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Ahamefule J. Oluo's SUSAN at TBA 2019: Wonderful Music, Not Enough SUSAN
By Suzette Smith Photo by Maria DiRosaWere I a native of Seattle, I would be more familiar with Ahamefule J. Oluo, the comedian and musician behind SUSAN: a part stand-up, part memoir, part live music performance which appeared as an in-process work at this year's Time-Based Art Festival (TBA). In 2015, Oluo received widespread acclaim for Now I'm Fine, his comedic memoir jazz musical that explored his tenuous relationship with his absent father. SUSAN is a follow-up to that piece, focused on Oluo's mother, described in the show notes as "the white, Midwestern wife of a Nigerian chief." In our TBA preview, I referenced an episode of This American Life called “Put a Bow on It,” as a try-before-you-buy example of Oluo's memoir comedy, so it was surprising to hear that same story open the show. There's an interesting storytelling style crossover between Oluo and his wife, author and Shrill executive producer Lindy West. In moments when Oluo paused, looked up toward the audience and said, "but suddenly..." to break up the narration, he carried an identical intonation to his wife. And since Oluo is a practiced comedian and public performer, it made me wonder which of them came up with this speaking signature. In any event, it works. Maria DiRosaAs expected, SUSAN was one of the most approachable performances at TBA. Where most of the festival's works required a willingness to stick it out through a challenging piece of art, Oluo's musical was pure enjoyment. Oluo's memoir stories were charming, illustrative, and—at least once—like having your heart poked very hard with an index finger. Sheesh, that stings. But SUSAN's musical arrangements were where the true fire sparked. Oluo stepped back from the mic to fill out a jazz quartet (Oluo on trumpet, Skerik on saxophone, Haley Freedlund on trombone, and Jerome Smith playing sousaphone and trombone), supported by an upright bass (Marina Christopher), drummer (D'Vonne Lewis), keyboardist (Josh Rawlings) and two vocalists (Tiffany Wilson and Okanomodé Soulchilde). Those are a lot of names, but I couldn't fail to note them. They're all strongly part of the performance, especially the vocalists. At one point Wilson's singing prompted Mercury News Reporter Blair Stenvick to whisper, "I would watch a whole show of just her." Maria DiRosaEach of SUSAN's songs carried an artistic weight that either balanced or outdid the story it followed, building as the performance unfolded, and peaking with the second to last song—which directly follows a story of Oluo riding through the backroads of Nigeria with cars of hired police and musclemen. YEAH, it sounds cool, huh? Well, you'll have a chance to see SUSAN in its completed form this December (Thurs Dec 5- Sun Dec 8) at Seattle's On the Boards. Maria DiRosaOne last thing about this performance of SUSAN: At this stage in the development of the show, SUSAN does not quite deserve its name. The anecdotes are too much about Oluo and other men in his family. Even that aforementioned heart-pokey story seems uncomfortably focused on a man his mother dated and brought into Oluo's young life. Surely he knows better than to try to sketch a portrait of a woman that way. But this criticism comes from the show's unfinished state, and I—perhaps being so charmed by Oluo's stage presence—have full faith that the show will be tremendous come December. We're wrapping up our 2019 TBA coverage, but we have a few more things to say! Read our reviews and critical impressions at: portlandmercury.com/tba [ Comment on this story ] [ Subscribe to the comments on this story ]

TBA 2019: Photos of Eiko Otake's The Duet Project: Distance is Malleable
By Briana Cerezo Briana CerezoIn our preview for this year's Time Based Arts Festival (TBA) we noted that "the return of Eiko Otake to TBA is a centerpiece of this year’s festival." Otake appeared at the first TBA as part of the internationally recognized performance duo Eiko & Koma, but—after over 40 years of working together—Otake began a solo project called A Body in Places, in 2014. (For those that just can't get enough Otake, check out this 2010 New York Times profile. The end seems to foreshadow the new direction.) Otake performed A Body in Places at numerous locations around the globe, including at PNCA as part of TBA's opening. She also collaborated on a new work, The Duet Project: Distance Is Malleable, with choreographer Ishmael Huston-Jones, poet Mark McCloughan, and filmmaker Alexis Moh. Mercury photographer Briana Cerezo attended Distance Is Malleable and captured these striking images of the performance. SUZETTE SMITH Briana Cerezo Briana Cerezo Briana Cerezo Briana Cerezo Briana Cerezo Briana Cerezo Briana Cerezo Briana Cerezo Briana Cerezo Briana CerezoWe're wrapping up our 2019 TBA coverage, but we have a few more things to say! Read our reviews and critical impressions at: portlandmercury.com/tba [ Comment on this story ] [ Subscribe to the comments on this story ]

The Dope Elf Review: TBA and Yale Union Join Forces to Bring Portland One Weird Play About Gentrification
By TJ Acena TJ AcenaA lot of us have the feeling that there's something wrong with our country. And also that the wrongness runs deeper than our elected officials. How could anyone make a single play about that? You can’t. So instead, Asher Harman and the Gawdafful National Theater are creating a six-part play/gallery installation/livestream called The Dope Elf. My best advice for navigating The Dope Elf is as follows: 1) Keep your eyes on Hartman. He introduces himself before the show. When he starts to move, follow. 2) Move around the sides. Circle behind the actors. This leads to the most interesting and unobstructed views. A large portion of the audience drifted back and forth in the middle of the room, but the actors don't mind if you spread out. 3) Don’t try to make sense of what’s going on. Instead, tap into the emotions of the characters. 