: I hope that’s one of the things that someone who sees the show thinks about because Bradlee already thinks of himself as a Portlander after less than a year here. I’ve been in the freelance film community awhile, and there are a lot of people in that community who are from Oregon, who grew up in Oregon, who went to high school here, I would never presume to call myself a Portlander around those people.

CL: So does it depend on the context? Like, if you went to New York, would you tell people you were from Portland?

AD: No, I’d tell them I’m from DC, and I live in Portland. When I was growing up, I associated the Pacific Northwest with greenery, and there’s still a part of me that has trouble separating lumberjacks from my idea of Oregon.

CL: Okay, I get it. Washington versus Washington, DC. So what brought you here?

AD: Portland has a sort of an unwritten history. It’s still being written. There’s no way I could’ve gone to Seattle, because its first page has already been written. I hope what’s happening now is something to be remembered. I moved here specifically to make a movie, "Good Grief." It was the right mix of landscapes I wanted. It’s just such a great place to do projects. In comparison to other places, there’s not a lot of institutional resources. "Good Grief" was my surrogate grad school.

CL: That’s an interesting idea. What do you mean?

AD: Getting a degree is more optional than it’s seen on the East Coast. There are so many people here who didn’t go to school. College is so much less important here. Getting your GED, where I grew up, was a signal of desperation, whereas here it’s not seen as such a bad thing. Portland is filled with people who had their own solution for their education—so much of what you can learn in grad school, you can learn here. What do you get in grad school—mentors, input, connections? We’re getting that here.

CL: You think something like the TBA festival helps with connections? What do you think of the TBA, by the way?

AD: I think it’s a good thing. If all of these people come, if outside attention transitions emerging artists into established artists, it’s going to raise the stakes. It’ll probably make the scene more competitive.

CL: Yeah, I used to think that was a good thing, but lately I’ve been thinking about how you have some place like New York or San Francisco where making art is so competitive and when someone doesn’t get picked or fails, it just crushes them and they quit. Here, the stakes aren’t as high, and people can just pick up and try again or do something else.

AD: What’s interesting that’s going on in town is much more organic. Like, look at Austin, Texas. It’s got a graduate school and a million people who have access to film equipment. You have enough people to make a feature film, enough for a big crew, while Portland is about experimental films because you only need one or two people to make an experimental film.

CL: Do you think that if there were a grad school here, Portland would have more feature films?

AD: Lack of grad schools isn’t the only factor. There’s a streak of individualism here that I’m struggling to put my finger on. In the future, I can see myself thinking a lot about the "cult of the individual." Like a year ago, I heard from about five different people that they wanted to start a microcinema. A few years ago I would’ve gotten all of their numbers and had them call each other. Now I just wait to see who’ll get it done first.

CL: You mean which one will stick it out? I mean, it seems like Four Wall Cinema just started, and now they’re gone. I already miss them, even though they morphed into something else.

AD: What’s exciting about Portland is it’s easy to fail here because there’s more emphasis on the process than the result. How many people do you know would open a gallery in New York and have it mentioned in the "New York Times" within a year of opening? Just because it’s easier to fail here doesn’t mean that failure happens here more often. Four Wall got great exposure, showed work that probably wouldn’t have otherwise been seen here, and now they’re two new groups.

CL: Right, but I think that a focus on the process can also work against the end result, the end product.

AD: Yeah, there’s a perception that West Coast art is silly. Some article in the "New York Times" today pushed that.

CL: Why do you suppose?

AD: My friend, Jason Plager, was visiting New York and was walking down the street with a friend of his. All of sudden his friend says, "New York, you gotta love it." And, you know, New Yorkers say things like that all the time. They have to, because they gotta convince themselves that there’s a reason that they’re there, that there’s a reason for their poor quality of life. It’s like, you know, you’re not doing penance by living in LA or anywhere else on the West Coast.

CL: But what is it about the art that would be "silly?"

AD: There’s more of a sense of humor in my limited experience with West Coast art—maybe that’s why I’m here. I don’t know. The art world is like a camera pointed at the TV. You know, I was going to be an art major in college, but then I became a film major because of the accessibility of film.

CL: Is that something that informs your work?

AD: When I get up on the stage, my first mission is to engage everyone. My concern is entertainment first, which is also to say engagement. As much as Bradlee is easy to dismiss, I think I’ve failed if he’s easy to dismiss after the performance. When I was Bradlee at Reed College during their arts weekend, I came up and said that Andrew had forgotten a video and that I was going to talk for awhile until he got back. In that context, except for the organizers, everyone thought that I was Bradlee, and some guy started criticizing him, his attitude. A guy in the audience answered back and started defending Bradlee. It’s challenging people. That’s what art does. So these students, who probably never experience gentrification beyond what they read in their sociology textbook, were able to have this heated debate, this tension, like with the "Barry Goldhubris" show. One of the most interesting parts of that performance was when the cell phone rang. I mean, I’m not sure if that was intentional, but he definitely looked thrown off his game. He looked pissed. I’m interested as much in the relationship between the audience and the performer as I am in the content of the performance.

CL: Yeah, you definitely had a relationship with the audience during your show, getting them up on the stage and all.

AD: There are so many creative people in the audience. Why not get them engaged? I want to leave room for the unexpected to happen.

Look for more of the unexpected from Andrew Dickson, who will participate in Core Sample, a showcase of Portland art and artists from October 11-19.

Time Based Art 

In Three Parts

I. Time
From Old English tima derived from
IE. di-men, meaning Base *da(i)-,
To divide up

Part I, duration & continuance
Defined as 1. unlimited duration in which things
happen in the past, present or future
Every moment there has ever been or ever will be
a) the entire period of existence of the known
Universe,
of finite duration as distinguished from Infinity (like
time-limited humanity dancing on special order crutches
calling himself the Crutchmaster. Grab him by the elbow
to help &
he knows you already a thousand times) to part
To divide up, whence Tide, see tide
Sanskrit dati, (he) cuts off
Originally a period of time, now only in combinnaaaa
....shhhhuns [as in Nations)
(bringing it from the street to the stage).

II. Based

(bas)d, Old French, definition three
the Principle or essential ingredient
or
As an adjective; to put or rest (on)
As in
To base a guess on past experience, (Like I wanted
to weep like all the times before
when I've heard stories
like Coco Fusco's character told
of being a young girl drugged and humiliated at
the hands of a someOne in someKind of power.
But I couldn't. Weep that is. The story being told for the
titillation of the others off stage---
like me? I don't want to think this--- asking
to hear more, see more, feel more
"...I came here for the necro act...go grrrlllss! LOL")

III. Art

Middle English derived from OFr. arte < L.
Artis, ars,*ar- To join, fit together, whence
Arm, articulate. Number 1
Human ability to make things; creativity of humans
as distinguished from the world of Nature. (Like Manuel
Pelmus and company
slowly unravelling bigRolls of bubble wrap
while twisting & stretching &
stepping on ragtag bits of civilization and doing it
some more then some more then some more?)

Making or doing of things that display form
Beauty, and unusual perceptions (then yes)
4. any craft, trade, or profession or its principles
as in--the cobbler's art [derived from "cob"
b) a leader: chief Or americanized--the central
kernel-bearing part of... Or
4 again, a male swan.]

Art (archaic) learning or branch of learning

As a synonym, the word
Denotes in it's broadest sense Merely
the ability to make something or to execute a plan

Art 2, archaic 2nd person, singular, present tense,
Indictative of Be: used with Thou.

