Some lingering reflections

Collected from audience interviews by Ariana Jacob
“It was about relationships. Like with Linda Austen, she did the same dance, I think three times. The first time it was just her, the second time she did it with her sculptures, subtly, and then you felt you were rewarded, like, ‘oh, I recognize this dance, now it is clicking into place.’ The last time she started back-tracking through the movements the sculptures began to open up and do new things -  connecting into each other.
In Karen Sherman’s piece it was her and two other dancers and each of them had their own separate struggle. There was one part where they had this conversation, that would turn in and out of an argument where they would keep switching places with each other. It was so relatable, they each traded their places, going back and forth in a triangular argument. They made some jokes, but they were not spoken jokes, they were situational. They kind of prodded the audience too, but we became like a stiff block. I don’t think there is any role the audience is supposed to have, we are just a blob.”

“The tedious moments were, perhaps, more extended in this year’s TBA than, perhaps, last year’s. I try to be generous towards tedium because I believe in not satisfying people’s expectations all the way – that it provides a way of making people feel themselves having to deal with being the audience. But maybe it is a too prevalent color in this festival circuit’s palette. I am not sure that the audience’s reaction to it is expanding from constant exposure.”

“The small casts, and sometimes the scope of what was being dealt with, felt very personal. I don’t mean this in a political way, but it didn’t seem like the goals of the performances were to stretch out into space. They were very much about the people on stag: their experiences and their lives, as opposed to commenting on larger issues.”

“There has been a lot of visual darkness throughout the festival, and that lends itself to tacking stock of your own situation as audience. I am also a performance maker, so I check in a lot with myself about ‘what is this doing for me in the moment as an audience member.’ There were a lot of awkward moments in relation to audience logistics, like when the woman came and tied the curtain and then told us the performance was over in the Miguel Gutierrez piece, but I like that.”

 

Ariana Jacob is an artist whose work focuses on conversation as shared subjective research. Her project Working/Not working: What do you do all day and how do you feel about what you do? is on view at the Littman Gallery as a part of the Emerging Tactics exhibition curated by Recess Gallery.

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People: And lose the name of action

Miguel Gutierrez, And lose the name of action. Photo: Ian Douglas.

Miguel Gutierrez, And lose the name of action. Photo: Ian Douglas.

by Mary Rechner

For me it’s an enjoyable risk to invite a curious adventuresome person to the theater, especially to a play or performance neither of you know much about.  I attended Friday night’s performance of And lose the name of action with my mom.

My mom sees a lot of theater and performance in New York with my dad (they live on Long Island) and each time they visit Portland we check out some music, dance, or visual art, and often all three.

My mom and I were both riveted from beginning to end by And lose the name of action.

On the drive home we talked about the way the (each very different) three male and three female dancers’ bodies and movements, as well as their utterances (as well as the costumes, lighting, and set design) captured so many disparate aspects of life: movement and stasis, pleasure and pain, connection and estrangement, dark and light, clarity and confusion, the precise and the inchoate.

“Like a great novel,” I said.

“You can put a novel down,” said my mom.  “This was unrelenting.”

True.  The simultaneity of the music, moving bodies, lighting, images on screens, recordings of philosophical treatises, and utterances of dancers (both intelligible and unintelligible) felt like wave upon wave of multisensory stimulation.  We found it difficult to make any one unified sense or meaning of the piece, and this made it very interesting to talk about.

We wondered how the piece “would have been different” if broken up into separate shorter dances, and what it would have been like to have had an intermission, agreeing that it probably would have lost some of its oceanic immediacy.

Neither of us had read the TBA Performance Program prior to the performance, thus we did not know about Gutierrez’s father, whose neurological problems “coincided with [Gutierrez’s] growing interest in the role perception plays to determine reality and how various disciplines talk about the mind body connection” until after we were home, and read the program.

The information gave us yet another thread to weave into the lively conversation we continued to have long into the evening while drinking wine and eating egg salad sandwiches.

Mary Rechner is the author of Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women.  She lives in Portland.

Noticing repetition aka Some initial themes

Collected from audience interviews conducted by Ariana Jacob

“Remixing of the real.”