4) Bring a fan. It gets stuffy in there. Upon entering Yale Union’s exhibition hall, you'll see a collection of structures that serve as surreal set pieces and stage for the The Dope Elf's performance. They're also beds because the actors have been living in the space as part of their residency. Go ahead and get a closer look. While examining a tower of light boxes, I was approached by a few actors who were more than happy to chat about the show. TJ AcenaBesides the small set pieces—which sometimes shift around the space during the performance—the barriers between the audience and the actors are undefined. You can be as close to or as far away from action as you want, but moving will definitely enrich your experience. If you sit, don’t get too comfortable. Scenes travel from one end of the hall to the other, sometimes very quickly. But unlike immersive shows like the very famous Sleep No More, there's a singular focus to The Dope Elf. You could stay with one actor for the whole show, but they won’t always be doing much. Following the actors around, and inhabiting the same space does playfully threaten to break the fourth wall. But no one in the audience is ever called on to do anything. This is a scripted show and the actors work around the attendees. The shows rotations occasionally create very visually striking imagery. At one point, the entire audience was crowded in one part of the space only to turn around and see another character, waiting for us at the other end, in a pool of light. There's no plot to The Dope Elf. Hartman explains as much at the beginning of the show. Instead we follow a community of characters through their lives. Some are mundane and some mystical, but all have their own trauma and baggage that come from the world we live in. At the center of the show is the titular Dope Elf (Jacqueline Wright), a magical elf hillbilly, who alternates between trickster guide and terrifying force of nature. There isn’t a traditional narrative arc to The Dope Elf, but there is an emotional one. Most of the six actors play multiple roles, and though it’s not always clear who they are, each one feels distinct. There isn’t a traditional narrative arc, but there is an emotional one. The characters struggle with their relationships to each other and themselves, which builds a sense of wonder and frustration, culminating in an explosive final monologue on gentrification. (I think.) The Dope Elf is more of an experience you let wash over you than a story or a lesson. The opening night of The Dope Elf was actually only the first installment, one sixth of the entire piece. So I can’t speak to the the totality of the entire series. The first three episodes will be performed at Yale Union through October. Whether the later episodes will return to Portland is still undetermined. After this residency, Gawdafful National Theater is traveling with this show, back to California for a while. (Parts 1-3 of The Dope Elf play in sequence—Friday is Part 1, Saturday is Part 2, and Sunday is Part 3—on Fri Sept 20-Sun Sept 22, Fri Oct 11-Sun Oct 13, Fri Oct 18-Sun Oct 20, 8 pm, Yale Union, 800 SE 10th, $10 suggested donation) We're wrapping up our 2019 TBA coverage, but we have a few more things to say! Read our reviews and critical impressions at: portlandmercury.com/tba [ Comment on this story ] [ Subscribe to the comments on this story ]

TBA 2019: With The Want Adam Linder Seems to Want to Prevent Us from Understanding
By TJ Acena TJ AcenaIn college, I took a course on literary and cultural theory. I spent hours, face buried in my textbook, reading and rereading chapters on Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida. Thankfully my professor was skilled at explaining the ideas of these philosophers. If not for her, it would have been a completely frustrating quarter. Adam Linder’s The Want constantly reminded me of the arduous experience of reading that textbook, always on the cusp of understanding, but unable to cross that threshold. The Want is loosely based on French Playwright Bernard-Marie Koltès’ 1985 play In the Solitude of Cotton Fields. In the original play, two people—identified only as the ‘dealer’ and the ‘client’—have a long exchange about a possible transaction. Linder strips Koltes’ work down to its essence and then rebuilds it, using text from French philosophers and American hip-hop artists. Also, it’s an opera. Linder turns the ‘dealer’ and ‘client’ into the ‘offeror’ and ‘offeree’. Each role is played by two performers wearing identical white dress shirts, black shorts, and dress shoes, who move and speak as two bodies with one mind. The offeror approaches the offeree, with whatever it is they need or want. The offeree rebukes them, saying that they are not looking for anything in particular—that they are simply walking in some undefined area. The object of the transaction is at various times alluded to be sex, drugs, violence, or friendship. The amorphous nature of the characters further obscures the nature of the transaction they are in engaged in. The audience can ascribe them any identity. As the piece goes on, the offeror and offeree struggle to define the power dynamic between them and the nature of transactions. Amorphous is the word that best describes this show. There is no narrative arc. Instead, the work's intensity surges and wanes. The white stage has no geography, except for a few makeshift mannequins on the edges that serve as coat racks. The lights bathe the performers in every color imaginable, but seemingly at random. The music, or more accurately sound design, is a stream of sounds and atonal instrumentation. Lines are spoken, sung, chanted, and—just once—rapped. The choreography shifts from animalistic, to loose and flowing, to sharp and rigid and back again; the only movement or gesture I caught repeated was one of the performers very subtly rubbing their fingers together as if demanding cash. At one point, all the performers dress as Hassidic rabbis. Nothing feels haphazard about the show. The production might seem random, but it’s slick. It’s just that visually, Linder seems to want to prevent the audience from extracting meaning from what they observe. There are no subtitles. Instead, the audience is given a program with all the lyrics, complete with tiny, cryptic annotations. But it’s generally too dark in the theatre to follow along. The text of The Want is dense and meandering. It doesn't offer any easy explanations and the form actually works against comprehension. See, while the libretto is in English, the actual operatic singing often distorts the text, making the lines difficult to understand. This is particularly true when all the performers are singing at once. There are no subtitles. Instead, the audience is given a program with all the lyrics, complete with tiny, cryptic annotations. But it’s generally too dark in the theatre to follow along, so I couldn’t seriously begin to engage with the actual text until after it ended. Walking out of Lincoln Hall, I wished I had brought someone to the show with me. Or that I had another patient professor, ready to make sense of what I had experienced. If you’re someone who enjoys performance and cultural theory, The Want might be a perfect synthesis of the two. If you’re not, then you might find it infuriatingly obtuse and dull. We're all over this year's TBA! Keep up with us for reviews and critical impressions at: portlandmercury.com/tba [ Comment on this story ] [ Subscribe to the comments on this story ]