Lilian Gael
poem #2 in: Etymology, With Websters 2nd Edition as Muse





Friday, September 19, 2003

Miranda July Knows What You're Thinking 

Miranda July gave what I hope will be a first of many farewell performances, meaning I hope she comes back and goes away from Portland again and again throughout her brilliant life. How I Learned to Draw was a one woman variety show. Ms. July employed overhead and video projectors, one screen, a few props (pillows, streamers, a violin wielding child), no costumes, most of the stage and some of the audience, as she checked each skit off her list. She was engaging, self-deprecating, amusing, disturbing, and, well, visionary, as usual.

Miranda is headed south to seek her fortune and make a film -- Me and You and Everyone We Know.

Please see the interactive website learningtoloveyoumore.com she created in collaboration with Harrell Fletcher.

Portland is Cuckoo for Chicken Little or Is It Over Yet? 

I was ready to be enchanted by Love's Fowl, a tiny opera performed with clothespin puppets, but as many of the children who were perhaps mistakenly drug along to this event, I was squirming in my seat by the time La Pulcina Piccola informed the king that the sky was falling.

I love art, I love craft, I love fables and puppets and costumes and silliness and song. How could I not love this? Perhaps I was ruined for La Pulcina by my exposure to another classic tale featuring freeze-dried frogs, lovingly posed, costumed and filmed by a friend's mom and shown annually at x-mas time.

I do have have to say that La Pulcina Piccola is one sassy chick. I loved her sailor costume, and her unwavering belief in the power of love in the face of relentless misfortune is admirable.

If I Wanted A Lecture I'd Call My Mother: Still A Sucker for a Man and A Microphone 

Amos Latteier and Andrew Dickson at BodyVox

Veracity I
Drifting rift slip lightly if thoroughly through model and systemasmodel and trendasmodel and models of models and and batten down the hatches, plywood the panel windows it's a Brain Storm, hurricane eye lensed over "Model". I'd like to sit up late with you Mr. Latteier. Because a man who can give equal footing to a supermodel and Mr. Dewey (of Decimal) is okay with me. But darn you for Compelling me to NoteTake (and on content, no less, not performance!)…this is the power of the Point and the man with the mic.

Veracity II
Someone needs to email Bradlee Simmons at bradlee@hotmail.com and let him know that if he ever wore that batik shirt in his alleged hometown of Long Beach, stomping grounds of Mike Watt and Charles Bukowski, he'd get his happy ass Kicked, (although I'll give him Santa Cruz or Humboldt County). I say this because I really like the guy (as in-habit-ed, as mannered-isms brought to you by Andrew Dickson). Best was film, lovely lo-fi wishyouwerehere postcard from the City of Roses (parkinglotsidewalkFredM's+Bradlee!). Love the triangle (ding!) and the deadpan/reluctant assistant. Trapeze act swinging between presentation (Understand Me), and seminar (Join Me/sub-thread:You Are OK) could use a re-weave or an iron or a suspension bridge. More Bradlee, less Us. Please.

-- Lisa Radon

A Quick Blog Bewteen Acts 

It's Friday night; I'm between shows.
Punct Fix happened last; Crutchmaster happens next.
The lobby is filling up; I'm connected to the wireless.
One hour ago, I was late; they let me watch in the booth.

I hear bubble wrap behind plate glass; the performers are tense.
The performers are occupied; they stretch but do not speak.
The left performer is low; he is dynamic immobility.
The center performer is high; I see his belly button.
The right performer is mid; she wrings.
I am glad they are at TBA; they are better than jazz.

I smell someone's to-go; someone else plays a video game.
Chris just arrived; he is sad that his laptop can't find the network.
The sound check is thundering behind closed doors; this is exciting.

Miranda July 

16 September

Miranda July presented a collection of short, unconnected pieces that spanned her many talents, using sound, video, monologue, short story, animation, and interactive film/performance. As always, she delivered a captivating performance, probing the interior world of her imagined cast of characters, revealing their vulnerability and freakishness, sometimes overt, sometimes the freakishness of utter banality. In “Peanut”/”Jeanie,” a 2 part sound piece, July enacts a telephone conversation of a prepubescent boy, awkwardly and futilely professing his affections for a classmate. “Nothing” begins with a nervous monologue, July assuming the guise of an obsessive personality who is so busy, that she must schedule time to do simply nothing during a performance. Failing her attempt to enjoy idle time in public, she exits, leaving the handwritten title of the piece simply projected onstage. Soon, a story begins to appear next to the title, sentence by sentence, appearing as an extended fantasy borne of the performer’s boredom as she tries to relax backstage. An elaborately fabricated scenario soon posits the auditorium as the only place earth, the audience as the population of this new civilization. The fantasy soon turns to power and sexuality (the cornerstones of any daydream)–Who will lead this civilization? Who will copulate with who? “Airport” is a short film showing the small drama of a man with his child sitting next to a woman clutching a stroller in an airport waiting lounge. An overlay of animation turns this mundane scene into a battle of personal space, each person possessing a sphere of influence, visualized as a colorful, perpetually metamorphosing blob. July here becomes a sort of amateur social scientist, the crude animation revealing a humorous look at the American demand for personal space and our real and imagined relationships with strangers in public places.

July announced at the end of her performance that she will be moving to Los Angeles, a significant loss for Portland’s art community. Her devotees can only wish her the best of luck as she works her charm on another West Coast city.

Katherine Bovee

An Informal and Novice Study of Two TBA Audiences 

A lot has been written about the artists participating in the festival, and that is right and good. We know who said what or whose choreography broke our hearts, and sometimes we know that a certain backstage someone got drunk at the Heathman and would not, my god, would not stop talking.

It’s the breathing darkness beyond the stage lights we wonder about, those onlookers and stargazers and uninitiated who come to see the dancers, singers, musicians—geniuses, one and all. Some numbers we can ascribe, like how many attended and, if they paid with a credit card, where their bills are sent. Some facts we can dream (Gertrude, who loves Harry, lent him fifteen dollars on Saturday afternoon so he could see Larry Goldhuber), but artifacts escape us. No one trains the camera on the clapping crowd at the end of the performance, no one lingers to document who warmed Seat 17, Row O, two nights before. General admission will challenge the historian’s ability to reconstruct the identity of that ephemeral somebody the one day of that year, as will Seat 17, Row O’s failure to write about his or her attendance in a diary for historians to find in the future. Oh, Seat 17, Row O, we miss you already.

So, in the name of posterity, a record to listen to later: an inventory of shoes worn by audience members at the "In What Language?" (Vijay Iyer & Mike Ladd) and "How I Learned to Draw" (Miranda July) performances on September 16, 2003. Though a strict scientific method did not inform the compilation of the lists, a pleasing combination of reassurance, scolding, apology, and prediction may assuage the fears of those who doubt its accuracy.

Let’s begin with the reassurance. Since both performances were held on the same evening, relatively similar climatic conditions affected the shoe choices of those in attendance. While it is true that Iyer & Ladd began their act at 7pm and Miranda July began hers at 9pm, the likely drop in temperature between the two performances was barely noticeable. Indeed, one can argue that the people who came to the 9 o’clock show probably went out to dinner beforehand, so it wouldn’t be terribly wrong to assume that the shoes they wore at nine were the same shoes they wore to dinner at seven. No, that assumption wouldn’t be wrong, not at all.

