Wednesday, September 22, 2004
“[The] dance exhibited serpentine movements of an ethereal type. . . For us, who have never witnessed such dances, it was indeed a revelation. The impression left on our minds was a combination of surprise and elevation.”— Swami Papa Ramdas on Ruth St. Denis
Writing here the other day, Kristan Collins said that “Akira Kasai's [Pollen Revolution] was both over my head, and under my skin. . . My knowledge of traditional Japanese performance forms is quite limited, but I do know it is entrenched in precisely codified movement patterns that are as foreign to me as, well, Japanese. . .As the performance progressed, Kasai began to break free of the restricted kabuki form in a slowly building expression of tension and resistance, until finally literally breaking out of this form with an on-stage costume change. . .This was not a demonstration of his agility, strength, or mastery of technique, but rather a demonstration of his body as a voice for forces of life and existence that cannot be verbalized.”
Kristan, you understood much more than you’re giving yourself credit for—especially picking up on the duality of beauty and horror (a good summation of one of Kasai’s “unity of opposites”) and the poetry of the unsayable that is the groundwater of Butoh.
So much of butoh is about the primordial, urgency and decay, regeneration—a halting, pulsepoint lament on the intrinsic difficulties of maintaining a humanness in a world where being human may not be the best poker hand to play. But bear in mind, butoh is not a traditional form and shouldn’t be confused with one (and as opposed to a restrictive form like kabuki, butoh is an expansive form unbeholding to any set of rigid vocabulary).
At Butoh’s more gripping, scarred-landscape-evoking extremes (DaiRakudaKan or Min Tanaka), I’m reminded of poet Paul Celan's powerful Todesfuge ("Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall/we drink it and drink it/we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there") and the full-throttle power of art to address the impossible made possible. In butoh’s anguishing bare-torsoed, silent scream, we’re confronted with the notion of complete and utter annihilation. Taking back his famous statement that “Writing a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric,” Teddy Adorno said (in’61, around the time of Hijikata’s early shocking works) that “Through the aesthetic principle of stylisation…an unimaginable fate still seems as if it had some meaning: it becomes transfigured, [and] something of the horror is removed.” That, I believe, was the original intent of Hijikata’s “dance of darkness.”
While looming spectres of Hiroshima and Nagasaki certainly informed much of butoh’s early work, the harnessing of the grotesque could surely be linked to the visceral energy of Ab Ex painting, Mishima (an early text source), Genet, Artaud, and most importantly the expressionist dance of Mary Wigman and folks like Harald Kreutzberg.
Like jazz (oh, there he goes again with the jazz-thing), butoh is an art of mix, loop, transgression and avant-garde extensions—cinematic at its best—but is not a static form. And like jazz, butoh began as a hybrid form—incorporating elements of theatre, dance, mime, Noh, Kabuki, Chinese martial arts, flamenco, American modern dance, jazz—but hit its experimental stride during the ‘60s as social, artistic, and student unrest and innovation became amplified. Tatsumi Hijikata's early work was jarring über-grotesque, dark and transgressive—used to begin dances as images (“Butterflies are landing on your right arm, your left arm is covered with cockroaches.”). Kazuo Ohno's work was far more romantic and Schumannesque—billowy even, very light-infused (perhaps due to his devout Christian ethos, maybe?). Kasai was for many years a proponent of both approaches—and while he maintains the indelible mark of both masters, his hand-arm expressivity has all the characteristics of Eurythmy—his power and lithe-ness is truly beautiful.
Butoh is veering towards its 50-year mark, but is still young as a developing movement language, and as such is susceptible to change, expansion, redefinition, reinterpretation on a regular basis. As Kasai (during his excellent workshop) said it should be a "dance" of discovery, rather than a calculated series of movements meant to manipulate the audience into a desired response—which is what Pollen seemed to be leaning toward—despite claims of its improvisatory creation.
While Kasai’s lighting, with its Malevich-like composition of suprematist beauty, was stunning, I couldn’t help feeling manipulated by a display of concept-less.hollow virtuosity (a bit like the pilfered Tiomkin-Shostakovich soundtracks of James Horner— aggressively banal in their emotiveness). It tugged at me offering clues to feeling and belief, but remained somehow unmagical. There was no repose or weighted spaces, which is something I like served with my butoh. And while Wigman may have “looked even toward the Orient for a mystic answer to a wordless riddle,” to great effect—Kasai’s opposite time-travelling to the ursprung of Ausdruckstanz (with an emphasis on the more cloying surface elements of its interpretive-ness) felt a little more like one of Ruth St. Denis’ “Oriental dance translations.”
The spirit of the form needn’t be all powdered and contorted Gollemesque figures. Too much of the same can seem mawkish at times (or ho-hum in its pain—like Kakuya’s Hardcoredance in the Escalle film on Sunday at MachineWorks)—this kind of diluted, tossed-off effect comes from the codification of any form. (In the '50s when bebop was barely out of its outlaw infancy, Thelonious Monk remarked that it was starting to sound as formulaic and rickety as Dixieland). A work like Pollen Revolution may be confusing to some because butoh is frequently mistaken as a folkloric form with specific rules— instead of the reflexive, modernist attitude it really is. It’s generative grammar and can’t be held hostage against encroaching innovation or stylistic judgment calls (like Kasai’s use of Steiner-based Eurythmy)—which can make questions like authenticity, service to the form, subordinate to I-liked-I-didn’t reactions.
