Short Takes from TBA
This year’s TBA Festival in Portland, Oregon featured PICA Artistic Director Angela Mattox’s excellent boundary-pushing, internationally-conscious taste. The festival was wonderfully diverse this year, with work ranging from Portugal, Africa, and Argentina, to Portland, San Francisco, New York, and beyond. The often cross disciplinary work ranged in form and style. There were ensemble-based pieces, sound installations, mediatized performance, proscenium pieces, experimental dance, and much more. It should be said that there was an entire visual arts section of the festival that I am not examining here.
Every night TBA held late night performances at The Works, a performance and gallery space, bar, pop-up restaurant, and general hang out area that they build in a huge warehouse on the North West side of town. The Works was where it was at! Everyone hung out and talked about the work they saw while enjoying drinks, food, and live performance. I saw The Julie Ruin play killer music, a drag runway competition, and quiet, haunting music by ??? The Works tied the TBA festival together by creating a space where the diverse performances continued and the audience was free to roam, which felt very true to the TBA vibe.
Here are some short takes from TBA.
Still Standing You
Still Standing You, Pieter Ampe and Guilherme’s collaborative experimental dance piece, is a game of one-upmanship. I found my brain switching to child logic as I watched this piece because both men use the physical language of children playing in this piece. For example, if I hit you in the arm what are you going to do? Probably hit my arm too, or if you are brave, hit my leg too. Pieter and Guilherme employ this logic to an extreme. They slap, embrace, stomp, flail, hit, walk and jump on each other, and more in an elaborate exploration of their dynamic. In this piece every body part is fair game – and yes, I mean every body part. As the piece progresses their clothes become battle gear, until there are no more clothes left to use and they are naked. They’ve already explored and exploited every other part of their bodies, so they begin to manipulate each other’s penises in a truly impressive fashion, by turns delicate and rough. At one point Guilherme screamed into Pieter’s penis, rending it entirely un-human and turning it into an object rather then a body part.
At some point in the piece they cease to be humans and become shapes and sounds. At one point I experienced them as monsters, in another they became mere colors and light as they folded their entire bodies on each other. When they gave into exhaustion and had periods of reprieve their bodies seemed to be restored to them and the play seemed to hover in an ending. But then the game began again and their bodies became humorous tools, or conquering bears, or just white light on a back. Still Standing You is by turns violent, hilarious, shocking, comforting, elegant, and clumsy. It is definitely downright illuminating in its exploration of male friendship dynamics.
[NOTE: Still Standing You will be presented on November 2 & 3 in NYC as part of Performa13.]
Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (M2M)
In M2M, three dancers collide the formalism and minimalism of postmodernism with the flamboyance and performativity of voguing. Layering these movements with the soaring and powerful vocals of a gospel, Trajal Harrell repositions the influence of jazz, funk, and RnB on postmodern dance, imagining a sweaty, ecstatic, and beautiful new possibility on stage.
M2M asks ‘What would have happened if one of the early postmodern choreographers from Judson Church had gone uptown to perform in the ball scene in Harlem?’ It aims to form an imagined space where the Judson Church postmodern dance movement and Harlem ballroom scene could live in new space, a third possibility to be created “here and now”. The piece started off with the commanding dancer Thibault Lac telling us about the concept, and that there will be two beginnings – one we should forget, one is the real beginning. When he exited Adele music began to thump and soon the three dancers walked on stage one at a time. Trajal Harrell immediately sat in a chair and began to cry, heavily and violently. Slowly Ondrej Vidlar started chanting ‘don’t stop’ and over time it became ‘don’t stop the dance’. Also slowly, Thibault repeated ‘mama said’. After a long period of time, Trajal rose to dance, and slowly a group dance began. It was not choreographed and composed of bits of voguing and postmodern dance. The movement was electric, but also very everyday in its gestures and composition.
This piece felt as if it were veiled to me. I know this is a popular piece, it has toured widely, but I took very little away from this performance. I saw nods to Judson and voguing in the loose church structure, in non-gender specific robes, in the dancers’ non-dance, in their sneakers, in the spare set, and in small sections of voguing tableaux. But mostly I found myself listening to loud emotional pop music while three men did a nonspecific improvised dance in front of me. The dance became repetitive, static, and eventually numbing. However, that may be the point. As Claudia La Rocco said in her New York Times review of the piece:
“… the waiting is essential. Much of the work’s power lies in all of the places it doesn’t go, and all of the space it gives its audience to ponder and question. Restraint and minimalism can be just as sexy and intriguing as vivacity and flair.”
This is how we disappear
This is how we disappear was a dance about how we are human, how we are animal, and about being form, being material. The majority of stage time was devoted to a beautiful duet between a male and female dancer while grating, single-note music played. They danced in front of a projection of trees, which showed an evolution from spring to fall to winter. At times the trees moved, looking as if we were traveling through them. During one section animal heads were projected on the dancers’ heads, rendering their bodies strange and out of place. The projections ended with the dancers’ own heads projected on them. This had the affect of relating them to all the animal heads that flashed before their own showed up, but also provided a relief to the viewer that their actual heads were restored. The piece ended with veins projected after the trees faded, as if to assert our relationship to the earth.
The choreography in This is how we disappear was inventive, fresh, and very dynamic. It played beautifully with the elegant projection design. But overall this piece felt a bit rudimentary and thin. Overall the tone was ominous and urgent, but it didn’t shift enough for me to gather an emotional or narrative story. The piece was elegant and beautiful, but the concept didn’t cohere for me.
We Put It Together So We Could Take It Apart
We Put It Together So We Could Take It Apart is a piece by The Blow, a pop band, in their new collaborative incarnation as installation, performance, and music. The piece uses live sampling so they can reconfigure their songs into a platform for improvisation.
(Full disclaimer: I love The Blow. I have never seen them live, nor seen them perform a piece. So my expectations were high walking into the theater. I was basically giddy.)
The music featured in the piece was adventurous, catchy, witty, and downright deliciously danceable. The space was set up so Khaela Maricich (founder of The Blow), as singer, was on the stage and Melissa Dyn (conceptual/installation artist), as the one providing the beats and light looks, was in the back of the house. Khaela would talk to Melissa, and Melissa would only talk back through beats and lights. This was an interesting dynamic to watch if you were in the orchestra, but I was in the balcony and didn’t see Melissa at all. It was not important for me to see her, because her presence was auditory and visual, but Khaela kept directing her energy at Melissa the person, not her presence, so it made me feel like I was missing out on something.
Other then displaying a dynamic between audio, visual, and human presences, the piece explored the concept of the self and what is/is not the self. Khaela alternated between singing amazing songs and rambling in a narcissistic, aimless fashion. Her sprawling improvised chatting made the piece feel like a first draft. At one point Khaela said “I have to talk a certain amount to the audience to develop trust with them…I’m trying to cut that down”, which explained why she was talking to us for so long about random things. I admired her ability to see her own flaw, and a lot of the piece examined her various flaws in song and speech, but I wished she would take that awareness and use it to craft a tighter piece about her compelling notions of self that were barely brought to the surface in this particular work.