Next, we move to the scolding: Unfortunately, the social-scientist-in-training and author of this study brought a distasteful mix of ill-preparedness and breezy confidence to the task at hand. Shoe categories failed to remain consistent during the observation periods, and the study was often abandoned for empty chatter with her so-called "friends." She will be graciously allowed a first-person response, so that the exciting conclusions of this study can hurtle closer: I’m sorry. I thought it would be a lot easier. I didn’t think I’d someday have to decide if Campers are sneakers or that I’d forget "black lace-ups" are also sometimes called "oxfords." But in my defense, and I know you don’t want to hear this, but people walk really fast. Too fast. If they, you know, stopped to talk to each other more, then maybe I could figure out the name of those slip-on shoes that guys wear—remember that article in "People" about how Tom Cruise made them popular? But you’re right. You know, you’re right. My behavior was totally unprofessional. All that talking I did, they weren’t even my friends! Just acquaintances, like you picked up on. You are so smart, and I am really sorry.

Though her apology be a fusion of treacle and thorns, it will be accepted for the sake of moving this study along. It is true that the author-cum-sociologist offers a refreshing approach towards data collection in her innocent transgression of the rigid models of rubric-making.
We arrive, finally, at the predictions, which seem so obvious that to print them exhibits a commanding disregard of molecular energy, yet prurient curiosities demand quenching.

Prediction #1: No audience member will be barefoot. Autumn is nearly upon us, and the collective unconscious shimmers with a trembling desire to be shod.

Prediction #2: Birkenstocks will make a showing at record lows. Although an audience that can spend $15 per art event likely has the income to purchase Birkenstocks, they will leave the reputedly comfortable shoes at home. This is a PICA event, not some impromptu drum circle blocking the public right-of-way.

Prediction #3: Hometown gal, Miranda July, will attract more sneaker-wearers than out-of-town guests Iyer & Ladd. The audience will want to dress up, because company has arrived.

Without further adieu, the data for Iyer & Ladd:

Sneakers – 20 (1 pair of black Sauconys)
Hiking – 6
Men’s dress – 7
Mary Jane’s – 3
Boots – 13 (4 pairs with stiletto heels)
Clogs – 6
Flats – 6 (1 red, 5 black)
Heels – 3
Sandals – 7 (2 pair Tevas)
Oxfords – 8
"Shoes" – 8 (An inexplicable category that suggests that the author should stay away from market research employment.)

And the numbers for Miranda July:

Sneakers – 22 (5 pair of Campers)
Hiking – 3
Men’s dress – 4
Boots – 10
Clogs – 4
Flats – 4 (Please observe that the data collector listed these as "slip ons.")
Heels – 1
Sandals – 1 (Tevas)
"Lace-up red shoes – 1 (Another category that resists interpretation.)

Before conclusions are drawn, readers should note that the figures above do not reflect the total number of attendees at each performance. It would dismay the author if misinformation about audience size reached the artists, though it is hard to believe that the data from this blog could travel beyond the boundaries of the digital world, as the existence of its readership seems highly dubious and almost decidedly maternal in nature.

As expected, shoe forecasts for both performances proved exceedingly accurate. All feet were covered, with little in the way of live flesh displayed. In addition, only one pair of Birkenstocks were spied, and the isolation of their owner, a sandy-haired young man spurned by the group with whom he arrived, deserves astute, if somewhat lengthy, commentary.

The Birkenstock-wearer may best be understood through the theory of the "taboo" suggested by anthropologist Mary Douglas. According to an unidentified professor at the University of Waterloo, Douglas argues that "societies are likely to see things as ‘taboo’ when they are anomalous, when they don’t fit neatly into a society’s classification of the world. She believes that things which exist at the borders of society [author’s note: hippie communes], or on the boundaries between categories [author’s note: Gwyneth Paltrow wearing Birkenstocks versus Trey Anastasio sliding a pair on] are perceived as possessing both power and danger—for some purposes the power may be stressed [author’s note: it’s only an excess of confidence and money that allows fashionista, Paltrow, to appear in public sporting the famous ‘flower child’ shoes], for others the danger [author’s note: the other end of the spectrum—art snobs will think you’re a hippie if you were them to the opening]. In both cases we may find a rule against contact with the marginal person or thing. [author’s note: see previous note.]."

The final prediction was also realized. Miranda July did attract a greater number of audience members in sneakers than did Iyer & Ladd. Notably, the slender performance artist chose to appear in sneakers during her performance, while Iyer & Ladd were found in dress shoes. Thus, it may be tentatively concluded that audiences discover a more intimate relationship with artists when they don similar footwear.

In conclusion, although this report did not follow conventional, scientific methodology, it perhaps moves us closer to recognizing the occupant of Seat 17, Row O. With the data that’s been collected, maybe years from now, when muscle memory escapes the dancer’s limbs and the art we consumed can be neither replayed nor recovered, we may approximate the shape of the one who showed up.

Reply to Time Based Annoyance 

Although I think I understand what you are saying, Tim, I don't entirely agree. I will keep this rather short and succint because I am very tired, and hopefully will have the opportunity to elaborate further some time soon. First of all, I'm not sure how you see Vijay Ayer's fabulous, earth shaking composition and performance to be subordinate, suffocated or mere support To Mike Ladd's poetics. Throughout the entire performance I was struck by the strength of Vijay Ayer and Mike Ladd's collaboration. As an audience member, I found at times, the opposite to be true-- that actually if anything, textual language was suffocated and subordinate to the grandiose animal of Vijay Ayer's music. As someone who had never heard any of his compositions, I really enjoyed his music and talent as a composer and plan to hear more of him in the future. It is rare to see such a large scale thorough, thematic collaboration between a musician and a writer/ performer. In the case of Robert Wilson, who often collaborates with musicians, such as Philip Glass, Tom Waits , Lou Reed and William Burroughs, the music is always a sidekick rather than the protagonist. Although I did think during , "In What Language" that the music alone would have been worthy of my time and consciousness, I felt that the energy and strength of their collaborative efforts not only seemed ferocious, but also equal. I also think that what you seem to be describing and asking for is a music festival. By all means this would be a great thing. This however, is a performance festival and I personally think that the scope and borders of performance in this festival have been wide and varied. Music seems to be playing quite a large role in PICA's first TBA festival. I, for one am grateful that such a high caliber of international artists have finally come to Portland. I also think that when Tracie Morris was talking about folksifying, she was talking about the media, museums and in general capitalizing on an idea and subsequently representing them to one's benefit, such as a publisher creating a book in the 1960's of beat writers. With all due respect, I don't think that by presenting world art to Portland we are participating in the folksification of the artists or their art, but rather, creating a more educated audience, a higher bar for local arts and busting open the eyes and minds of portlanders.