In the wake of a generation of rule-breaking, freeze-dried transgression in performance (butoh, Viennese Actionists, Chris Burden, Acconci, Schneeman, ad infinitum), it's no wonder that we're seeing a fierce return to beauty, a reinvestigation of classic narrative forms and an interest in audience engagement (and I applaud Kasai for his commitment here). Lord knows Warholian boredom and stasis (Frank O'Hara said he was a prophet of doom who was killing laughter) and shoe-gazing rock-n-roll certainly kept us away from engagement long enough. But instead of the Japanese, candy-colored love affair with American pop (Kasai’s incorporating hip-hop for example), I’d be intrigued by the Butohization of something like Bruce Nauman's WITHDRAWAL AS AN ART FORM: “sensory manipulation/amplification/ deprivation/sensory overload (fatigue)”—which as an instruction piece contains all the classic elements of the form, while possibly opening a door toward more conceptual edges.
But oh, it is butoh?
I began the day at PNCA attending the noontime chat, Homeland Security: Art in America, which took place in front of Schnapf’s beautiful, large explosive abstractions. Artist Daniel Duford led a discussion with New York choreographer John Jasperse and local collaborators Tahni Holt (Monster Squad choreographer) and Marty Schnapf (installation artist/painter). The discussion was as much about the validity of direct artistic reaction to the events of Sept 11 than about issues of security, anxiety, and censorship. Though Schnapf in particular did admit to a thematic shift in his work following 9/11, the panelists did not regard the event as a single turning point, but rather part of a continuum of issues that had been brewing in the US and the world for over a decade. As Duford summed it up, “I was anxious all through the 90s.”
All of the panelists displayed a flagrant distrust towards work that has been produced directly dealing with 9/11, weary perhaps of the potential exploitation in addressing such volatile issues without giving time to put them in proper context. I was living in NYC just following the attacks, and while I recognized the importance of institutionalized memorialization, the art shows I saw in the months that followed bore a closer resemblance to Canal Street hawkers unloading patriotic pins and small flags than the sincere ad hoc shrines that popped up on street corners throughout the city.
After the discussion veered towards the insecurities that artists live with on a day to day basis (e.g. financial), Jasperse ended the chat on a positive note, pointing out that while he has striven to live outside of social & political systems intended to make one feel safe, he has gained an even more valuable trait, an “improvisational life practice” that has allowed him to adapt as an artist living inside these current systems.
Early in the evening, I went to the Wieden & Kennedy atrium to catch one of my favorite jazz/experimental drummers, Joey Baron, performing with the spritely and energetic Robin Shulkowsky. I first became acquainted with Baron via his work with John Zorn and Naked City. Though this particular set was far from Naked City in its lack of pretension and accessibility, it was refreshing to see a show so utterly unpretentious and, well, fun. The chemistry between Baron and Shulkowsky was nothing but infectious, and both kept a grin on their faces throughout most of the set as they leapt between a set of wooden sub-bass maribons invented by Shulkowsky, and a more traditional drum kit surrounded by a litter of various percussive instruments.
Immediately after the Baron/Shulkowsky show, I ran into the heart of downtown to the Guild Theater, where Kimi Takesue was on hand to present two very different, but thematically linked, films. Heaven’s Crossroad was a non-narrative film comprised of journalistic footage Takesue had collected on her travels to Vietnam several years ago. Takesue gave us a fluid, dream-like montage that slipped between moments of intimacy and foreignness. The eye of the camera truly embodied a touristic perspective. We experienced along with Takesue genuine interactions with curious children, who communicated through soulful eyes and expressive gestures; fly-on-the-wall observations of city life; lush panoramas of the rural countryside; and scenes of travel on bumpy buses. The most striking moment is when the camera turns towards a photographer, awkwardly arranging the limbs of bathing suit-clad models lounging in gently surging tides. At this moment, one slips out of the dreamy romanticism of the film and begins to consider the artifice of the camera, becoming aware of the potential artifice latent in this seemingly honest, filmic travelogue.
In my mind, this point marked a strong thematic connection to the second film, Summer of the Serpent, a beautifully filmed and edited story about a pensive young girl’s day at the poolside and her unlikely encounter with a yakuza-like bodyguard. Though strongly narrative, elements of fantasy and dream-like ambience are subtly incorporated into the plot, all framed within carefully considered compositions saturated with summer color. Like Takesue’s experimental film, this one pays tribute to the self-conscious act of creation, this time through the eyes of the young protagonist.
I ended the day gazing at the curious sight of professional contemporary dancers gettin’ down to Kraftwerk (courtesy Pulseprogramming) at Machineworks, an odd clash of cultures.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
It began as sound: house lights up, monolithic set piece dangling from the ceiling, a single piano note, I think, but cannot say for sure; noticed but ignored. The festival crowd continued their enthusiastic chatter. I suppose we expected something obvious. And when it came a few minutes later, clad in a blue mechanic’s jumpsuit, a woman half hidden by the scenery, we knew we missed our cue. When did this begin? And later, when did the lights go down? And how long have those women been walking around without ever touching their heels to the stage?
From the beginning the set is divisive. Initially it cuts us off from some of the dancers whose legs are the only visible parts of their body. Later it will cut them off from each other. Division and connection run throughout the piece. There is always someone who is rising above and in so doing leaving the others behind. It seems that this is recognized among them and retaliated against with an even more vigorous attempt to connect, to include more of the dancers as they frantically dance, spinning and rolling off one another. The haves and the have-nots come to mind. Us and them come to mind. I have a vision of my own death.