“The threat of failure. Failing people’s expectations. People have really high expectations of these performances and they are paying good money to watch someone essentially pee on them. But I think that room for failure is the best thing  happening at the festival this year, because it is the only thing that can really piss somebody off. Like when I watched Adult: half of it was in the dark and these two dancers were flailing around. I wanted to see bodies like bricks and people doing something I could never do. I didn’t see shit. But ultimately that is about me and my own desires that they were not trying to fulfill.”

“If I were to note a theme it wouldn’t be surprising given my own interests. I would say popular music: explorations of pop, talking about pop, covers of pop songs, listening to pop on you tube. A lot of pop/punk sensibilities are really present.”

” A lot of slow, sustained beginnings…”

“Minimal settings and the charge they brought to the work. Noting that you don’t need excessive, loud scenery or settings to have a powerful impact.”

“Thinking about stuff that we don’t know where it is, like with the Krystal South essay, where is it? Where is the art in it? I think it is in our heads, the art is when something shifts in our heads.”

“Everybody’s got a twitch.”

Ariana Jacob is an artist whose work focuses on conversation as shared subjective research. Her project Working/Not working: What do you do all day and how do you feel about what you do? is on view at the Littman Gallery as a part of the Emerging Tactics exhibition curated by Recess Gallery.

 

Sense Memory Snacks: Smorgasbord

Collected from audience interviews conducted by Ariana Jacob

Seeing:

“A massive yellow wig: incredibly massive, four feet wide with a black-face cyclops mask and huge stuffed breasts and bum. My reaction was mostly just WHOA, but it also made me think about the implications of becoming very large.” from the Drag Ball

“The beautiful transitions of light in Linda Austin’s dance performance with David Eckard’s sculptures. It was so subtle yet so dramatic and elegant. There was this one moment with a transition from warm light to an overpowering fluorescent that was so quiet and powerful at the same time.”

“The very deliberate seating pattern of rows of seats in an inner, middle and outer circle, performers sitting in pairs talking with each other, that then degenerates – or erupts into this battle with yelling and screaming.  But everyone knows where they are going, it is still a pattern that started with the seating arrangement.”  from Miguel Gutierrez and The Powerful People

“The performance was complete pitch black. I think it was two violins, a viola and a cello. My mind went wild because it was so dark it just HAD to imagine stuff. It was weird. I was imagining myself in a forest walking. I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or closed it was so, so dark. Actually, I don’t remember the music at all, it all became visual to me – the sound brought me to my visual senses.” from Third Angle

Listening:

“During Lola Arias I was really aware of all the white people in the room laughing in places that I thought were not supposed to be funny at all. Things that had to do with race or different kinds of trauma that a lot of people don’t know how to deal with. So I was hyper aware that there was a lot of laughter that seemed like it was not because something was funny.”

“Taking a bath in sound.” from Wishful Thinking

“The contrast between the loud pop song playing at the beginning while there was nothing happening on stage vs the suspended stillness & quiet of the performers.” from Trajal Harrell

“The complexity of layered voice, clarinet and little glockenspiel melding into this cacophonous blur, but yet seeming so precise. Her style is very approachable and yet domineering.” from Like a Villain

“During Linda Austin’s performance there was this one musical gesture. It was contemporary classical: piano and violin. Throughout most of the dance I had been thinking about how much I hate abstraction: abstraction really pisses me off and the sculptures were these abstracted forms. One was house-like, one was bed like, one was phallic and stood in for the man. It was all kinda pissing me off but then I realized that the music was also a kind of abstracted melody. I really connect with and have a history with that kind of music, so tapping into the musical component allowed me to cerebrally apply a new kind of thinking to the sculptures and the dance.The shift happened mostly because of responding emotionally to the music. Is emotional response an abstraction?”