Amanda Deutch

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Dariush Dolat-shahi/ Minh Trahn/ Portland Taiko/ Gail Bruner/ Reza Mazloomi 

My mind was mostly turned down during this beautifully staged performance at the Newmark Theatre last night, able to let go in a way I’ve not previously been able to this week. I’ve been yearning for it, that release into art at a level over chattering critiques and comparisons.
A sound, a motion
An echo of stars
Curtain rises, Curtain falls

That's the title of the second performed piece of the evening and pretty much sums up both the first and second. Elegant appetizers for the sumptuous third act.
The sound: Dariush Dolat-shahi on the Tar. Scales, modes, slow Persian trills. Merely entertaining at first, this extended warm up drew me in after a while, hypnotized, the same gentle pitch changes over and over. I wanted to sleep or do yoga.
The echo of stars: Local dancer Minh Tran spotlight, interpreting and responding to Dolat-shahi’s contemplative presence on the Setar. Tran’s energy seemed inexhaustible and chaotic, exploring the stage as a musical landscape inside a semi-circle of lit candles.
Curtain rises: Taiko drummers upstage, Tran center spotlight, an athletic dancer. His wasn’t a deep heart kind of dance, nothing terribly important to say except look, I’m a dancer enjoying the act of dancing to this unique music. It was light and joyous and made me want to dance too in the always-cycling ambient music of Dolat-shahi.
Curtain falls: Fini.
Intermission.
Third act. The Seven Valleys of the Way based on Manteq ut-Tair (The Conference of the Birds) by Farid ud-Din Attar. This was a fully realized dance and music performance, an interpretation of an epic journey. Dolat-shahi directed and played Tar to an ensemble of Taiko, movement and dance. The effect was stunning. Manteq ut-Tair tells the 900 year old Persian poetic story of 30 birds who embark on an epic quest to find the Simaurgh, the King of all the birds.
You don’t need to know this story to experience The Seven Valleys of the Way performance as authentic and rich. Not only does Attar’s poems printed in the program add nuance to the performance itself, but we get to see Dariush Dolat-shahi as an artist alive and working inside his ancient culture and tradition, embodying new forms and inherited wisdom. We become immersed in the dance, allegory of a souls journey to find Source.
The internal Divine is embodied in the yoga meditations of white clad Gail Bruner center stage. Toshiko Namioko awakes from sleep,a sort of rough beast in black who slowly gains conciousness. She is fascinated with Bruner, ineffectually mirrors the yoga poses, then comes closer and actually touches her.
Namioko’s harsh journey is to arise from darkness and discover this Friend, this inner love. Bruner only becomes aware of Namioko as a lover, and the love they share is so profound that the passion of it rips Namioko out of darkness. The process of awakening not only wakes her up to the Divine, but enables the Divine to recognize her as well. This recognition prompts a death, the death perhaps of the idea of the Lover externalized out of ourselves, and leaves Namioko as the central figure on stage, a mad tornado of passion in a twirling white sheet. The extremes of sorrow and love pull her and us along with her into divine rapture.
Bravo.
Sage Ricci
metamick@capitolhill.net


Miranda July on Tuesday night 

During her performance, Miranda July threw lightly colored pillows and pink paper streamers onto the blackish gray stage (of which she had previously cited as a bit stressful in its nature--marked with a million out-of-context directional masking tape lines). She jumped from spot on the stage to spot on the stage, and as soon as the pink streamers were positioned, new boundaries were marked--Miranda July created a new stage for herself and the audience's viewing/reacting/participating. She turned it into everyone's home for the evening performance, then engaged us in an inner dialogue (vis-a-vis a closed-caption type projection on the stage called "Nothing"). Throughout the performance, she also projected her to-do list/performance outline onto a screen so that she would not leave anything out, but perhaps also to give us a sense of anticipation and accomplishment as she performed--bringing us into the performance in a similar way as how we watched her re-create the stage. We are apart of the act because we are witnessing it, we are witnessing an entire performance--we feel apart of something bigger than "audience." I think that questions of ownership and authorship are constantly being brought up in Miranda July's work. The audience always laughs a lot during her performances because she says the things that go through everyone’s minds and doesn't hold back. She has audience members read lines, act out scenarios, and stand on chairs in order to examine roles and duties, who does what, and how we meet one another in social settings (such as at a performance). Miranda July engages us in conversation with her and one another, sometimes providing our answers and then darting out at certain moments for us to answer her questions--the most pivotal moments.

Miranda July read a story that she wrote about a man on the stairs and a woman who anticipates his arrival that I can't wait to hear/read again...about a woman who is so afraid of meeting this man/so afraid in general that she tightly grabs air. It reminded me a bit of Joyce Carol Oates short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been." It was completely amazing.

--Muffie White

My favorite! The Badger King...it was Monday night at Machineworks 

I am quite used to The Badger King's lively, dance/audience participatory-oriented performances...and the opera "The Showering Dragons" is a bit different, a bit more subdued in its melodrama and moroseness, but has a hopefulness too, and is completely EPIC. Not so much of an outward dance, but perhaps a more internal heart dance. I held my breath for the entirety of "The Showering Dragons" because it is so emotional in the best kind of way. (I love Marianna Ritchey's voice so much.) Kristan Kennedy (PICA) once said about Ritchey, "I could listen to her sing all day," and I agree wholeheartedly!! Ritchey's voice is strong and clear and sometimes it cracks in the most heart-wrenching way...to believe it is to hear it. Jona Bechtolt was like a small brick holding down the back stage, making the dream a reality with his programming... and when he picked up the guitar to rock out during one of the songs, I watched the screen, I watched him, I went back and forth and couldn't stop.

The film projected in the background of Ritchey and Bechtolt gives the songs a narrative line as well as visual implication. My favorite part of the film was the animation, which is playful and flighty, lightening the mood of the opera. An eel splashes in and out of a hand...

A lasting image from "The Showering Dragons" is the hand, held up in the air, its body looking up at it; the hand examined, and how the human hand manipulates nature, and other beings/animals.

The Badger King forever!!!

--Muffie White

Time-Based Annoyance or Missive in the Key of WHA?! 

If, as Walter Pater suggested, all the arts aspire to the conditions of music, don’t you think it’s a little strange that in the context of the TBA Festival, music finds itself standing at the servants entrance of the arts—looking in on the feast, lucky to get a smattering of crumbs at the day’s end? More specifically, why is there so little emphasis on music as art in the festival— I mean what is more risk-oriented and time-based than music. . .especially jazz and improvisation? The history of art in the 2oth century is girded to the path of jazz—a soundtrack of futurity, dizzying in its syncopated, angular drive. Cultural critics, composers, filmmakers, poets, and visual artists have all borne witness to jazz’s kissing-cousin synergy with the arts. . . but despite its international currency (some say a greater export than either democracy or baseball), the musician is still waiting to fed from above.

The poet Allan Graubaud said, “with the heat of music lies the capacity for an embrace of other arts. There is nothing inconsequential about this.” Its capacity to evoke whiplash emotions, mine memory’s deep well, raise the roofbeams with its sonic power or merely “sustain a flat surface with a minimum of contrast,” gives it a visceral immediacy unparalleled by its neighbors in the performance arena. Considering the architectural qualities of instant composition, a navigational grace traversing the vertical and horizontal, it’s no wonder that music inspires such deep synaptical surrealism and synesthetic tendencies.

When its allowed in the same door as dance or theater at TBA, it’s either been given a polish and a shave or its relegated to functionary status. While I’ve seen so much good work in the festival, the one area that I’m most qualified to write about (music) has been held hostage, almost beyond criticism, because it can’t be talked about on its own terms—and falls prey to specific functions: as support (Vijay Iyer), soundtrack (3 Leg), gimmick (Erin Jorgenson’s five-octave marimba), or as boutique exotica (Dariush Dolat-shahi).

The minute you include music with a text-based work, it subordinates music to narrative—words suffocate music, while music massages points, nodes, and mood—strengthening the primacy of language. Case in point: David Greenberger/3 Leg Torso and Vijay Iyer/Mike Ladd. Because it didn’t intrude and played its role well, there was little to be said about both. I can say that 3 Leg were as wonderful as usual (if not a tad more stagey due to circumstances), and that Vijay Iyer’s capable of much more interesting work (and it was a shame to limit his craft to the last 5-minute foray at the end).