Fin de Cinema Is a Late Night TBA Classic and Their Approach to Black Orpheus Was Perfect
By Ben Coleman Simone FischerAn ongoing concert series at Holocene for ten (10!) years, Fin de Cinema pairs snooty film nerd deep cuts (and I say that with affection) with live scores from local musicians. The end result is part silent film / part concert / part feature-length video installation. Suffice to say, it's awesome and the ongoing collaboration between Fin de Cinema and the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA)'s Time Based Arts Festival (TBA) continues to represent a good fit for all involved. This year's choice of film was a potentially fraught piece of '50s French cinema, Marcel Camus' Black Orpheus. The three musicals acts—Amenta Abioto, Kalimah Abioto, Mike Gamble and Caton Lyles, Akila Fields with Noah Bernstein, and POPgoji—took three wildly different approaches to accompanying the vibrant and energetic film. In the end, they complemented each other magnificently. Black Orpheus is an interesting choice for a festival that continues to put an admirable emphasis on representation and diverse viewpoints. Populating a classical Greek tragedy with an all black cast and shooting it on location in the slums of Brazil would be a bold stroke now, and French director Marcel Camus pulled it off in 1959 (1959!). The significant caveat is that the performances he elicited were... allegorical is the charitable way to phrase it. Objectifying and infantilizing could potentially be another. Simone FischerThere's a certain fairy-tale logic to the way characters behave, alternating between petulant and credulous, wrathful and lusting. Were the Greeks of myth also beautiful, horny idiots? Yes, yes they were. But the film rubs up uncomfortably with the Western tradition of objectifying Black bodies while denying Black intellects. President Obama notably found the film essentially unwatchable on that score, describing the characters as "carefree birds in colorful plumage" and "the reverse image of Conrad’s dark savages." I'm not here to adjudicate the dispute, but I'm inclined to side with Obama, if for no other reason than I think he makes a better film critic than any film critic would make a president. That said, Fin De Cinema's approach—essentially rendering Orpheus a silent film (albeit with subtitles rather than intertitles)—actually mitigated a lot of those issues. The broad gestures and over-emoting from the actors actually synced up well with what you'd need to do in a silent film to communicate big emotions without the aid of vocal tone or timing. Each musical act was well-paired to the segment of film they re-scored. Amenta Abioto, Kalimah Abioto, and Caton Lyles, and Mike Gamble approached the first act of the film with Abioto's melodic, almost-dreamlike vocals floating over a mix of a couple different drum types and Mike Gamble on guitar. This paired well with the fish-out-of-water introduction of Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) to gadabout trolly driver Orfeu (Breno Mello) in the hours before the Rio Carnaval. POPgoji's performance, which followed, took on the frenetic tempo of the carnival, with all the energy you'd want for the long segments of costumed dancing and general debauchery. As the film entered its increasingly surreal third act, Akila Fields and Noah Bernstein took the stage. Bernstein's saxophone overlaid Fields' synthesizer hauntingly, ratcheting things down to an appropriately mystical Tangerine Dream-style minimalism. The band transitions were perfectly in keeping with the tonal shifts of the film itself, demonstrating that this wasn't Fin De Cinema's first time based rodeo. We're all over this year's TBA! Keep up with us for reviews and critical impressions at: portlandmercury.com/tba [ Comment on this story ] [ Subscribe to the comments on this story ]

If You Love Hamilton, Why Don't You Try on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s First, Better Musical In the Heights
By Blair Stenvick Owen Carey"I used to think we lived at the top of the world / When the world was just a subway map,” sings Nina Rosario (Sophia Macías) on “When You’re Home,” one of the standout tracks of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights. “And the one-slash-nine/ Climbed a dotted line to my place.” “There’s no 9 train now,” her love interest Benny (Alex Nicholson) reminds her. “Right,” Nina replies. This snippet of lyrics does a lot of work to establish the setting—and core tension—of the Tony Award-winning In the Heights, which was Miranda’s first Broadway musical, before Hamilton. Set in Washington Heights, a Manhattan neighborhood that’s also known as Little Dominican Republic, the musical centers on a group of Latino immigrant small business owners and neighbors. It tracks these characters through 48 fateful hours in the early ’00s, as they grapple with rising rents, developing romances, family betrayals, a heat wave power outage, and one winning lottery ticket totaling $96,000.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights Explores Tensions of an NYC Immigrant Community, Is Better Than Hamilton
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Broadway musical is still his best. by Blair Stenvick “I used to think we lived at the top of the world / When the world was just a subway map,” sings Nina Rosario (Sophia Macías) on “When You’re Home,” one of the standout tracks of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights. “And the one-slash-nine/ Climbed a dotted line to my place.” “There’s no 9 train now,” her love interest Benny (Alex Nicholson) reminds her. “Right,” Nina replies. This snippet of lyrics does a lot of work to establish the setting—and core tension—of the Tony Award-winning In the Heights, which was Miranda’s first Broadway musical, before Hamilton. Set in Washington Heights, a Manhattan neighborhood that’s also known as Little Dominican Republic, the musical centers on a group of Latino immigrant small business owners and neighbors. It tracks these characters through 48 fateful hours in the early ’00s, as they grapple with rising rents, developing romances, family betrayals, a heat wave power outage, and one winning lottery ticket totaling $96,000. Lurking beneath