Linda

Feelings:

“The red-headed fellow stretched open the other fellow’s foreskin and screamed into it. I was in the front row. I usually sit there if I can, I like the immediacy of it. As the show went on I made a pact with myself consciously and unconsciously that I would catch them if they fell, if they came over the edge of the stage I was ready and willing to reach out and catch them. It felt like it might really happen. The show got very violent but still felt controlled and tender so that I never felt in danger. I just felt that they might go some place I had no idea where, but I was ready for whatever.” from Campo

“Performance Art is hard enough, but a parody of performance art? Uhg, I might as well go play video games.” from I Will Rip Your Arms Off

“It was uncomfortable. It was hard to predict when the crowd would applaud or not because they were challenging a lot of the standards of pacing and the expectations of when something is over. When you are breaking all those things you can’t expect a certain kind of audience response. They were deconstructing it and then it gets uncomfortable – like ooh, what is happening? Crickets.” from The Blow

“Champagne headache and a need for greasy food. It is not TBA’s fault, but it has been a while since I have felt the morning after TBA feeling.

“I went to the Keith Hennessy workshop last Sunday and we were supposed to shake for 10 minutes straight. You had to shake something, you couldn’t stop. I’ve been thinking about that everyday since, and shaking. It feels so good. It changes how my whole body feels: all my energy. I want to see what it does if I keep doing it.”

 

Ariana Jacob is an artist whose work focuses on conversation as shared subjective research. Her project Working/Not working: What do you do all day and how do you feel about what you do? is on view at the Littman Gallery as a part of the Emerging Tactics exhibition curated by Recess Gallery.

Nacera Belaza: Dancing the Mind

by Satya Byock

If Peace could dance, it took the stage in act one of Nacera Belaza’s Le Trait Solos & Le Temps Scellé. It was the highest mind, the wisest part of us all, spinning around and around in even, rhythmic turns. It began with no suggestion that it might remain exactly as it was: a single gesture, a solo movement, for minutes on end.

When Nacera started turning, her arms out-stretched in a firm line, we may have all expected something more. More variation. But this was not meant for quick pleasure. This was a meditation, as if Thich Nhat Hanh had transformed his walking meditations into circular movements; turning and turning in reverence like a Buddhist whirling dervish. The very act of watching Nacera turn, her hair, hands, and dark robes caressed by a silver, moon-like light, nudged each mind in the audience into a state of meditative repose.

It was a nudge, not forced. The boredom and anxious restlessness of some audience members certainly lasted throughout the full dance, but for others, it gave way to quiet, and then even joy. Amusement, like watching the better person win an argument when it wasn’t expected. If she succeeded, we would all be the better for it. It took patience at first, but watching her became like sitting by the ocean on a temperate day, observing single waves come to shore in regular, expected iterations. It is not fast paced or exciting, not a spectacle from which to gain quick thrills, but it will alter you if you let it, and you will be glad you stayed.

NacŽra Belaza / Le Trait, 2012

photo by David Balicki

In act two, Nacera and her sister, Dalila, perform with remarkable precision not the wholeness of human consciousness, but its fragmented nature. They take the stage separately, then come together to reflect what seems the split mind, the plurality of consciousness, and the madness that lingers within. Their clothing is no longer the dark, Zen-like coverings from act one. Now, they wear oversized, gray sweatshirts and pants. I find myself imagining lost, lonely prisoners, and homeless people muttering to themselves on the street. But their depictions are no less beautiful than in the first dance. Their portrayal remains utterly reverential, still seeing the peace in it all: a crack addict at the height of bliss, or a person lost to psychosis but deeply engaged with her world of gods. It is suffering, but it is also the inner life in its riches, not to be judged entirely by what we can see from the outside.

The movements in this act remain un-hurried and centralized, and still lit as if by the night’s full harvest moon. This is not the modern neurotic mind being portrayed, as is common, for better or worse, in much contemporary art. It is still ancient. A timeless kind of madness. Nacera and Dalila’s heads move as if they are denser, filled with competing thoughts. Their necks sweep close to the shoulder in stiff postures, remaining rigidly extended backwards, like another arm pulling away from the body. These are the movements of people who have whole villages in dialogue inside their minds. The physical rhythm is no longer consistent and silent. Movements are interrupted, unexpected and inconsistent but transfixing and delicate just the same.