Vijay Iyer is an exceptional musician—one of the least tradition-bound of his generation—who’s bridged the innovations of Andrew Hill and 1960s expansion with a vibrant blend of avant-garde jazz and a pan-Asian,rigorous polyrhythmic sense. What was heard during his performance was de rigeur jazz of the post-Coltrane-meets- hip-hop-mold so prevalent with young players in NYC schools. It’s unfortunate. He’s the perfect example—all by himself as simply a musician—of jazz’s next 100 years: divergent cultural influence finding footing in jazz expression (itself a stew of divergent ingredients). Using the diasporic rhythmic displacement of both bebop and Hyderabad bhangra, he counters the narrowly defined conservative protectorate (Lincoln Center/Stanley Crouch) that is mummifying the music in rhetoric and a too-tight dinner jacket.

It could have been so simple to fold into the festival (and really contextualize his artistry) his duo with Rudresh Mahanthappa—which is all about culture, confluence, and creativity—the relentless investigation that is redefining jazz’s course. The influence of so-called American classical music is now just one ingredient among many (Carnatic, hip-hop, African kwela, John Cage/Morton Feldman, alt-rock, European free improv, circus/vaudeville, etc.).

The other hot point that I find disconcerting is the inclusion of a folksy, we-are-the-worldism— offering a hodgepodge of world-ness that lets us honkeys in on the what the Other’s all about. . .or in Tracie Morris’ words, it allows us to “get it” before moving on to the next flavor of the month. A concert by a Dolat-shahi or a Simon Shaheen of traditional Middle Eastern music could do much to enhance our understanding of the relative beauty in a culture largely unknown to us—or point to the vortices that swirl about 21st century innovation. It’s easy to present global forms through a multimedia lens, or by keeping it in a state of exotica. Just what Tracie Morris meant when she said folksifying forms allows you to keep them from a larger discussion of big ideas. Things are made quaint (in Greenberger’s words), and allowed to be patted on the head or used as window dressing.

Otherwise music in TBA is used or dressed up in something fancier or more “contemporary” like identity politics. Daniel Roumain is a very fine musician, “highly contemporary,” according to Kristy Edmunds, but who’s “unlearned just enough.” Which I take to mean despite his conservatoire training and solid grounding in academe, uses street-level realism (samples, hip hop, etc.) to reaffirm his keeping-it-real-ness. So because of his connection to Bill T. Jones and Creative Capital he was let into the big house. If it’s about artistry and edge, why not look at underappreciated, acknowledged violin masters like Billy Bang or Leroy Jenkins (hell even Malcolm Goldstein)—but then again, they just play music.

Performance—or the “expanded arts,” in George Maciunas’ term—purports to be and do many things, but as John Corbett has noted “from the standpoint of a cynical or ironizied audience, any art or performance that seriously professes revolutionary or even milder forms of institutional change is little more than a joke.” The beauty of jazz is that it has always simultaneously occupied the storefronts of both art and entertainment—and short of inspiring and revolutionizing all the other arts, has always been comfortable being itself. . . mostly combing the periphery for scraps. If we’re going to give jazz/new music/improvisation lip service as major art forms, we shouldn’t treat them like second-class citizens. Sainkho Namchylak, Greetje Bijma-Louis Andriessen, Henry Threadgill’s various ensembles, Peter Brötzmann, Willem Breuker, Jon Jang/James Newton, Bob Ostertag, California EAR Unit, and any number of others could have fit into time-based performance slots quite nicely.

Maybe its okay to admit we can’t be all things to all people, but let’s be careful about who we anoint and how we define their place at the table.

Otherwise I’m just left with the notion: "I feel we shouldn't speak, we should just play music, because the minute we open our mouths we tell lies" — Johnny Mbizo Dyani

—Tim DuRoche
timduroche@variousartists.org












Feet in Mouth vs. Mouths of Feet, Amplified 


Foot In Mouth at BodyVox

High hopes for interaction of button-pushing mic-eaters: two suited secretaries ("I'm a Receptionist; I Receive people.") in cutaway grey-walled cubicles…voice + voice, voice vs. voice, layering and ping-pong games across the stage. The electronification when in service of voice added texture and complexity, but too, drifted into bludgeoning of sound of word (bludgeoning of audience with sound, e.g. electroscream that set even dancers to twitching...if techno had sex with hip-hop with a metal side salad, birthing a tech-hop Marilyn Manson...).

Meanwhile, Ann Taylor career girls in black hot pants play out reluctant/nonconforming career girl seduced by glam corporate stooge…I will show you How to Be. Something about breathing corporate air...very Borg ("You will be Assimilated.") to a Darth Vader hyperventilation soundtrack.

Highly unfortunate Human Beat Box Moment when corporate fly-girls Went To Town (pump-it-up girl!). Experienced general unsureness about whether this was sub-thread comment on corporate media culture or if they just wanted to Paula Abdul.

Ivory and Eryn interaction interests, would like to hear more. Alice and Amelia, fine dancers both, got mired in overtired, over-themed-party burlesque.

-- Lisa Radon

Love's Fowl on Saturday the 13th 

Here are some of the notes I took during Susan Vitucci's "Love's Fowl" performance on Saturday evening:

Traveling circus feel
Ritualistic method of setting up a stage/part of performance
Miniature world
Like setting up a doll house
"I'm a young chick and ready..." Adventure and growing up
Vitucci's body on screen, backdrop for puppetry, play between miniature world and real, a true marriage of these worlds
Puppet's ascending at close--over words to sky/off the screen

I was most interested in how Vitucci informed her brightly colored, clothespin puppets' performance with her presence in their opera. The audience watched both a miniature story (puppets) and humans on stage (Vitucci and Company). Two large screens showed a close-up view of Vitucci manipulating her puppets. Vitucci's torso was the backdrop for the audience's viewing of the opera. The stage was set up symmetrically with Vitucci positioned in the center. It was as though the audience was watching her play dolls multimedia style. I think that Vitucci respects and reveres her puppets, particularly her heroine, Chickie Little, and helps them communicate their story to audiences. The puppets seemed delicate and fragile, and much care was taken to insure that they were properly maneuvered.
The performance made me think a lot about what one watches during a performance--the object or the subject--and how to view both of these ideas effectively.

--Muffie White

Slow Art 

I. My friend's friends say to him after the 2nd time he is at Newmark Theater seeing Donna Uchizono's Butterfly piece:

"...the piece was too slow, too repetitious. What she had to say was good, but why did she have to keep saying it over and over, we got it, we got it."

My friend and I, we discussed this. Or really, we stared at each other wide-eyed and slack-jawed because we were transfixed during Uchizono's piece and afterwards we talked about the possibility we have been changed forever. Exactly what we appreciated about Uchizono's piece (and in the effort of all the works/chats I have witnessed at TBA so far) is the apparent dedication to a vision that creates a complete world of otherness (as in-- other than the world our bodies walk around in daily) to appear on a stage before our eyes and hypnotize us into believers. I like that performances mimic RealLifeTime in both life's speed-of-light changeability and in the deep slowness of time inherent in entities, like us, that grow and alter in certain ways only Over Time. I like this entrapment and the repetition, like a chanting, that creates it. I want the dissolving of line between performance and me-audience, so in the end I feel as if I was danced, or poemed, or story-ed or made into song.