these surface issues, though, is one underlying question that comes out again and again in the dual-language songs the performers rap and sing: If they can’t rely on their newfound home of Washington Heights to stay the same (there’s no 9 train now, remember?), would it have been better if they (or their parents) had stayed in their country of origin? That question gets a resounding answer by the end of the musical and getting there is a hell of a lot of fun. Powerful songs, intricate set design, and electrifying choreography from William Carlos Angulo helps to fill out a textured world inside the production, and I wish even more time could be spent on these details—rather than on two will-they-or-won’t-they romances. Another point that sticks occurs in the second act when—fed up by blistering temperatures and no electricity—the characters host a block party, or carnaval del barrio, to blow off steam. Different characters sing about neighborhood parties back home in the Dominican Republic or Cuba or Puerto Rico, and proudly wave flags. It’s a prompt for the audience to applaud the diversity on display—and applaud we did. But as is so often the case at cultural events in Portland, I found myself wishing I could see fans from these backgrounds in the Armory’s audience. I hope Portland Center Stage’s run of In the Heights will reach some of the people it’s meant to celebrate. Regardless of your background, though, I can guarantee the buzzy musical numbers will play in your head long after the show ends. Oh, and I’ll go ahead and say it: This musical is way better than Hamilton. [ Comment on this story ] [ Subscribe to the comments on this story ]

At TBA 2019 Eiko Otake's A Body in Places Is Both a Dance and an Installation
By Sebastian Zinn Amie LeekingA fascinating through line from this year’s Time Based Arts Festival (TBA) is how many of the festival's artists disrupt the established gallery relationship between art and audience by soliciting attendee participation in public spaces. The work of interdisciplinary, movement-based artist Eiko Otake is no exception. On TBA's opening afternoon, spectators gathered on the floor of the Pacific Northwest College of Art’s (PNCA) sun-struck atrium in anticipation of a performance by Otake, entitled A Body in Places. Otake appeared above us on the atrium’s third-floor, dangling a piece of crimson and beige fabric over the edge of the railing before hurling it to the upturned faces below her. Moving with both deliberate speed and a measured slowness, Otake descended one story to the next, interacting with random objects on her way. First, she decimated an unsuspecting broad-leaved plant. Then she attacked a TBA brochure advertising her work. After that she distributed a cart of books, from the College’s Albert Solheim Library, to audience members on the main floor. Her movements through the space exercised a subtle control over the audience (including members of the press), forcing us to reposition ourselves and negotiate with one another to gain views. Eventually she exited the building, drawing the audience along, and bringing street traffic to a halt. She then escaped down the park blocks. A Body in Places, as an installation, combines an arsenal of media. In addition to the opening night performance, the installation includes photographic prints and videos of Otake's work. Created in collaboration with the photographer and Japanese history professor, William Johnston, they depict Otake dancing a version of A Body in Places at the irradiated site of the Fukushima disaster and covered in a swarm of moths in the Kanakadea Forrest. Amie LeekingOtake says her aim is to draw attention to the delicate equilibrium and the growing disjunction between post-industrial society and our fragile ecosystem. In the artist statement for her debut of A Body in Places at The Metropolitan Museum of Art she explained: “I have tried to connect, through the insistence of my body, each particular place I perform with the landscape of post-nuclear disaster Fukushima.” Going from Otake’s exhibit to Noche Libre’s DJ set at PICA’s Mainspace was a hefty transition. In the gallery surrounded by photos of Otake, I reflected on the urgency of some of the challenges the global community currently faces. When Otake tore the brochure for her TBA event apart with her teeth, she seemed to be mimicking the way people consume information and art about catastrophic events like Fukushima or climate change, while still maintaining the status-quo. On the dance floor I felt relatively untroubled and joyful—in my body instead of in my head. The contrast between Otake’s and Noche Libre’s performances gave me a deep appreciation of events like TBA, which underscore the ephemerality of our responses to art. This is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it enables us to take in and then ignore the information we receive from a work like A Body in Places. On the other hand, it enables us to keep dancing (even if it’s the end of the world and we know it). Otake will perform The Duet Project: Distance is Malleable at PICA on Thurs Sept 12 -Sept 14 at 8:30pm. An installation of A Body in Places is on display at the Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at PNCA through Thursday, October 24th. We're all over this year's TBA! Keep up with us for reviews and critical impressions at: portlandmercury.com/tba [ Comment on this story ] [ Subscribe to the comments on this story ]

TBA 2019 Late Night: The Back to School Kiki Celebrates and Educates
By Andrew Jankowski Andrew JankowskiClass was back in session this weekend, at TBA's Late Night Saturday Back to School Kiki Ball, where New York’s Precious Ebony and Portland’s Brandon Harrison summoned spectators and legendary children to watch and walk looks inspired by the theme of "Back to School." If you’ve missed out on all the entertaining education points provided by FX TV show Pose, the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, or the omni-influential RuPaul’s Drag Race, vogue balls are creative, competitive spaces led by queer people of color. Ball culture built spaces where dance and fashion are stronger ways of knowing than written word, and ball attendees can find a caring community within an uncaring society. On Saturday, members of Portland and Seattle houses gathered—along with solo performers, newbies, and viewers—to demonstrate versatility and queer ingenuity, walking for a judges panel of expert dancers and artists for fame and cash. Andrew JankowskiMany private school uniforms walked the runway. Other trends included posh