And then, as a unified entity, the company turns their angst against the scenery. Jerking at the cords that hold it together, they deconstruct this symbolic rift. A new form is born on stage. (Later in the Ammar Eloueini lecture I would find that it falls differently every night slightly altering the dance each time.) What was most disconcerting then was that my post-deconstructionist utopian vision was shattered as well. The remaining dance, scenic division removed, was hardly paradise. It is beautifully danced, fluid and graceful, and thus at times horrific in it’s almost post apocalyptic visions.
Nearing the end of California the sounds of crushing metal against the images of people unable to break free from repetitive action is heart wrenching. The woman in the back, who’s outfitted her two prone companions with leaf blowers, pulls their cords endlessly upon herself. The relieving plug never slides across the stage, and as if to prove that it never will, every now and then, a leaf blower revs. Stage right, intertwined beneath the shattered edifice and bathed in light, a couple mirror each other on the ground. Any of the previous upward mobility seems in vain. Structure destroyed, the landscape is bleaker then ever. I want desperately for the piece to end; I cannot bear to watch it any longer. And it’s not for lack of beauty. I feel such empathy for the dancers that their prison is my torture. Luckily, as close as I thought I could get to my breaking point and maybe a little beyond, my, “When is this going to end?” is answered with a blackout. Heavy sigh.
Right. Y.A.C.H.T. But Bobby Birdman and Lucky Dragons and DJ Hot Air Balloon did their respective things, too.
And they’re all on States Rights Records?
I guess so.
And they’re like DJ’s or something.
Definitely "Or something."
Or something. They didn’t spin records, well, some did, but that was more of an aside. They wove together loops with various kinesthetically-linked electronic moments while kinda making love to their Mac’s ... Or maybe it was more like a form of prayer than lovemaking, but not "prayer" in the Christian sense of the word – although they did kneel a lot. It was more vodoo-licious and unadulterated than the highly proscribed movements you’d see at most Sunday services – like they were being whipped around by the music, or a giant invisible dog, or I guess a dinosaur, one with small arms and big teeth. But then again there were moments when they were definitely kissed by a comforting Pacific Island breeze rustling through palm fronds and transfixed by the hypnotic pull of meticulously imaged Mayan calendar wheels spinning about. It worked.
Did you say they made love to computers?
Not literally, but kinda. They danced, which on some level is like a cloudy window into how someone might be in the sack. Know what I mean?
Regardless, it was a performance and surprisingly enough, visually it worked. It was kinda frantic and sweaty and weird, but honest and unhindered – like when you sing your favorite song in the comfort and security of your own car, or when you dance in your living room when no one else is home. It was wild and unashamed and geeky in a knee-weakening way. Know what I mean?
Oh. Well ... it was good.
Monday, September 20, 2004
Breakfast of Champions. See the young people mock every style of performance from modern dance to performance art. Yeah! Refreshingly cheeky and partly to mostly clever, MC’d by the seemingly dangerous Johnny Bigshot. Donuts and coffee and cartoons and Ryan Boyle is a treasure of a local young artist/performer. Then the tables pushed back and a noon dance party that seems to purify the gray ashes of Machinework’s morning after.
Lewis Klahr. He is a charming speaker and shows some trippingly wonderful stuff. “Elliptical narrative” which means, just try and follow me while I run around in circles. I especially liked Pony Glass, the secret story of Jimmy Olson in which cut out cartoons interact and speak in broken and crossed out words which fly out of their mouths in speech bubbles and bump into each other. But the novelty of the animated porn, which was dispersed pretty widely through out, wore off quickly and then began to wear on one.
Transplant France. The Tale of the floating World, Alain Escalle and Cecile le Prado. I could only stay for the movie as I was headed to Headlong. The movie was sort of video-game-Japanese-comic-book-poetry style. There was some beautiful imagery good enough to eat. Almost 3 dimensional; a boat floats on thick wave curling water, a woman sits in traditional Japanese clothing and plays an instrument in the thick green upon green grass until the storm comes and tears everything apart , dragons made of light, and the eye clawing tragedy of it spoke directly to my guilt ridden American conscience. War, acid rain and all.
Headlong. Yes, a pool. It is so nice to sit by a pool. It is a brilliant idea to stage a performance in one. The standing on water is clever. The whole “was it all a dream?” plotline could use some serious rethinking. It was still nice and surreal to be there, the last sleepy wet night of TBA, smelling of chlorine.
And one other thing that I neglected to mention: AC Dickson is a lean mean selling machine! I haven’t seen “Eye of the Tiger” danced to like that since I saw my little sister’s cheerleading group do their first routine in our Junior High School Gymnasium. L@@K him up!
David Eckard. I find him outside of the Guild. It’s raining and he is saying things on a podium, gestural things, platitudes, poetry. He lifts one arm, then the other. It sounds good. People smile as they walk by in that eye-arching way. They make eye contact with me and smile as if to say, that guy doesn’t fool me with his fancy ideas. He reminds me of a kind of sea creature, the kind that has a hard shell and is soft on the inside. He carries the shell around on his back and climbs in and out of it.
Janie Geiser. Dreamy, shadows of leaves in the wind, yellow wallpaper, girls scraping back and forth across the screen, little tiny doll things, cut images with images between images upon images, lace and dissection at once.
Khaela. Her idea is very well developed and her charm is innate. The audience is extremely receptive and wants to be convinced. The performance itself though, goes off track at some point during or after the questions and answers. The video is what lost me. Olympia template. The songs are really sweet and successful though, they nestle in that place where something just feels right and you can’t explain why.