II. And speaking about ways choreographers & performances can dissolve this line between

I made it to Uchizono's Salon piece at Conduit Studios and walked into a room full of people dancing. I found a partner and got myself out on the dance floor to learn a dance phrase that Uchizono's dancers would later use in their performance. My partner and I were helped along by dancers Levi Gonzalez, whose instructions included telling us "okay, now this is the sexy part" and "okay, now this is the really sexy part" until Linda and I were sure we were appearing in some hidden camera NR-rated extravaganza; and Hristoula Harakas, who did a sort of Arthur Murray run through with us until we had it down and were ready for the big finale when everyone out on the floor did the phrase together ending in one big hurrah. After that, Uchizono told the story of how she came to create Salon and shared her experience and the stories of the native peoples in the dance circles of Argentina where she went over the course of years, to study Tango.
By the time Salon started, I was sitting in a big circle with my friends and fellow risk-takers feeling a part of the beauty and sensibility of this performance piece. From what I saw, Salon reached all the way to the walls of Conduit, made into a permeable feast of movement and story by the efforts of Uchizono and her dancers.

III. But then, the clock said it was 8:45pm and I had to get to the Newmark Theater to see Miranda July or I'd never forgive myself

So, since I had strategically situated myself near the Conduit studio exit, I waited for the dancers to circle their way to the side of the room furthest from me to make the least disturbance on my way out. I sort of half crawled and half pushed myself as near to the door as possible before standing up, and in this awkward journey I found myself in a kneeling position right in front of Uchizono who I had not realized was sitting at the table right behind me. She didn't look down at me, but I think I dipped my head slightly in a sort of nod of gratitude and hoped it was dark enough that no one really saw me. Luckily we had been asked to remove our shoes upon entering the studio, so my exit was silent if not graceful.

IV. Then I ran like hell up 9th Avenue and across the Salmon Street section of the park blocks to the Newmark Theater to see Miranda July

And before I go any further, I have to admit this: I have a personal coach who I work with to keep my focus of vision as an artist clear & strong. (I don't have a man-husband or woman-wife in my life at present and so think having a personal coach works for me as a substitute for this, but with the twist of having a person who isn't invested in the financial outcome--or not--of my endeavors---although she has on occasion questioned the sanity of some of my choices). My coach Carolyn has asked me often, "so who are your heroes now?" (I think her plan is that one day My name will show up this list of heroes, but since I'm on to her trickery, I'll keep myself off the list long enough to drive her a little crazy too). On every list I've rattled off to her, Miranda July's name has shown up. I remember July's videos of years ago, this thin young woman wandering around ill-lighted rooms in a wig (was it blonde), staring into mirrors, (if my memory serves me right), creating a media landscape that didn't always make sense to me, but spoke to me of possibilities of a different kind of performance: and a different kind of a performer.

And now, years later, July's piece, How I Learned to Draw, was more than I ever could have imagined from those early pieces. Thursday night, her use of self, film, images, words, staging, audience connection, blended into a timeless wave of what? what? I can't even find the word to describe it:

You see, I was sitting in my living room one night when Miranda July and a few hundred other people showed up and we had this amazing party where we told stories, and showed home videos, and applauded the virtuosity of our children, and did psychic readings, and even some matchmaking, and there was love between strangers who weren't really strangers, and then we philosophized about Nothing, and told the truth about being human beings, and then it got later and like long times spent together can do to people like us sometimes, we finally told each other how much we've meant to each other with tears in all our eyes. And at the end we were "on to each other" and said "I love you" before we said goodnight and good-bye and asked our hostess July when would see her again? and will she please take care of herself.

It was That kind of party and that kind of night, and that kind of performance.

Especially impressive was July's way of filling the whole room (similar in result to Uchizono but technically different than the way Uchizono also accomplished this in Salon) by creatively and out of what appears to be an offering? a showing? of a kind of vulnerability, bringing the audience into the performance, making the audience a collaborator of sorts, or in other moments, a co-conspirator. July's integrative use of video to expand the vocabulary of what she had to say to us was brilliant. Never intrusive, never on the outside of the main thread of the piece. In a beginning section, she used screen shadows (the kind made from being behind a lighted screen) that metamorphosed two beings into an otherworldly pink floating entity that danced and wobbled on the screen until the original child-sized shadow re-emerged onto the screen and then onto the stage in front of us to play the violin. Later, the word "nothing" appeared on the screen, a yellowish background with the word printed in black. After July tried to do nothing in front of the audience for awhile, she finally exited in what she said was a state of anxiety (making her too nervous to "do nothing"), and the screen came to life like another character in its own right. A definition of "nothing" appeared on the screen followed by simple sentences spelling out a simple philosophy of life, and then an invitation to the audience to not return to our regular lives tonight and turn the theater into our home, our world, our planet forever together just by choosing to not go back home to our other lives and letting her, July, be our leader in this brave new world. The thought crossed my mine to take her up on the idea and I'm sure it crossed other's minds too.

In another section, July used a piece of video shot in the Newmark when it was empty. She performed psychic readings on her future audience members by sitting in certain seats and getting vibrations/insights into the future occupants of those seats. The night of the show July had the people actually sitting in those same seats (identified in the video by row and number) stand up, while in the video she was revealing her psychic insights, and commenting more on her/their vibratory readings. In person, July spoke to the chair occupants and to the audience in real time as the video continued to roll. Again the video was like another character interacting with July and us, telling us it's story, making it's offering to the night's performance, collaborating with July.

In the Q&A period that ended the night, most of the questions were about July's announcement that she is leaving town for LA, to make her movie and continue her work with her "good friends" down there in California after 9 years in Portland, growing up her art. People wanted to know if she'll be coming back and when, what exactly will she be doing: and all of the questions seemed asked with the tone of a caring, and soon to be powerless father &/or mother asking their leaving-home daughter if she believed she had really given her new life plans enough thought. That tone that says: we'll miss you, are you sure you don't want to stay awhile longer?

So bye-bye Miranda July. Thank you and thank you for staying long enough to offer us "How I Learned to Draw" which should reassure all the parental-energy out there for you, that you and your art are more than prepared to venture whenever and wherever your vision leads you. We'll be watching.

V. Today the Noontime Chat is Felix Ruckert on Audiences

I wrote myself right out of being able to attend. So if you heard him speak today, let me know what he had to say when you get a chance
(LilyPproduct@aol.com)

Lilian Gael

Fast Cheap and Out of Control - Media In Performance Panel Talk 

“Media” is a sticky issue in performance these days. I am often uncertain about what qualifies as media anyway. But in the context of Monday’s panel discussion, I assume that media refered to electronic technologies, both new and old. Media is here to stay in performance and it is becoming easier for performing artists to take advantage of it in their work. Unfortunately, the way these technologies are used is still quite limited. Most performances use media as a tool to elaborate on the content of their performance, which is frequently narrative or character based. Monday’s panel discussion about media in performance was somewhat disappointing because the group largely focused on recorded media and its role as a supporter of the content of a performance. This narrow focus overlooked the myriad other ways that media may become an active participant in live events and have a direct impact on their structure. It is rare to hear about artists who have challenged media to engage the more daunting task of making live performances seem, well, more live.

The panel did briefly discuss one example of how media effects “liveness” in a performance when the topic of mistakes came up. All agreed that unexpected power outages and missed video or sound cues can seriously effect a performance, but this was primarily viewed as an undesirable circumstance to be avoided. My own work with Liminal Performance Group has revealed that these “accidents” are actually quite interesting and can be used as a source of creative discovery in the live moment. We frequently shape live action around media that is activated according to arbitrary rules, that is allowed to make mistakes and that provides live response to the images and sounds created by the human performers.