mean girls, construction safety wear, military silhouettes, glam university blazers, and '90s and Y2K nostalgia. Seattle’s Tracey Wong, Tinashé Monét, and the Legendary Stephan Blahnik joined Portland’s Yüko Flora in judging contestants. Categories were, to name a few: presentation of the Face, first-time runway walkers, rare shoes, vogue commenting, interpretations of Biology Class Bizarre, and Lunch Lady Realness. Then came the five elements of vogue dancing: hands, catwalk, duckwalk, spins and dips, and floor performance. (The latter element especially encourages close attention.) PICA's mainstage space was packed when the ball started at 11 pm, but as the evening progressed the crowd naturally thinned so most people got a chance to grab a closer view. Andrew JankowskiThe evening's last few categories had to be rushed to meet TBA's 2 am curfew, but the walkers made due, serving stunning looks and fierce poise. The runway lay open to all, including a person on crutches (with a stiletto boot) and three memorable, actual children who didn’t win their categories, but offered the adults real competition. Ebony, Harrison and the judges educated the competitors and audience in real time, keeping the audience’s energy high and the performers on schedule. The Back to School Kiki Ball proved that, yes, reading is fundamental—for the rich history, the brilliant fashions, and the shade of it all. We're all over this year's TBA! Keep up with us for reviews and critical impressions at: portlandmercury.com/tba [ Comment on this story ] [ Subscribe to the comments on this story ]

TBA 2019 at First Presbyterian: Kara-Lis Coverdale's Quiet Swells of Sound Demand Reverence
By Robert Ham Robert HamIt’s impossible to do anything quietly within the Portland's nearly 130-year-old First Presbyterian Church. Everything inside is made of wood: the pews, the seats, the floors, the doors. And that wood creaks and groans with the slightest shift of your body. Or if you want to leave the sanctuary unobtrusively—after listening to an hour of experimental music on the church’s massive pipe organ, played by composer Kara-Lis Coverdale, as part of PICA's Time Based Art (TBA) Festival. Coverdale didn’t give those folks much concealment either. Rather than overwhelming with booming drones and huge triumphal swells of sound, she played with the instrument's subtleties and emphasized overtones that emerge when otherwise conflicting notes and chords are played simultaneously. Her composition, titled “DIAPASON,” was written specifically for First Presbyterian's organ—which was custom built in the '90s from designs first conceived in the 17th Century. It wasn't clear whether Coverdale knew the specifics of the instrument before she arrived in town, but whatever the case, she coaxed some delightfully unusual tones from it. In the opening section, her left foot held down a pedal that drew out a low throbbing drone, like wind pressure on the ears when driving with a window cracked. She played cycling melodies that shifted and adapted throughout—dropping a note here, adding a few there. They effect sounded synthetic, as if sampled from a Perrey-Kingsley album or Messiaen’s ondes Martenot. The work swung like a slow pendulum between those two poles, with long drones that utilized as many single notes as her fingers could reach, and lighter more fluid segments that combined rather nicely with the noise of traffic and crows outside the church. Coverdale treated the pipe organ with reverence. She sat down on its wooden bench with care and just as carefully removed her body from it 90-minutes later. Every movement of her hands and arms looked fluid and meticulous. At the same time, she put her whole body into the performance, swaying back and forth or rolling her head and shoulders in response to the smoothly sweeping chords. The audience (those who stuck around past the 60-minute mark, who were the majority) responded with an equal amount of piety. They leaned forward to rest their heads on the back of the seat in front of them or, in some cases, laid down completely in their own pews, but they were rapt. So much so that, beyond the occasional cough or the whine of wood, it was pin-drop-quiet in the church’s nave. I’m not sure Coverdale was expecting that, and between two movements of “DIAPASON” she sat silently, twisting her hands in circles on the organ’s bench. Was she waiting for applause, or for the audience to give themselves over to coughs and mumbles? Neither arrived, and it lent a quiet tension to those brief moments, which unraveled the moment her hands landed on the keyboard. We're all over this year's TBA! Keep up with us for reviews and critical impressions at: portlandmercury.com/tba [ Comment on this story ] [ Subscribe to the comments on this story ]

Miguel Gutierrez’s This Bridge Called My Ass Seeks to Destroy the Relationship Between Bodies and Objects
By Andrew Jankowski Andrew JankowskiSearching for a way to connect choreographer Miguel Gutierrez’s performance This Bridge Called My Ass to the book from whence it takes its name This Bridge Called My Back, I found myself returning to a poem in the collection by Donna Kate Rushin, “The Bridge Poem." "I've had enough," Rushin declares, "I'm sick of seeing and touching / Both sides of things / Sick of being the damn bridge for everybody." This Bridge Called My Back was a groundbreaking 1981 anthology by women of color, critiquing white feminism. Both the anthology and Gutierrez’s work clearly express frustration. Gutierrez uses the language of theatrical dance to convey the anthology’s ethos with light, sound, body, fabric, stools, electric power strips, clamps, and Mac laptops. It’s a challenging work—two people walked out of the performance I attended—but if you give it a chance, My Ass has a lot to say about the weariness of building impermanent connections, borders, and boundaries. Performers Alvaro Gonzalez, John Gutierrez, Xandra Ibarra, nibia pastrana santiago, and Evelyn Sanchez Narvaez open the presentation by chanting in Spanish. They're all clad in varied day-glo negligees. They alternate between stripping down—some changing into new garments—and dragging objects across PICA’s theater stage. With six bodies to focus on, its up to the viewer to prioritize order of observation. The dance is frenetic and the dancers are never dull—whether they're dragging fabric with their feet, climbing through step ladders, slapping themselves, or humping speakers playing a mix of atonal noise, folk, and Pitbull. What matters is how you interpret these happenings—and in my case, I saw the