Lone Twin. is something special. When they stood on opposite street corners yelling back and forth to each other “I hope everyone is going to be O.K.”, I felt so grateful and surprised. In art, the value of surprise is profound as it can describe and culminate in wonder. Wonder is a rare and valuable thing to convey or produce. Lone Twin seems to have a talent for genuine engagement with place. When describing their work in the noontime chats, they used the words “site responsive” rather than “site specific”. It is an accurate distinction and their interaction with Portland felt both real and interesting. They tell stories of people and occurrences that charm them enough to become part of the act. The performance itself is an amalgamation of experience of both performance and life. So, we hear stories of other places, of people and things that have been or might have been and woven into the body of the text are the new things, things that happened earlier that day or were happening right that minute. And I was holding a glass of river water and I couldn’t bring myself to throw it at them.
Again not having read the program, I was ready to un-like Allen Johnson for his gratuitous ass-flashing sitting on a toilet at the beginning of his piece for NWNW.
The important thing about this piece is that it was a great interweaving of confessional monologue and poem (with butter transitions between the two) made by a guy who – as spawn of equal parts Henry Miller, Spalding Grey, Woody Allen, and Charles Bukowski who has something of Mike Watt about him– seems to have done time at the open mics of Spoken Word (and I’m talking about that early 90s San Francisco post-Beat, pre-Slam, heavily Bukowski-influenced thing), and managed to drag a fine work like this out of it. The tough-guy intensity, irreverance, and transgression, (the laundry list of beer and bourbon, nipples, 17-year-old sex with a vacuum cleaner, violence, the bitterness, the yelling segment, &c. of the poet who’s trying hard not to be called a sissy) worked only because it was balanced by sections showcasing the eye and ear of a Poet with stiletto perception, moments of something approaching the profound in quoting a girlfriend quoting gnostic texts, a beautiful bit describing spinning bicycle tires gripping and leaving the pavement, sounding here and goodbye, here and goodbye (without, thank G. any overt Buddhist reference), plus he described God as a, “set of parentheses around what we don’t understand,” “the precise articulation of a question,” and mentioned Rothko in a fabulously chewy list poem.
After marching through what he wants in a woman, and through the look at self, Johnson gets to searching for God, “in a hardwood floor, reading the grain,” for clues. After all this talking, he states the goal of being able to, “listen with the right amount of attention and distraction…” he might reach a state of, “divine autism.” That’s what I’m talkin’ about.
And as casual as his delivery was throughout most of the piece, it belied a thoughtful and integrated structure. There was a distinct and powerful thread of water running through the piece: the “hit me and roll away” of the waves that had moments before been blows, the condensation beading on the three cold beers in the hands of the woman who was dumping him, his graphic in-the-shower butt thing, describing how drink, “warms up the mental bathwater,” water sounds, puddles of beer, the toilet bowl. Johnson deftly used repetition, echo, angular sound associations suggesting next word. The guy's got an ear for Pulse, for Flow.
The conceit of the piece is that it supposedly, “grew from a desire to be openly, publicly fallible in the pursuit of personal integrity.” In other hands, say a 16-year-old poet reading from her journal or a numbskull faux-poet in a bar reading poems to try to get laid, that desire might end up as a public therapy session for him and torture for me. I don’t know how much of his misogynist, boiler mechanic, drunk, tough guy, take-me-or-leave-me persona may have been a contrivance, (he also studied with Creeley, went to Rutgers, is/was a painter). I stopped caring because Johson's a goddamn good poet and on stage, Johnson is Business. He owns the stage and from go he has you. That's what makes him a Contender.
NWNW, Program 2
I never read the program before the performance starts. Maybe it’s because we seem to be getting to shows just as the lights are dimming.
But just now I’m reading that the the company, “evolved as a dialogue between composer Jarrad Powell and choreographer Mary Sheldon Scott.” This performance of excerpts from “Vessel” was a fine example of score and choreography informing, provoking, and elevating each other. Some soundtrack I saw this week felt arbitrary (Sundiata), some felt eye-rollingly, hammer-over-the-head obvious (Headlong), some was amateurish and irrelevant to the piece (Spugmotion). On the contrary, Powell’s score interacted with the movement in performance to suggest alternative layers of, I won’t say meaning, but content. It provided contrast, texture, and depth.
And although some of the local avant-dancers I respect felt that the movement was too dancerly, I appreciated the contrast generated by the movement phrases as discrete arcs, (literally often involving lifts), each with a clear beginning and ending: dancerly activity (ballet-based lifts and extensions) ending in the dancers washing the dance off of the body, executing aTrisha Brown release of dance body to simply stand or walk. The dancers moved with integrity, in a physically thoughtful manner, interacting with surface, prop, and one another.
This week, gaze, (it’s focus or more often lack thereof), and expression, (and it’s too frequently invasive/distracting presence in dance), have become important to my perception of work. In Akira Kasai’s workshop he had the dancers do an exercise in which they were to walk and then stop walking. When they stopped, they were to be aware of the feeling of being stopped. When they walked they were to be aware of the feeling of walking. Then he asked them to, “walk with a stop feeling.” The stop feeling (represented in a kind of stillness) in the face of local dancer/choreographer Kathleen Keough, for example, (TdR calls her a Rothko), invests all of her work with a delicious gravity. The dancers of the Scott/Powell company, (to my great relief after having seen other flawed work this week), nailed this stop feeling from the neck up even as their capable bodies executed a fine piece.
Back in, hmmm, 1992 or so, I guess, I read Victor Turner's From Ritual to Theater. Turner's words and ideas articulated to me precisely where theatre came from and where it could go, even in a world where live performance is increasingly irrelevant. Since then, I have been committed to finding and creating performances that function somewhere between everyday life and dramatic art.
Of the dozens of earnest, creative and clever performances at TBA this year, nothing brought me closer to my city, my fellow observers or the performers as did Lone Twin.