Nacera and Dalila’s dedication to their craft is awe inspiring, as is their precision and endurance. This is not a show that will leave you ready to party, but its power to transform you may rival any other.

Photo by GK Wilson

photo by GK Wilson

Satya Byock is a Portland psychotherapist specializing in dream work and Jungian psychology for individuals in the first half of adulthood. She recently delivered a workshop at PICA on the Language of the Unconscious Mind as part of the C’mon Language series.

Tamsk with Alex Mackin Dolan

by Satya Byock

Allie Furlotti playing Tamsk at TBA 2013

If Alex Mackin Dolan’s exhibit Cycle, Sun, Limit were open during The Works performances, I’d be in there every night, playing Tamsk in the center of the room. On Opening Night, Alex was there himself, providing helpful instruction.

Alex Mackin Dolan TBA 2013

Tamsk is an easy enough game to learn to play (especially if you have AMD there to help you). Find a friend. Choose a side. Black or red. You’ll each have three small hourglass timers (expert tip: they’re not all the same speed) and a set of cream-colored rings. The hexagonal board is filled with walled spaces for the timers and the rings. The timers go into the holes, the rings go around them.

The point is to place more of your rings on the board than your opponent and lose fewer hourglasses to the sands of time. Each turn, you flip over one timer into an adjacent hole and adding a ring to the wall when you do. But you can only add a ring when a wall has space for it (some are tall enough for one ring, some for two or three). If you find that one of your hourglasses is surrounded by walls that are filled-up with rings, that means there’s nowhere for it to move. It’s stuck there like quick sand, and its time will eventually run out. And you know what that means.

Alex Mackin Dolan 2 TBA 2013

“I’m dead all over the board,” my friend declared on game four. I cheered. We cleared the board and began again.

After hours of socializing in a crowd, I reveled in this opportunity for a different kind of focus. If board games became a new standard for TBA late-night activities, I would be the first to sign up. It turns out that sometimes, an interlude of strategic gaming is just what the weary art-goer needs for a pick-me-up.

Satya Byock is a Portland psychotherapist specializing in dream work and Jungian psychology for individuals in the first half of adulthood. She recently delivered a workshop at PICA on the Language of the Unconscious Mind as part of the C’mon Language series.

Mariano Pensotti: Fragmentary Capture

By Craig Epplin

I went to the Portland State campus today with two objectives: pick up books from the library and see Mariano Pensotti’s Sometimes I think, I can see you, an outdoor installation comprising a screen and a writer filling it with text. I arrived at the plaza where the work was in progress. The first thing I saw on the screen was the description of a couple, and yes, there they were, chatting on a bench and sharing lunch. I wondered if there would be more to it. I wondered if I would stay long or grow tired of reading and matching the writer’s observations to the reality around me. I walked closer to the screen.

But then I got distracted. I ran into a friend and sat down. We began to talk—about our jobs, books, the perils of expertise, the ineptitude of the state, music, etc. I was engaged, but not by Pensotti’s work. It was just something happening in the background, the occasion for a chance encounter. I glanced occasionally over my shoulder and saw more writing about the people and go-carts and streetcars that passed through the plaza. I spent about an hour there, but I didn’t read much of the writing. I mostly just sat and chatted.

We generally know what it means to attend a performance. We arrive and file in, turn off our cell phones, watch and listen, applaud. Other dynamics–in a gallery instead of a theater, for example–are more informal, or they demand our participation. Pensotti’s work doesn’t fit these molds. To watch it is unexciting and to participate in it means doing nothing, hanging out, walking by, simply allowing yourself to be registered by the writer seated at the laptop. If you know the work is taking place and if you’re feeling narcissistic, you might wonder if you’ve made it onto the screen. It’s something like the feeling of walking into a gas station and looking around for the security camera.

That’s why I think Pensotti’s work matters greatly. It models a situation we all live in: that more and more often we are watched as we pass through public spaces. And it reveals at least some of the complexities inherent in that reality. In a state of surveillance, we feel ourselves intruded upon. We know that we are leaving traces of ourselves everywhere, that those traces are being collected by large corporations and used for commercial purposes, and furthermore that the state has fairly unfettered access to them. It’s the feeling of living in a panopticon, and people are right to fight against it.