So I posed a question to the panel, “What would you do if the media gave you the wrong cue or if it happened at the wrong time?” The first answer was, “I don’t know how to respond to the question.” Other answers were more creative, but never really grasped the meaning of my question, even upon further elucidation. But that’s okay. Obviously the questions I have as an artist are going to differ from the questions of other artists. But I still felt as though some serious issues were missed at this discussion, which left me wanting more. Apparently the Hall Pass discussion about new media later in the week addressed some of these issues in greater depth, so perhaps I just attended the wrong discussion. Regardless, cheers to PICA for making these discussions part of the festival. I am sure that they will grow and mature along with the festival in future years.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Deluxe Joy Pilot 

Who told these 'old europeans' that they could come to Portland and simulate sex with our citizens? I brought my mother to this thing! She'll never be the same.

Photos 


Photos are available for the following TBA shows:

Machineworks 9-15
Jon Moran / Eva Mueller
Owl vs. Lemming
Goldhuber / Goldhubris
Donna Uchizono Dance Workshop
Tracie Morris
Badger King
Bodyvox 9-15
Shelly Hirsch
PICA Staff
Susan Vitucci
M. Pelmus Workshop
Foot In Mouth
Minh Tran

Click Here For Photos

Small Talk Pays Off for David Greenberger or Old People Say the Darndest Things! 

David Greenberger takes the scenic route to discovering the inner lives of old people. Twenty-four years ago when David was just a young whipper-snapper, he began conducting informal interviews with residents of the Duplex Nursing Home, where he was employed at the time. Choice bits of these conversations were extracted and compiled in DUPLEX PLANET, a small magazine or “zine” which he publishes to this day.

The dapper Mr. Greenberger has parlayed these stories into various and sundry projects, including a comic book series and subsequent anthology, a website, at least three books, several cds, art exhibits, trading cards and live performances such as Legibly Speaking, performed last week for TBA.

I’m a typically antsy audience member; I can rate performances by how many times I check my watch and how often my attention wanders to my to-do list. I showed up to the first night of Legibly Speaking totally exhausted and sans timepiece. I sunk into my seat and was shortly transported to the land of Duplex Planet. The antiquated setting, amber glow, old-timey music, and the at turns mundane, silly, poignant, demented, surreal and profound musings of a dozen old folks cohered to form a seamless performance (save for the applause after every segment), and Three Leg Torso lent an exciting and emotional counterpoint to David’s deadpan delivery.

David ended on an uncharacteristically up note, with an inspirational rant from one Mr. Alfred Levitt. While he may not be asking the obvious big questions, he’s definitely seeking deeper meaning and occasionally hits on the sublime.

SEE ALSO:

For a tour of Duplex Planet and a comprehensive look at all related materials, see Greenberger’s excellent website -- http://www.duplexplanet.com

FURTHER READING:

DUPLEX PLANET #167 (David Greenberger, 2003)

NO MORE SHAVES (Fantagraphics, 2003) Stories about eight residents of Duplex Nursing Home, graphically interpreted by some of America’s best comic artists, previously published in Duplex Planet Illustrated.

TREES BREATHE OUT PEOPLE BREATHE IN (Erie Art Museum, 2000) A beautifully produced limited edition book consisting of interviews with local residents.

FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE:

MAYOR OF THE TENNESSEE RIVER (PelPel Recordings, 2003) is the newest Duplex Planet CD presenting stories from the residents of Chattanooga, featuring David Greenberger, with music by The Shaking Ray Levis.

THE DUPLEX PLANET RADIO HOUR (Carrot Top Records, 2002) Featuring live recordings of two monologues with music composed by Terry Adams.

Uchizono Salon  

Isolated feet half the audience can’t see
Hidden under bodies
Strange spiders crawling through pools of light
Fiery men bearing cool women
Who slide across the floor faces down
Aloof
Sense one another’s importance
Repeat motifs of movement and lust
Complex mating ritual feathered beast cock fight
Smoldering passion and
Defined gender role glimpses
Of subversions in culturally constructed
Notions of machismo.
Fight or dance, how men use aggression in code
Of twist and leap
Strut
Touch
How it changes for the women, the shy one
(not used nearly enough for my tastes)
Sliding again, discounted in counterpoint
Double male single female flow
Never flying but charcoal
A slow boil of something thick
That wants to bubble out the pot and burn
But the lid never comes off
Instead poses for the fire
Then winks
A last parting gesture of touching feet

Sage Ricci
metamick@capitolhill.net

New Media, so what. 

Hall Chat: New Media + Digital Design

[The bleachers are very woodsy and beautiful in the W+K atrium, but can I suggest that PICA start a bleacher cushion concession?]



Here's the breakdown:

Technology is a tool which can be used for good or evil.

Some artists use it to deepen the audience's understanding of their message (like websites that direct you to other thoughts, musings, visuals on the work at hand), some use it to comment directly on technology's effect on your /our lives, and others just use and highlight the technical aspects of the particular tool. Those works tend not to be narrative, but rather environmental and ambient.

Coco Fusco's analysis was thoughtful, articulate and incisive. Jelly Helm, though he was unnecessarily apologetic for being on the panel, helped break down the notion of problematic new media and technology as anything other than yet another tool in the box (or arsenal as the case may be) from which to drawn upon.

Can I just ask what about free will? Education? History? If your kid doesn't know what a record is, whose fault is that? Technology's? If the art student pursues the cutting edge of 3-d flash programs and so doesn't have time to take any art history or other course work, whose fault is that? The institutional curriculum of the program that she enrolled in, or technology's? If you are away from the office, or at home and you feel compelled to work and answer email, is that not your choice? Or did the technology make you do it?

Ultimately New/Digital Media are tools, just like the printing press and the charcoal-y stick on the cave wall. But you still need to use the tool to do something of substance, to connect with someone, to tell a story or come away with a new perspective or inspire a magical moment. Ultimately the people who can do that, with or without whatever the New Media is of the day, will enchant, bedazzle, corrupt, and inspire us. Um, like before.




I like to be wrong. 

Ros Warby- Swift

Portland State University
Lincoln Hall
Tue, Sept 16, 8pm
Wed, Sept 17, 8pm

I have an admission to make - I came grudgingly to Lincoln Hall. The teaser in PICA's flyer made the piece sound so... so pompous and so boring. It made me expect the sort of self-important pathos a teenager might brandish on open mic night... but PICA needed a writer to cover Swift, so I showed up.

I sat in the front near the middle. The house lights went down. Stage lights and projectors went on. Helen Mountfort began to play cello. And Ros Warby came on stage bathed in spotlight. After that, words begin to fail me because Swift is understood by the mind like a dream. Like an amazing, crystalline, lucid, fantastic, sleazy, epic, poetic, romantic dream. Like one of those Technicolor dreams which, upon waking, you remember for decades, able to touch upon the memory easily, yet never able to explain it with any satisfaction...