So, until the next TBA, I hope everybody's gonna be okay.
Kasai was the true master of dance and he is clearly at the height of his art. Watching him perform felt like what it must have been to witness Glenn Gould perform in concert or Ryszard Cieslak perform Grotowski's Constant Prince.
The Pollen Revolution that Kasai danced was, for me, a survey of human gesture since the beginning of time. Very little of the human condition was left out.
I mean, just look at him. He had the audience eating out of the plams of his hands.
This was a truly grand finale for TBA 2004.
But why did Headlong even bother to tack a plot structure on this? The writing was just silly and the acting was, well, acting. Someone should write a guide for 20-something actors and include the maxim "don't perform phony cell phone conversations, especially if you're going to pretend to 'accidentally' drop the phone into a swimming pool." it was often too dark to see what they were doing, but these pics give you an idea:
Pools make people look awkward. The dancers were usually trying to be graceful, but because they're not olympic synchronized swimmers, it still looked awkward. I wish they would have emphasized the awkwardness of it all rather than the "corporate woman falls into surreal hotel pool dream" thing. The best part was the projected live image of their underwater shenanigans. There was a lot they could have discovered there.
Sunday, September 19, 2004
Oh well, at least I had Friday night's TBA Talent Show to give me that first date crush.
Meow Meow, Lady Ho, the Boris and Natasha Dancers, Koto y Soto and the Cherry Tarts all made me feel like it was my first time.
Unfortunately, my first time never took place in a machine shop with a sexy transvestite, an Eastern European pop duo, plenty of lingere and a handful of poets. That's the stuff only dreams are made of.
I still remember how exciting it was to see September September some years ago.
But all we discovered was that the world now has yet another play where the actors try too hard to examine the obvious artificial nature of theatre and psychoanalyze their characters.
And just in case the audience doesn't care about the plight of the actors, well, there's some choreography to pep things up,
a little bit of helium to make us giggle,
and some pop culture costume changes to keep things spicy.
33FS's preoccupation this time around with investigating the links between Chekhov's Ivanov and the early U.S. space program doesn't get much deeper than a few ironic re-creations of history and art, making it feel a bit like the Wooster Group Lite. But this isn't what I know 33 Fainting Spells is capable of. So, I hope they reread their Meyerhold books and gets back to work on making the body their canvas and gestures their tools. Akira Kasai's got what I'm talking about. I'll post more about him soon.
His presence is always fascinating. I wish that Eckard could read the news like this in Pioneer Square every day. It would be tons more interesting than All Things Considered.
TdR called David’s piece, “the most honest thing we saw all week.” Eckard’s work has so much Integrity, is so elegant, and is devoid of the Reaching-For-Significance that hogties so much performance art. And for all the small gesture visual artists in Portland, here’s one who makes heroic work. Eckard’s performances are so much like this and other sculptures that both facilitate and define his performances: the finely wrought podium elevates but its true handcart-meets-John Deere-tractor nature can’t help but being humble.
There is heroism in the vertically integrated conception, content, execution (details details…the orange eye hooks, white bunting, the kelly green stitching on the breast of the white overalls, the careful crafting of the spoken piece, it’s masterful delivery) of the piece. Every choice, from concept to word, gesture to content to prop, Makes Sense and is integrated into the whole. There is nothing arbitrary, nothing tossed off. This piece never smirked. It simultaneously celebrated and critiqued. And that’s why, as my 10-year-old would say, Eckard rocks.
Doing an Abel
TdR and I have a phrase called doing something “Abel,” or “doing an Abel.” So you could say, “She did an Abel on that performance.” It refers more to swinging for the fence than necessarily hitting a 3-run homer, but that’s more often than not the result. The phrase is derived from the creative work ethic of our friend, the poet David Abel. For example, if he is going to do a poem about the color red, it will be a three hour piece in which he names every hue and shade, from Crayola to J Crew. For the performance of the piece, the room in which it is conducted will be entirely papered in red. And he will wear his layered red costume even in 90-plus degree heat. Every object in the room will be red, there will be red dressed groupies and red food. Abel.
David Eckard does the Abel time and again.
The Tightening of the Giant Orange Eye Screws
A performance with a spoken element is a first for Eckard. Portland has only seen his non-speech-based physical performative interactions with his objects and site, (the meditative Scribe, the torturous Tournament Lumens). If the performance had only extended as far as the quotidian set up of the podium and a mute figure gesturing behind the giant megaphone, it still would have been a great piece, (recalling incendiary Futurist orator and Manifesto-writer extraordinaire, F.T. Marinetti).
But when he starts his oration with the hand/arm gestures* as contrived as the words are honey, the piece became brilliant. And not just for the surprise/relief that a person who doesn’t regularly employ word in practice can do it with aplomb. Turns out, Eckard’s voice is a compelling oratory instrument. And the monologue smartly veered in and out of lucid stump speech platitudes, touchstones, and gambits. The best bit is that Eckard here and there sounds disonant notes: personal story, whorehouse, pop song title, at one point fragmenting into a poem of hacked-off sentences. "I give you my word."
I want to tell you all of it. How he declared that, ""I will stay outside the gates of your village because my riddle's answer does not grant me access." That, "I speak a truth that has been raised from my daybed and dressed to kill." But I will misquote, get it all wrong, I couldn't write fast enough, etc. so as Eckard said in conclusion, "I'll leave you with this...."
He folds up the Podium and wheels it away.