laborious decontextualizing of how we understand the body’s interactions with objects and other bodies. Andrew JankowskiMy Ass contains moments where nude bodies interact in ways that are normally coded as sexual (like rubbing bearded faces on asses), but on the stage they lack eroticism. The forms of nude brown bodies and multicolored fabric is reminiscent of queer LA photographer Rakeem Cunningham’s work. As the lighting cues switch from blue-white tones to bright lights to seconds of total darkness, the audience sees Miguel Gutierrez and his fellow performers work in vain to form new connections between their bodies and cloth strung from the ceiling. Like the speaker in Rushin’s poem, Miguel and the other dancers are constantly at work: forming communicative labors, sick of seeing and touching, but unable to stop. Andrew JankowskiNot even death marks the end of My Ass. In the last third of the show, the performers restore the stage by laying out the wrinkle-free fabrics like a politically-colored map and taking on lines that sounds like telenovela dialogue. As the audience is deprived of context, it’s hard to know what’s going on. Earlier the the audience laughed at scenes that didn’t seem humorous. This final scene seems like the most appropriate place for laughter. Every character dies by gun violence as they profess the undying connection of eternal love. A dog made of industrial clamps is slowly dragged across the stage as an esoteric, humorous monologue plays. Both My Back and Miguel Gutierrez's My Ass are immersive works, rich with meaning that will likely resonate deeply with viewers who aren’t traditionally represented in the world—not just literary and performance communities. While there's an undeniable absurdity throughout My Ass, it’s not a work of comedy. It makes us question how we’ve built the values that have gotten us to this point, and leaves the viewer almost as weary as the performers—but better for being so directly challenged. We're all over this year's TBA! Keep up with us for reviews and critical impressions at: portlandmercury.com/tba [ Comment on this story ] [ Subscribe to the comments on this story ]

Dystopian Cyberpunk Interpretive Dance With Notes of Blade Runner: Ligia Lewis' Water Will (in Melody) at TBA 2019
By Ben Coleman Ben ColemanThere's a scene in the 1982 film Blade Runner where futuristic bounty hunter / cop-with-a-cool-jacket Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) shoots Pris (Daryl Hannah), a renegade "basic pleasure model" android with a penchant for violent gymnastics. In life, Pris is animated, sensual, and dangerous. But in the moment of her death she is reduced to a writhing tangle of jerking limbs, a broken toy wrapped in artificial flesh. If you have ever felt like that segment could be expanded on with (say, an hour of) interpretive dance, boy do I have the show for you. Water Will (in Melody)'s staging is kept to four women dancers on a black stage: choreographer and director Ligia Lewis performing the work "in creation with" Titilayo Adebayo, Dani Brown, and Susanne Sachsse. The set dressing is a single climbing rope. The lighting direction employs strobes, backlit fog, and even the house lights on occasion. The dancers wear a range of outfits: silk robes to plastic coveralls. They writhe and pirouette in harsh spotlights, moving through a series of routines, and occasionally interjecting a bit of spoken word here or a musical interlude there. At times, the performance felt frustratingly enigmatic—in particular, an extended German monologue that felt like a parody of high art obfuscation. But, in general, Water Will moved quickly, and few segments overstayed their welcome. Most of the performance's parsable dialogue has the quality of a DJ fixated on a particular sample: seemingly innocuous words and phrases looped and progressively distorted to hypnotic effect. There's an element of performative femininity to many of these sequences, with the dancers spontaneously adopting chirpy voices, wide eyes, and mechanical smiles—as though they've temporarily become malfunctioning beauty pageant robots. Layered onto that mix is an almost Cronenbergian obsession with mouths, groins, and distorted physicality. The dancers move and are moved, often against their wills, displaying expressions of panic and disassociation in their eyes. They writhe on the ground, groping themselves in ways that might seem sexual if they weren't so mechanically off-tempo. Water Will invokes the image of a landfill for malfunctioning female bodies who were designed to be used up and discarded. Many are resigned to their fate, others are terrified, and some are seemingly complicit. Water Will is described in the program notes as "dystopian," but I'd go a step further and say it's distinctly cyberpunk. It invokes the image of a landfill for malfunctioning female bodies who were designed to be used up and discarded. Many are resigned to their fate, others are terrified, and some are seemingly complicit. The dancers wrestle, scream, pull hair, and reach for guidance, all of this inter-cut with frequent mechanical, inhuman tics and jerks. Teasing out a narrative from a mostly non-verbal and, at times, deliberately abstract movement is either the fun part of interpretive dance or what makes it impenetrably vague. Water Will probably won't make any new converts on that front, but there were some interesting through lines that even I, a relative neophyte, found intriguing. On a technical level, the dancers were agile, emotive, and either in concert or deliberately out of step with each other. The incidental music's Brutalist baseline, sometimes augmented with angelic choral elements, complimented the mood of the piece effectively. The rope I could take or leave, but I don't think it got in the way of anything. We're all over this year's TBA! Keep up with us for reviews and critical impressions at: portlandmercury.com/tba [ Comment on this story ] [ Subscribe to the comments on this story ]

Artists Repertory's ART on Tour: An Explainer
By TJ Acena M.O. STEVENSArtists Repertory Theatre (ART) has had a huge reversal of fortune in the last few years. In 2017, the company incurred a $309,000 lien from the IRS on unpaid payroll taxes. This was followed by the announcement that they would sell the SW Alder half of their property to Wood Partners, a Georgia-based real estate company, in a move to secure themselves financially. Then a very generous anonymous donor gifted $7.1 million to the company. With the mortgage now paid off and capital in hand, ART is looking to rebuild. Literally.