But at the same time, this feeling names a fiction: on the side of the observed, the paranoid fantasy that everything about us can be monitored, and on the side of the observer, the fantasy of completing the process of capture. Pensotti’s work unveils this fiction. Sure, our social existence is increasingly modeled as data, but that data isn’t all-encompassing. It can’t be. 0s and 1s can’t capture the bubbling, churning desires and movements that make life in common what it is. Big data interpellates us as numbers, but those numbers are a poor stand-in for all of this that’s happening all the time. It’s real and powerful, but also fake and feeble. The doubt expressed in the work’s title—I think I can see you, and only sometimes—hints at this truth: that no, in fact, you cannot see me.

I’m curious to go back to Sometimes I think, I can see you. I’m curious to see new forms of fiction generated by the talented writers taking turns at the computer. Their work generates a fragmentary form of capture, which, this work reminds us, is the only sort possible.

Craig Epplin is an assistant professor of Latin American literature at Portland State University and an editor at Rattapallax.

After Antigone, Jr.: An Interview with Trajal Harrell

Lacy M. Johnson interviews Trajal Harrell over email in the days after the September 15 performance of Antigone, Jr., at TBA:13.

LJ: At Sunday night’s performance of Antigone, Jr., you introduced the piece by saying that you began the work with a question: what if one of the post-modern choreographers from Judson Church (Judson Dance Theater) had gone uptown to Harlem to perform in the ball scene? (Correct me if I’m stating that incorrectly.) I wonder if you could start by talking about this question. Why is it urgent to ask this question now (or at the time that you started working on the pieces)? Is it still an urgent question, in your view?

TH: In terms of urgency, I don’t work so much around this notion. What I was aware of was the sense that contemporary dance had become trapped in a revival of Judson aesthetics. Yvonne Rainer’s “No Manifesto” had become a kind of rule book and a prescription for conceptual dance, which was the leading aesthetic in contemporary dance since the late 90s on the international scene. My work, I think, became significant because it had found a way to move beyond Judson aesthetics while simultaneously being connected to that history.

Quoting myself from another interview:

“Again, in the early 90’s, Judson Church aesthetic and principles provided a lot of foundation again for contemporary dance to rethink itself : primarily the notion of rejecting spectacle, virtuosity, and theatricality and reducing dance to its essential elements. Alternatively the Voguing tradition uses constructions of gender, artificiality, and  and theatricality to create a fictional authenticity or “realness.” Thus, I was surprised to discover that these two movements started during the same historical moment, and by 2001, in my case, I felt it was the moment for a new criticality to arrive relating to Judson. Contemporary dance seemed stuck in the same recycling of Judson ideas and Yvonne Rainer’s no manifesto, and I was determined to do something new, even though that too was considered anti-contemporary during this time. Nonetheless, the lens of voguing allows me and you to see that the idea that Judson reduced dance to its essential elements is a fiction as well. Rather, those elements operate out of their own socio-cultural specificity and fictional authenticity. Therefore, from there I could begin to operate choreographically and aesthetically from a different vantage point regarding contemporary dance and voilà twelve years later the conversation is different in contemporary dance. So, we can say, I was interested in opening a new space in contemporary dance, but I wasn’t trying to do identity politics and break down the door for voguing to come in. That seemed obvious and of course when I first went to europe to show my work in 2005, no one in contemporary dance knew what voguing was, and now it’s included in a lot of programming, let’s say. I am proud that I could be a part of that change, yes, but it was an obvious point of inclusion suggested by the proposition. What was not so obvious was how to re-think Judson. Contemporary dance had become a cliché of boring conceptualism, and I couldn’t stand it anymore. I wanted to scream most of the time in the theater. So like Toni Morrison, the novelist says, « I had to make the kind of dances (books) that I wanted to see. »