*Later find out that he’s mapped the gestures on his script with the
CT for Clinton Thumb, (you know)
JS for Jesus Christ (both arms outstretched)
RA for Right Arc
LP for Left Point
BP for Both Point, etceteras
Performance: Visible Content & Hidden Form
I don’t know what to say about Chameckilerner's performances.
And anyone will tell you that is unusual for me when it comes
to conversing about the performing arts. One reason I go to
performances is because many of the ones I see make me feel
something close to a ‘happy to be alive, on this planet, part of
the human race’ kind of feeling. I like talking to my fellow and
fellowette human beings when I’m feeling that kind of happy.
I still don’t know what to say…but
At the noontime chat (Performance Journalism) on Tuesday
Sept. 14th, Catherine Thomas from the Oregonian, in response
to a question, told us, and her panel companions, Steffen Silvis
(WW), and Joseph Gallivan (Trib), that when she writes about a
performance and doesn’t have much of anything good to say
about it, she thinks she is (at least) opening a door for further
discourse. About the piece and the art form it represents. I
like her thinking. But I do wonder how to manage that when a
performance like Chameckilerner’s leaves such a faint scratch
on the memory. Maybe I’ll ask her someday.
I don’t know what to say about these performances
but I know...
Wendell Beavers, the new director of the Naropa MFA
Performance program recently talked with a group of
us working in a lab with him about his ideas
concerning the use of ‘story’ in performance. He said
that in his experience there is always a narrative, a story
of some kind. It’s either intended; put there by the
choreographers, set-designers, dancers, or it’s put there by
the human mind that moves toward putting a narrative on
We humans think in story. One can only hope that if the
choreographers and dancers put the story there, the
audience is also experiencing their intended story as
part of the piece. Or what? Read on.
After Chameckilerner’s performance, I sat with a few
other TBA blogWriters to see what they thought of
the show, looking to their words to tell me what I had
missed or not considered. After a very brief discussion,
I said to them,
“Well once I remembered the performance was inspired
by the lives and movements of the severely mentally ill
on medication then I was able to stay with it more. Be a
little more interested…”
Three pair of blank staring eyes met my comment and one
of them replied (paraphrased),
“What mentally ill? The show’s program and background
materials say the performance was about fear,
vulnerability, not mental illness.”
I started to explain what I meant at the same time
wracking my brain to remember where I had gotten the
idea that the performance was using the movements of
the mentally ill. I’m embarrassed to admit that later that
night I realized I had gotten Chameckilerner’s performance
confused with material about something other than the
TBA festival performance series. And I realized that from
my past-life as a psychotherapist, I had borrowed
knowledge about what medications can do to the body
and facial expressions of the mentally ill and tacked it on
as story, to the performance. Good? Bad? Who knows,
but I felt lonely, disconnected that night in Lincoln Hall.
My efforts to bring interest to the piece I was watching
had left me feeling even more disconnected.
I don’t know what to say about this performance but…
Carla Mann, Reed professor of dance and a
choreographer/dancer said she saw Chameckilerner’s
performance when they were here 3 years ago. I asked
her what she thought of this years work. She took a moment
and went on to say that she believes she went to their
performance with pretty high expectations and a fair
amount of generosity. A nice combination I think. She said
a lot (and with an objective kindness) in the simple
observation of her experience of this year’s
performance pieces in the context of Chameckilerners other
work. Something about the pieces and about an attitude.
Carla Mann also reminded me that although Chameckilerner
are Brazilian, they have worked for a long time now in NYC.
Which brings me to this:
Last year’s TBA performance included a group from Brazil
called Quasar. Their performance was stunning, out of the
box choreography and dance work. You can go to the TBA
archives and read what writers said about it on last year’s
blog. I did. I wanted to remind myself that I too, might be
holding some pretty high expectations of dancers from Brazil,
wherever they currently reside. I wanted to read over last
year’s comments to also take some breathing room—
use the space to work on my own generosity before writing
anything down. Can't seem to ever have too much of that
generosity stuff floating around. At least, I’d say so.
Saturday, September 18, 2004
An Open Letter to David Eckard.
Don't let this go to your head or anything, but you are one of the very most interesting artist/performers in Portland.
That said, I'm getting a little irritated with you.
Last week I stumbled on you by the NW Park Blocks elephant as you were finishing your speech to attendant random street folk.
Today I apparently just missed you performing outside the Winningstad while I was inside watching NWNW.
I know you gave me the postcard, but really, I can't chase you all over town...it's so vague. What the hell is "various downtown civic spaces?" It's not like I don't get out. It's not like I don't get around. It's not like I'm not trying.
And I'm starting to feel a little bit like last year when you were supposedly locked in a room at the Modern Zoo, but we couldn't see you, and the next day I swear I saw you in the Pearl.
There's only One More Day. Someone who shall remain nameless gave me your cell phone number when she was in a Really Good Mood at Machineworks last night. I could call, but how would that help the rest of the hapless chasing your ass around Portland?
I don't like to be pinned down any more than the next guy. And maybe it's part of the piece that it must be stumbled upon and not "attended." But I have Expectations. Please post expected coordinates (longitude and latitude) for at least three specific performance times within the next 24 hours ASAP. Or email me.
I mean it.
Now, this performance is undoubtedly structured as it is for a reason, but I couldn't help but redirect it in my head.
Imagine, if you will, what would happen if we put a little tree and a coffee table with a punch bowl full something to drink on the stage. Then picture all three dancers performing their dances together. The result would look something like my family on Christmas day after way too much booze. Now that's contemporary art.
You probably didn't know this, but Lou Reed is the Grand Marshall of the Parade of this year's TBA.