Portland Opera Announces Strategic Plan To Save It From Financial Doom
By Robert Ham Cory Weaver/Portland OperaBy their own admission, the Portland Opera has been in a dire situation over the past five years. The opera company’s efforts to find some financial stability—by switching from a fall-to-spring season to a summer calendar in 2014—had the opposite effect, resulting in a substantial decrease in subscriptions and single-ticket buyers. Combined with rising production costs and, as Interim General Director Sue Dixon puts it, “the shifting philanthropic landscape of Portland,” there was the very real possibility of the organization going broke before the end of the next decade. There are positive signs on the horizon, however. They are seeing positive financial numbers this year, with upticks in subscribers and ticket sales. And, most importantly, they just announced a new Five Year Strategic Plan that they’re hoping will help the company not only survive but also see some sustainable growth in the future. Overseen by the organization’s board of directors and local consulting firm Metropolitan Group, the plan presents three big strategies that, according to the document released yesterday, could “lead Portland Opera down a path of growth, service to the community, national prominence, and enhanced financial stability.” “The need for a new strategic plan,” Dixon explained via e-mail interview, “grew out of conversations within the staff and board. We wanted the whole company to be on the same page about how to tackle challenges and changes, and how to strategically position Portland Opera for the next chapter. This process gave us a framework to really identify our priorities and spend time listening to the community.” The community Portland Opera heard from included regular subscribers and financial supporters, folks from other arts organizations, representatives from OPERA America, and others who were invited to participate in round tables on what Portland Opera was doing right and how they could improve. [Full disclosure: I participated in one of these group discussions.] The strategies that came out of Metropolitan Group’s research are logical and practical—and mostly reinforce what Portland Opera has already been doing. That includes holding performances in a mix of venues, like their regular home at the Keller Auditorium and the more intimate space at the Hampton Opera Center; bringing the music to Portlanders outside the concert hall; and offering a mix of classic and contemporary work. “So much of the feedback we received was aligned with our patron survey responses and what we had been hearing from community members,” says Dixon, “but it was really important to have [Metropolitan Group as] a partner that could share an outside perspective and be objective about the findings.” Some of the feedback that Metropolitan Group solidified was the need for Portland Opera to return to a fall-spring schedule, which they’re set to do this coming October. Some of the feedback that Metropolitan Group solidified was the need for Portland Opera to return to a fall-spring schedule, which they’re set to do this coming October. Again, it’s a rational move as most people don’t want to spend sunny days folded into a theater seat. But the quick turnaround (the company just wrapped up its 2019 season this month) does come with a number of hurdles, especially making sure that their orchestra members, performers, and backstage staff are ready to jump back to work after such a short break. “We have started dialogue with our union members,” says Dixon, “and have plans in place for a Town Hall and additional opportunities to engage in open discussions around exactly how to do this together, and what that means.” Perhaps the most impactful strategy that Metropolitan Group put forth was finding new uses for property that the Portland Opera owns on the waterfront in SE Portland. Currently the home of the Hampton Opera Center, which includes the company’s offices, a performance and rehearsal space, and a sizable parking lot, the rough idea would be to redevelop it and make it accessible for both the general public and other arts organizations. That, however, is plan for much further down the road. At the moment, Portland Opera is slowly setting these strategies in motion, including the new 2019-20 season, which kicks off on October 25 with performances of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, and overhauling their website to help make it easier to buy tickets to shows and make donations. Eventually, too, they will have to figure out how to replace General Director Christopher Mattaliano, who stepped down from the post in July.

Our Picks For TBA 2019
By Robert Ham If this is your first TBA, welcome! Everyone has a first. Mine was in 2008, and I just followed someone I had a crush on for the entire event—a fine approach. One of the reasons I love the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s (PICA) Time-Based Art Festival is that, year after year, they always strive to mix academic, fine conceptual art with fun, challenging performances that deserve to be included in our considerations of “art.” Last year there was a big emphasis on recognizing food as art. This year my psychic art senses feel a strong intention toward exploring bodies in space—be they human or heavenly. Here are our picks! And keep an eye out for our Time-Based Art (TBA) blog, portlandmercury.com/tba, which will review the festival’s performances as they happen. -SUZETTE SMITH Eiko Otake The return of Eiko Otake to TBA is a centerpiece of this year’s festival, as evidenced by her multiple performances, a screening of photographs documenting her work, and—easiest to identify—her presence on the darn festival program cover. Otake performed at the first TBA in 2003, as a part of Eiko & Koma, her longstanding performance duo with Takashi Koma Otake. But in 2014, she branched out into a solo project called A Body in Places, of which she has performed variations at more than 40 locations, most notably in contaminated landscapes impacted by the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Otake’s dance isn’t butoh, although Eiko & Koma studied with Kazuo Ohno (an early butoh figure) and cited him as an influence. Otake is known for her ability to move slowly, with critics noting that, in her solo work, her slow gracefulness feels even more intense. Otake will perform A Body in Places on TBA’s opening night. Later in the festival, she will unveil an iteration of her newest work, The Duet Project: Distance Is Malleable, with choreographer Ishmael Huston-Jones, poet