“For example in Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (S), the small size in the series, I knew this piece would primarily been seen in very small theaters amongst dance cognesenti. I purposely made this work to propel the debate. I wanted to critique the kind of lazy late conceptualism that I saw proliferating in dance (people trying to make work like the people trying to work like the people trying to make work like Jerome Bel and say Xavier Le Roy). So right away (S) presents itself as a conceptual work and then it begins to slowly critique the way judson tenets have been appropriated in contemporary dance. I can do this because I have the lens of voguing as well as early postmodern dance in my toolbox, let’s say, and that creates different ways of seeing the cultural and political meanings the body and movement can have on the contemporary stage. ” (Festival d’Automne brochure)

LJ: To what extent do you think audiences need to be familiar with these histories when they come to the performances?

TH: Well, the project is about history. My work, in general, is about historical impossibilities, so familiarity with the history adds, of course. But that’s always the case with art. The negotiating factors change with each size. So with (S), I think it is essential. I made it, as I said for dance cognoscenti. For Antigone, Jr., of course, if you know the play Antigone that’s another aid. But the main thing I want the audience to be aware of in the room is not the history. Of course the history is important to the overall project and the gestalt of the series, but in Antigone, Jr., what is most important is the essence of tragedy, and how we as audience and performers begin to relate on that level. And that begins to be essentialized with the lost prop, not with a familiarity with contemporary dance history nor the history of ancient greek theater.

So all artists are working with the history of their discipline. The question for me, as an artist, has to do with providing different entry ways, so to speak. And that is what the different sizes do. The history is always there for you to go into, but there are different points of entry. These works are multi-layered. So how one peels back the layers over time: before coming to the theater, during, and after is the individuality and beauty of the artistic experience.

LJ: I’m glad you brought up the sizes. In your artist talk on Saturday you say you were involved in researching (or maybe just thinking about) size as it relates to fashion. I understand how that would translate to the size and scope of the pieces in the series. That is, I understand that the junior size, Antigone, Jr., is a performance for 125 people. But the room seated 250, and many folks were turned away from the performance (as I was at Made-to-Measure on Saturday evening). Can you talk a little about how and why the size of the audience affects each work?

TH: Scale is architectural. You experience a work differently depending on the size of the room and audience. I just experimented with this and found that it was totally different. It’s quite practical. A tiny black box theater produces different relations than the regime of the opera house.

In terms of Antigone, Jr., it’s the junior size, and i am working with smaller details than in a normal size, so to speak. Therefore, it doesn’t work if the audience is too big, of course. I also want the scale of the body to stay close to a human scale, which would change if you were further from the scene. The body would become visually smaller in scale. Rather, I want you to sense the energy on the front row and what we are doing there. You also need to sense everyone else in the room. The essence of tragedy is not a visual clue in this case. That anxiety that moves through the room when the prop is lost is contagious so it’s important that it not become, say, a cinematic trope. It’s experiential.

So there are limits on the number of people for each work. Scale is a part of the craft and composition of the work in space. Ideally, though, and usually, Antigone, Jr., is in a smaller room. TBA chose to scale the room down rather than hold it in a room that would typically seat 125 or 150.

Made-to-Measure on the other hand is eponymously made to fit the room size it’s performed in. So, in that case, the room was full and there were no more seats nor standing room.

LJ: Yes, scale is architectural. But not exclusively so. In Antigone, Jr., the movements / motions / gestures of each performer cycle through a whole range of scales and registers — from the minimalist / pedestrian to the exuberant / seductive. You spoke in the artist talk on Saturday about how, in 2007, when you started working on these pieces, emotion was taboo, and you wanted to bring emotion back to dance. What other taboos do you think this series responds to / breaks? What taboos do you think exist currently?

TH: Yes, scale is not exclusively architectural. But opera houses generally come in a certain size. The minimum size is, dare I say, large.  Opera houses are not the size of black boxes and they produce certain size works. So what I am referring to is a history of theater and production already in place.

Taboos: look at Yvonne’s “No manifesto.” That is the rule book. So all of those things are taboo: emotion, seduction of the spectator, virtuosity, glamour, return of the star image, spectacle, etc….i.e., flouncy black dresses….all of that is a bit taboo in international contemporary dance at the moment. My work broke with the “No Manifesto.” Others too… I am saying maybe to the things she said no to…. But I am breaking the taboos now…. What I am doing is not the trend.