Edouard Lock's Amelia
Composer David Lang repurposes lyrics from five of Lou Reed's Velvet Underground songs for his score for (ethereal/crystalline) voice, violin, cello, piano. I'm Waiting for My Man, All Tomorrow's Parties, Heroin, and I forget.
past heroin* addiction leading to kidney failure and Blessing the Boats.
Linda Austin's Boris & Natasha Dancers
Linda uses score of I Will Be Your Mirror and Femme Fatale for the two pieces of her three male non-dancers at the Variety Show.
"shaved his legs and then he was a she"
a. Minh Tran as Lady Ho
b. that sweet transvestite in a black suit and pink satin toe shoes showing how it's done in Amelia
And, um the first half hour of today's NWNW that made a person wish she wasn't very very afraid of needles.
I don't know just where I'm goingBut I'm gonna try for the kingdom, if I can'cause it makes me feel like I'm a manWhen I put a spike into my veinAnd I tell you things aren't quite the sameWhen I'm rushing on my runAnd I feel just like Jesus' sonAnd I guess that I just don't knowAnd I guess that I just don't knowI have made the big decisionI'm gonna try to nullify my life'cause when the blood begins to flowWhen it shoots up the dropper's neckWhen I'm closing in on deathYou can't help me now, you guysAnd all you sweet girls with all your sweet talkYou can all go take a walkAnd I guess I just don't knowAnd I guess that I just don't knowI wish that I was born a thousand years agoI wish that I'd sailed the darkened seasOn a great big clipper shipGoing from this land here to thatIn a sailor's suit and capAway from the big cityWhere a man cannot be freeOf all the evils of this townAnd of himself and those aroundOh, and I guess that I just don't knowOh, and I guess that I just don't knowHeroin, be the death of meHeroin, it's my wife and it's my lifeBecause a mainline in my vein leads to a center in my headAnd then I'm better off than deadBecause when the smack begins to flowI really don't care anymoreAbout all the Jim-Jims in this townAnd all the politicians making crazy soundsAnd everybody putting everybody else downAnd all the dead bodies piled up in mounds'cause when the smack begins to flowAnd I really don't care anymoreAh, when that heroin is in my bloodAnd the blood is in my headThen I thank God that I'm as good as deadAnd thank your God that I'm not awareAnd thank God that I just don't careAnd I guess that I just don't knowOh, and I guess that I just don't know
I was skeptical about how the food would pan out in the Machine Works setting, but each night's menu was definitely worth the $30 price tag for gluttons like me. Fortunately, I also have friends who are willing to brave the bourgeois tendencies of such dinner events to help me eat.
Of course, we were still cheap enough to smuggle in our own bottles of wine, which were admired by our dining companions for their sudden subversive appearance and the admirable vintage selected by my supplier. "Oh, we just looove Côtes du Rhône!" Yeah, okay. Anyway, later we played matchmaker for a fellow dinner companion and drank well into the wee hours of the night. The rest of the story is told elsewhere.
"Pollen Revolution" starts with Kasai in the beautiful traditional kabuki garb featured on all those TBA publicity materials. This first section was at first a bit intimidating. My knowledge of traditional Japanese performance forms is quite limited, but I do know it is entrenched in precisely codified movement patterns that are as foreign to me as, well, Japanese. The movements in and of themselves were not particularly impressive, however, I was rapt. He was a burst of color in an otherwise empty and expansive space, and though I didn't really know what was going on, I couldn't look away.
As the performance progressed, Kasai began to break free of the restricted kabuki form in a slowly building expression of tension and resistance, until finally literally breaking out of this form with an on-stage costume change. (This was a particularly interesting moment to think about in tandem with Khaela Maricich's 'presentation' on human templates). In the second section, his kimono is lifted to reveal Kasai in the black costume featured in the TBA program. This allowed for much more freedom of movement, and Kasai utilized this freedom with more expansive gestures while still maintaining a shadow of the traditional movements. The lighting changed to create a stronger contrast between shafts of light and darker shadows, and Kasai moved in and out of each, exploring every corner and edge of the stage. Though less restricted, Kasai expressed much more vulnerability in this section, an expression that culminated in a (almost) total stripping down, revealing the edges of his theatrical white makeup contrasted with his bare skin in a particularly striking duality of beauty and horror.
In the third section he donned a white suit, and somehow blended silence and stillness with hip-hop and tumbling. By this point, Kasai had me in the palm of his hand. I was hinged on his every gesture, and I'm not sure I blinked more than twice. There is something very powerful about the choices made by a body capable of anything. This was not a demonstration of his agility, strength, or mastery of technique, but rather a demonstration of his body as a voice for forces of life and existence that cannot be verbalized. I hope another blogger can come up with a more concrete description--I'm at a loss.
Kasai managed to create transitional flow from ancient Japanese movement forms to contemporary hip-hop in what is not a survey of dance history, but rather a personal odyssey of negotiating the present physical human body with its accumulated cultural knowledge and ever-evolving future destiny. Sigh. I find I don't have a vocabulary equipped for talking about Akira Kasai. And I am sure I didn't grasp everything he was communicating last night. I cannot translate Kasai's dance into words, and I don't think my mind could keep up with his performance, but his kinetic energy was speaking to my human fiber, and my physiological response was very, very real.
Not more than 30 seconds into Amelia I found myself thinking, “Where can I get a copy of this?” The exquisite dance on film soars in every aspect and would make the perfect jaw-dropping video loop at your next artsy party. Shot entirely in a square room, the hardwood flooring curves up to form the walls such that there’s no distinction between where one ends and the other begins. In this futuristic bowling alley of a dance space Lock’s dancers, all trained ballerinas, flow between styles, at times appearing like Argentine tango at others classical ballet. Their precision is astounding. There is not a muscle out of place, not a finger that slips beyond the dancer’s intention. Effortlessly they oscillate between whirlwind and statue.