Mark McCloughan, and filmmaker Alexis Moh. (A Body in Places, Thurs Sept 5, 6 pm, Center for Contemporary Art & Cultures, 511 NW Broadway, FREE; A Body in Fukushima: Reflections on the Nuclear in Everyday Life, Mon Sept 9, 7 pm, Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park, $8-10; The Duet Project: Distance Is Malleable, Thurs Sept 12-Sat Sept 14, 8:30 pm, PICA [Annex], 15 NE Hancock, $20) SS {{image:2}} Back to School Kiki Last year House of Flora father Brandon Harrison gave out a serious education in ballroom dance as he emceed the late-night TBA show The Beautiful Street. Locking, popping, waacking, vogue fem, dancehall, and even krumping were included in his tutorial. If what I wrote doesn’t make any sense to you, then this Back to School Kiki is something you need to see. Best known thanks to the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, or FX’s celebrated TV show Pose, balls and ballroom culture have long been a home for queer communities to showcase their fashion, dance, and performance art. This year, Harrison hosts a Back to School Kiki (drag or ballroom gathering) and benevolently invites “spectators and first-time ball attendees to join in the fun.” Read the whole invite and don’t be late for class. (Sat Sept 7, 10 pm, PICA [Mainspace], 15 NE Hancock $5-15 sliding scale) SS {{image:1}} Kara-Lis Coverdale While Kara-Lis Coverdale’s studio works are conceptually grand and musically spellbinding, some of the Canadian composer’s most fascinating and gorgeous material has been site-specific—determined by the instrument or location. That’s why her appearance at TBA, facilitated by the curators of sound art gallery Variform, should be one of this year’s festival highlights. Coverdale will create a work specifically for the First Presbyterian Church’s pipe organ, which was custom built in the late ’90s by Dan Jaeckel, using designs first conceived in the 17th century. If the sound of the organ and Coverdale’s previous recorded work are anything to go by, the music will be huge, soul stirring, and skull shaking. (Sun Sept 8, First Presbyterian Church, 1200 SW Alder, 6:30 pm, $20-25) ROBERT HAM Aftertouches by Kara-Lis Coverdale Anthony Hudson When I see Looking for Tiger Lily at this year’s TBA it will be my third time seeing an incarnation of Anthony Hudson’s drag/dance/spoken-word exploration into his First Nations identity, which Hudson says was formed somewhere between watching keynote presentations his father gave as a social worker for the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde and repeated viewings of the 1954 Broadway musical Peter Pan. Hudson was especially impacted by the song “Ugg-a-Wugg,” which featured a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Sandra Lee as Tiger Lily. It’s a curious and dynamic show. Watching Hudson incorporate his drag clown persona, Carla Rossi, into the fine art world (the idea that she’s a white lady from Lake Oswego kind of fits with the concept) has been fascinating and I’m grateful for his perspective, which is so entertaining you almost forget it’s an education, too. (Thurs Sept 12-Sat Sept 14, 6:30 pm, PICA [Annex], 15 NE Hancock, $20) SS Myles de Bastion For the past five years, Myles de Bastion and the braintrust behind Cymaspace have been developing technology aiming to help the deaf and hard-of-hearing access music and sound art through their other senses. You may have seen their delightful LED piano at OMSI, which translates the sound of someone playing the keys into light, movement, and color, or the sound-reactive light display that twinkled behind Esperanza Spalding when she played on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2015. For TBA, De Bastion and Cymaspace will present a night of experimental music that will hopefully carry on the spirit of their recent collaboration with sound-art gallery Variform, which made use of low-frequency vibrations to help any and all feel the music being played swim through their muscles and bones. (Thurs Sept 12, 10:30 pm, PICA [Mainspace], 15 NE Hancock, $5-15 sliding scale) RH {{image:3}} Ahamefule Oluo In 2015 Ahamefule Oluo unveiled Now I’m Fine, an autobiographical live show focused on his relationship with his absent Nigerian father and the year following his father’s death. (You may have heard Oluo tell a side story about his long-lost half-brother showing up at his wedding on the “Put a Bow on It” episode of This American Life. Now I’m Fine was hailed with rave reviews for its combined elements of stand-up comedy monologue and live jazz music performance (co-written by Oluo). Oluo’s new work Susan is his next foray into his family history (a family that includes his sister, author Ijeoma Olou, and his wife, Lindy West) this time focused on his white, Midwestern mother. (Fri Sept 13 & Sat Sept 14, 6:30 pm, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, $25) SS Takashi Makino In his statement announcing the creation of Memento Stella, experimental filmmaker Takashi Makino writes that he titled this work “to remind me to ‘remember the stars’ and ‘never forget that we too reside among the stars.’” Like Carl Sagan’s reflection on Earth being nothing more than a “pale blue dot” floating in the cosmos, it immediately cuts the ego down and makes one feel light-headed at the immensity of the universe we reside in. That comes alive in Takashi’s new film through gorgeous abstract images, soundtracked by stirring ambient music. For Memento Stella’s West Coast premiere, PICA and Cinema Project are offering up two different screenings: one, with an original score provided by the director, and another with a live soundtrack by composer, pianist, and experimental artist Reiner van Houdt. (Sat Sept 14 & Sun Sept 15, OMSI, 1945 SE Water, 4:30 pm, $8-10) RH Nivhek Liz Harris’ latest project Nivhek arrived in this world much like her music, with minute but concentrated intention. Her recent album After its own death/Walking in a spiral towards the house was a surprise, dropped without forewarning, but it immediately beguiled anyone who fell into its orbit. Not a far cry from Harris’ work as Grouper, Nivhek leans deeper into soundscapes—drones, pinging bells, and tape hiss swimming together. To close out this year’s TBA, Harris reckons with the ancient region of Mesopotamia through new Nivhek compositions with Requiem, her collaboration with fellow sound artist January Hunt, and visuals by LA artist Dicky Bahto. (Sun Sept 15, PICA [Mainspace], 15 NE Hancock, 6:30 pm, $20) RH After its own death / Walking in a spiral towards the house by Nivhek


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