LJ: You wrote earlier about juxtaposing the Judson Church aesthetic, which emphasizes “the notion of rejecting spectacle, virtuosity, and theatricality,” with the Voguing tradition, which “uses constructions of gender, artificiality, and theatricality to create a fictional authenticity or ‘realness,’” and using the Voguing tradition to escape from post-modern aesthetic weighing down contemporary dance in the early 2000s. I wonder if you have any concerns, as I do, about putting these two aesthetics in conversation with one another. Each movement was experimental, and transgressive in its way, but the stakes were far different between them. I know of no one at Judson, for example, who was murdered for being a postmodern choreographer.

TH: I wouldn’t say “to escape” postmodern aesthetic. I began to use the theoretical lens of voguing together with the theoretical lens of early postmodern dance to move beyond conceptual dance strategies. But this was not an attempt to escape postmodern dance by situating myself in another tradition. I don’t represent voguing nor early postmodern dance. I don’t believe in the purity of aesthetics or that we can wholly project them on a subset of people. Voguing itself as a practice works strongly with appropriation from other cultural forms and references.

The point of the proposition is to situate ourselves in the imagination and rethink impossibilities. And yes, I am aware of the different kinds of stakes involved. I mentioned this at the talk. That is why I created the different sizes to speak about a different relation to power and who has access to the means of production and distribution. That is what I have to bring to it as an artist. There are for sure other positions and theoretical possibilities. I am mainly working from problematizing my own position. I wouldn’t therefore use the word “concerns.” I have questions and problematizations. The works werq to generate those.

LJ: I’m having trouble understanding how the different sized performances speak to the different relations of power. Can you explain this a little? I mean, isn’t it true that regardless of the size of the performance, you’re always only reaching only a certain subsection of art consumers (for lack of a better term)? In Portland, for example, at the Antigone, Jr., performance, the audience is made up of primarily white folks, most of them between the ages of 25 and 50. (And so very many of them in plaid shirts!) Do you intend the sizes of the performances to work on us, the audience, also by means of implied exclusion? Are we supposed to be aware of who is NOT there?

TH: I think one thing you have to be aware of is that I am working in the imagination. The need for different sizes corresponds to the migration to a dominate cultural context. It’s about knowing that within an “imaginative” proposition. Therefore, one performance (or size) is not enough to deal with the possible differences in power and access to means of distribution and production. There need to be contingencies, overlaps, alterities….

My relationship to the size of the audience is not related to race. I don’t feel the work is any more for white than black people or vice-versa. I am not interested in those limitations. All audiences are different. Portland will be different than in Tokyo than in Rio. Than in Stockholm or in New York.

LJ: What are you working on now? What questions interest you? After XL (the book production), what will we see from you next?

TH: I have already started a new long term research. I am looking at butoh dance through the theoretical lens of voguing. The first project, Used Abused and Hung Out to Dry was commissioned by MoMA and premiered there last February. The second project, a larger theater project for 8 dancers is coming in June. It will premiere at The Montpellier Danse Festival in France.

LJ: Are there particular questions you’re seeking answers to by looking at butoh dance through the theoretical lens of voguing?

TH: It’s too early in the research to speak about those now.

LJ: Let’s go back, very briefly, to the 20 looks series. What are your measures of success for these performances? That is, do you feel they sufficiently problematize your position? And that of the audience? Is there anything you feel unsatisfied with about this series? Anything you might do differently?

TH: There are things we do differently all the time. We are constantly working on the work and trying to make it better. As Martha Graham said, “…no artist is pleased….” She also said, “…it is not [the artist’s] business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions….”

LJ: That seems like a great sentiment to end on. Thanks so much for agreeing to chat with me.

TH: Thank you!!

 

Lacy M. Johnson is a writer and digital artist living in Houston, Texas, where she is the Director of Academic Initiatives at University of Houston’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts. Her second memoir, THE OTHER SIDE, is forthcoming from Portland-based Tin House Books.