One moment in particular finds a woman on point, frozen in a lunge. By the way it’s shot one could believe they were being deceived by special effects. Like the Matrix’s cg stylings, the camera shifts around it’s subject while she appears on pause in mid air. However, as disbelief sets in, as the viewers become convinced that they are a prey to trickery, they notice, she’s breathing, there’s a slight tremor in her thigh. And then it is awe that they’re feeling. These dancers are miraculous.
Not to be understated is the role the camera plays in all of this. At times itself a dancer, the camera, from all angles, including aerial, captures the interplay between dancers, set, and soundtrack.
The score is hauntingly beautiful. A woman makes dirges of some of Lou Reed’s VU classics: Heroin, I’m Waiting for the Man, All Tomorrows Parties. Violin, cello, and piano fill in the rest.
Amelia is a carefully woven synesthetic masterpiece.
Looking through her Magic Mirror, Miss Mary Ann saw Linda, David, and Mark, Chris, and Bryan, Mike, Daniel, Margretta, Zach, Byron, Joseph, Sekou, Amos, David, Stuart, Wendy, and Erin last night at Machineworks. Some other people were there too. A lot of them.
MissMA also saw:
3 burlesque hussies I was going to call boring but I take it back before I even say it and replace thus: I think all my conversations about art and performance (and all of yours) should be conducted in the presence of (or against the backdrop of) gyrating sweethearts in their satin skivvies.
1 delightful queen who was anything but a drag of a hostess
1 imported cabaret act that might have been more interesting if she had been a drag queen, or, or something. I’m apparently not a cat person.
3 of Portland’s best and most interesting poets (David Abel, Chris Piuma, and Flux-poet Mark Owens of the Spare Room Poetry Collective) in oversized colored boxers doing a fan dance as the Boris and Natasha Dancers under the choreography of Linda Austin.
Summary: Camp town racers sing their songs, doo dah doo dah. There was a lot of underwear in the Night of One Thousand Costume Changes. (I really wanted to say, “more costume changes than you could shake a dick at,” but thought better of it.)
The third best thing of the night was Minh Tranh as the Lady Ho, especially the Lady’s commitment to costume change…the Lady is NOT coming out until she gets her red velvet spangled Thing on.
The First and Very Best Thing of the Night was the Boris and Nathasha Dancers who deadpanned their way through an elegant parody and unintentional critique of the ass-wagging earlier in the evening. I love those guys. And I love Linda.
I also love that Lightbox guy. (Jason Eksuzian, I think.) Why weren’t the names of the performers ANYWHERE? Grrr
We chatted about Sekou and Edouard, Ethel and Joey. Oedipus. Water. Elemental-themed work in general. With David Abel about layers of meaning, intended and received in work, either on the page or in performance. The translation of work from page to performance, &c. His new girlfriend. In general: why it was hard to find out what the hell Lone Twin was up to; why finding David Eckard is a Project; the loved work and the un-; all the stuff we’re going to cram in tomorrow. Maybe I was just in a good mood last night, but overall, I think the Roger Ebert Brigade is pretty much thumb-upping the lion's share of the work presented this year.
Plus, I danced.
In the upper stories of the Wieden & Kennedy building, Erin Boberg led a discussion with Northwest artists Andrew Dickson & Khaela Maricich about their relationship to the corporate realm. The intersection between art and business is a topic I have been migrating towards during the past year for two reasons: firstly, because I have been working with my husband to create a small business specializing in graphic design software, and secondly, because I have been engaged in extended discussions about the great potential for artistic infiltration in more commercial realms as a means of reclaiming the art market.
I wrote earlier about Dickson’s eBay Powerseller performance, and I must admit that the lecture didn’t resolve my ambivalence towards the fact that his work rests in a no-man’s land between post-modern displacement and the Modern notion that art is life and life is art. He admitted that his work is largely without critique, perhaps with the exception of the obstacles faced by artists in Portland and the U.S. who try to eke out a living in a system unendowed with the kinds of grant-giving, artist-friendly infrastructures of places like Europe. I’ll be interested to see what direction Dickson’s work will take now that he has transcended economic hardship as an eBay Powerseller–will he use his newfound position to continue bringing commercial paradigms into the art world, or will he find new ways to infiltrate the business world as an artist?
I have not seen Maricich perform, though I have heard of her performances under the monkier, The Blow. She discussed a project she has been researching during her residency at the Wieden & Kennedy building. From what I gather, she is giving a presentation on a fictitious Swiss company, Remosch, which specializes in developing physical daily conditioning routines for individuals as a way of treating mental illness and, in Marichich’s words rebuild “the fiber of yourself.” These routines are based on an elaborate taxonomy of individual social “types” (e.g punk, conservative, old, young, etc.) that Maricich has derived from her own observations in town. Though she is building a real business that sells videos according to these methods, it is unclear exactly what is at the core of the project. She grew up in the midst of her own family’s successful small business, and as a result has naturally gravitated towards the American entrepreneurial spirit. Like Dickson, she was not prepared to admit that she was staging a critique on either business practice or the art economy. Though she attempts to carry out her art projects within an elaborate business structure, the conceptual basis for her use of these business structures gives way to poetics and performance.
Friday, September 17, 2004
Sorry for the big line gap between this copy and the table of thumbnail images below. The folks at Blogger could really stand to improve their style sheets and give us more layout control. Maybe next year, the TBA blog can try a new platform.