Upon waking from Swift, you might tell your lover excitedly that you've just had the most amazing dream. "It was amazing," you'll say. "This woman moved on the stage like a humming-bird. Her legs moved like a ballerina to the music of this cello, but her face was not like a ballerina..." You pause here to consider the face in your memory. " It started out that her face was like something from Indian theater, you know?" you'll ask. "I mean her face was really well lit, but the light was above her, so the eye sockets were in deep shadow, and her eyes would secretively dart left and right. But her hands had lives of their own - they were humming-birds too sometimes, or some kind of snake, you know? Her hands were like hissing snakes, slithering and tasting the air with flickering tongue - snakes." You try to demonstrate the hands, but your hands willfully refuse to become anything except hands. "Anyhow," you begin again "her shadowed eyes followed the humming-bird hand snakes because they were dangerous. They were dangerous, but at first I thought she was afraid of the danger as her eyes darted left and right. She seemed unsure whether the hands would attack each other, or attack her. But then somehow, I knew that she was controlling the dangerous humming-bird hand snakes. They were dangerous, but not to her because she was speaking. I could hear her speaking in a soft, high whisper, but I could not understand her. I mean, what she told me with her body and her face - I understood that easily enough, but the words she was saying just would not make sense. She sounded like she was talking backwards, like her voice and her breath were being played backwards, like 'fittet hhh o tu tuwru nonnet tudle tu wrft' " You feebly demonstrate the sounds. "The weird thing was, that she had been really kind of scary before with her shadowy eyes, and her humming-bird hand snakes, but this backwards talking made her do really silly things with her face so that I knew how silly it was to see her as threatening. And then I began to laugh at her. And I was sitting in this huge auditorium next to David Eckard for some reason, though I never understand why some people show up in your dreams... Anyhow, so I start laughing at her, and everyone in the darkened audience, we laughed at her hilarity. The little kids in the front, they laughed the loudest, and they laughed the most, as her eye rolling and posturing became more ridiculous. Those couple of little kids and David Eckard laughed at everything, even when no one else was laughing... I like that in my dream David laughs as genuinely as children. Anyhow, so while all of this was going on, the cello was still playing, and there were these big movie projections in the back, and it was all so... so..."

"Oh forget it. There was a lot more, but I can't describe it like it is/was in my dream," you say.

Then your eyes roll up, and to the right, to that orbital location where you access your memories of dreams and performances. You stare off into the memory, and wish that you could explain it all better.

Donna Uchizono: The Salon Project 

Tuesday night Conduit was a cozy, dimly lit cabaret. On either side of the long room tables were set in two tiers with white tablecloths and candles. While people were being seated, Ms. Uchizono invited members of the audience to join on the dance floor to practice a specific phrase of the dance that was part of the The Salon Project piece. It was a great start for the evening. During the piece, when that specific phrase was performed, you could feel the energy of the room focus on the dancers.
Ms. Uchizono prefaced the piece by telling us about her trip to Argentina to study Tango. She told us that The Salon Project was developed from her experiences there, then she asked the audience if any one studied Tango. A couple across the room raised their hands, and on Ms. Uchizono’s invitation, the couple demonstrated a few steps of the Tango. Ms. Uchizono pointed out that in Tango there is tension between the dancers. She specifically pointed out that the tension between the two Tango dancers were in their shoulders and their chests. She then went on to say that she didn’t wish to copy the Tango, because the Tango is such a beautiful dance in itself. Instead she has taken elements of the Tango to create The Salon Project.
Ms. Uchizono has taken the tension in Tango from the torso and moved the tension to the legs and feet. What resulted is a sort of Tango hybrid--Tango-Meets-River-Dance.
Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed The Salon Project very much. The dancing was technically spectacular and beautifully performed. I couldn’t help yearning, though, for The Salon Project’s first cousin, the Tango--Gotan, the hot blooded, passionate man and woman with too much attitude going at each other with everything they’ve got.

The Salon Project begins with the two men lying face down on the floor. The two women are propped up on the men perpendicular to them, the women’s armpits to the men’s hips, the women as strict and straight as two petrified two by fours. The movement is incredible. The men slowly crawl ahead and as the men crawl, the women slowly move their feet. Slowly slowly the men begin to rise and as they rise the woman is actually brought to her feet.
Ms. Uchizono earlier in the preface said something to the effect that in Argentina they say when the lead is good he makes the woman feel like she is leading. He knows her so well he knows what she would do best.
But believe me, in this startling opening movement, the man is not just leading, the woman is dead and rigor mortis has set in and he’s trying to crawl out from underneath her.
So, thanks God, the woman is now on her feet, standing without help, on her own.
Then what happens. One of the women jumps up on one of the men’s shoulders, and the man carries the woman like a cross. She lies across his shoulders. His movements are ritualistic, round and smooth. The man circles the dance floor and as he circles, the woman lets drop white feathers which makes a path that the other woman, solo, follows.
So far the dance has been formal, passionless and heady. None of the dancers have looked at each other. The movement is not disjointed or frenetic, the basic movement of the dance always flows in circles with tension in the legs and feet.
Let’s see if I can give an example. The movement is like let’s say you stood in the middle of the room and you turned in a circle with one leg up, and when you completed the circle, the foot would come down and point to the spot where you first started out. Correspondingly, your partner would be making a circle too, next to you, in time with you, and when he or she has reached the starting point, he or she too puts his or her foot down right where you put your foot down and then presses against your foot—there’s the tension. Always counterclockwise because tango is counterclockwise.
Round fluid movements counterclockwise.
Then the two women leave the floor and sit down, and for the first time in the dance, two dancers really get into it. The two men get into it.
This cousin to the Tango is still about sex, and when the men face each other, it is the first time, and I may say only time there is a palpable sexuality on the floor. Of course, I’m a big old homo, so it might be just me who is seeing this. So far, the dancers may as well be robots it’s so impersonal. So far, the women have been so stiff they seemed like they were dead, or mannequins who can put one foot in front of the other real slow, or hanging around a man’s neck like a albatross dropping feathers. I can’t remember a moment in the piece where the women even look at each other. So far, the men have been beasts of burden.
The point that I’m trying to get at is, when the men engage each other, it’s the first time in the evening I’m not just observing movement--I feel involved with what is happening on the dance floor.
The dance of the men is part cock-of-the-walk, part posing and posturing, but, as I said, overtly sexual. It’s nice, these two guys having it off with each other, unabashed. The movement continues in the counterclockwise revolving, beautiful confluence, beautiful tension.
At one point, a woman dancer, who has been making a wide circle around the men, enters the men’s dance, but does not interrupt it. She’s an interloper. She does manage to get the attention after a while, but the man who finally ends up going with her, seems to go out of duty rather than passion.
Passion. Perhaps by moving the tension to the legs and feet, the passion has been drained from the dance. The women dancers in particular, while their movements are full and round and well-executed, their faces show no emotion. I know that’s part of the Tango dance, to cop attitude and keep the low simmer just below the painted face, but in this case, the women seem not to be hiding anything. They’re bored stiff with these guys, and they’re playing a role or doing this dance out of some sense of duty. They seem vacant and dreamy.
I guess I could say the same thing for the men—with regards to the women, that is. When at last the four of them get together and pair off male and female, there’s some great dancing. Really I loved the established round and around and all the variations. I never got bored with it. But instead of a dance of love and joy, or a dance of sex and one night stands, or a dance with anything passionate really, it seemed that the men and women when paired in their heterosexual couplings, were coupled at the feet, and what coupled them together was manacles.
When it’s last call and the dance is over, there are two men and one woman left on the dance floor. The woman turns, and as she turns away, the one man throws his arm over the other man and they watch the woman leave.
Y Tu Mama Tambien is the last touch, a gentle touch, and very revealing.
In the end, the dancing has been beautiful, the interplay ostensibly complex and ambiguous, but bottom line, I’d suggest Ms. Uchizono move the tension back up to the body where it belongs.

Tom Spanbauer

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