TBA: Things I’ve noticed, felt, thought about thus far…

JamieIsenstein_WillReturn_CourtesyArtist

 

by Mary Rechner

 

 

Site-specific conventions: chain link fence encircling resource library, signs on doorways noting sexual content, t-shirts=ID badges….

 

Am I standing in the right line?

 

I often feel entitled to virtuosity.

 

Contemporary art speaks to the past as much as to the now or the future.

 

Discovery is a form of pleasure.

 

Not understanding is a form of fear.

 

Audience camaraderie has a ritual function.

 

Sympathy/empathy for the performers is a surprise (see above entitlement).

 

Imagination might be more important than anything else.

 

 

Mary Rechner is the author is Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women.  She lives in Portland.

WINKING AT JESUS: THE DANCING MASCULINITIES OF CAMPO AND TRAJAL HARRELL

by Ariel Osterweis

Since the 1960s, contemporary dance has been burdened by two predominant taboos: religion and emotion. Heartily challenging these taboos today are choreographers Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido (the duo comprising Campo) and Trajal Harrell. During one evening here at PICA’s TBA13 festival, I saw Campo’s duet Still Standing You immediately followed by Harrell’s Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made to Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (M2M). Both casts are comprised entirely of men, unabashedly yet jaggedly burrowing into fraught spaces of becoming, the kinds of liminalities that reek of cohabitated dorm rooms, dried cum, and the sweat of dresses being aired out after a hard night at the ball.

Pieter Amp and Guiherme Garrido Still Standing You Photo by Phile Deprez Courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

Pieter Amp and Guiherme Garrido
Still Standing You
Photo by Phile Deprez
Courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

Entering the theater, the audience happens upon Still Standing You’s Ampe lying on his back onstage, his feet raised perpendicularly, with Garrido seated atop. Although Garrido could tumble to the ground at any moment, he addresses the audience with small talk (while wobbling a bit on the temporary seating of Ampe’s legs), asking about Portland’s rumored “vegan strip club” and its label of the “Rip City.” As Garrido nurtures this playful rapport with the audience, one detects Ampe’s fatiguing support, the increasing discomfort of the seemingly impossible task with which he has been charged. Herein lies the crux of the piece’s aesthetic: nonchalance amidst precariousness. Still chatting up the audience, Garrido clarifies, “What you’re about to see now is a contemporary dance show” and then instructs the crowd to utter in unison, “Pieter Ampe, we love you!” Encouraging a shift in tone while stretching his arms in front of him in an exaggeratedly stiff, straight parallel position, Garrido states, “Here we go. Contemporary style now. Here we go. Serious.”

What ensues in Still Standing You is the kind of dangerous play you find in many a boy-filled household. I say “household” as opposed to “playground” because Ampe and Garrido’s passages of roughhousing are punctuated by intimate moments of care and experimentation, that of two brothers who rip their clothes off like superheroes, one-up each other in absurd penis-slapping games, and tenderly nudge each other to assuage the brutality of boyhood. Here, the wild growls of lions and loud thuds of crashing robots are tamed by the domesticity of the barely detectable pitter-patter of two fingers catching up to each other across a patch of floor to indicate walking.  Such snippets of gestural storytelling appear in sharp contrast to the magnitude of Ampe and Garrido’s exaggerated risks and crashes. Finally, after an inventive pas de deux of penis-grabbing, foreskin-twisting, and Pilobolus-like body-pretzeling, the roles of support reverse and Garrido takes Ampe in his arms, generating an iconographic image reminiscent of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus in the pieta. In Campo fashion, the hold is precarious, and Ampe could slip out of Garrido’s arms at any moment.

Whereas Campo evokes the Bataillan incommensurability of the four-legged, sensory creature and the rational, upright human, Harrell depends on our recognition of the ubiquitous postmodern players known to us as supermodels. Moreover, in M2M, Harrell experiments with layers upon layers of performance, in which contemporary white dancers elicit black and Latino voguers of all genders from ballroom culture who, in turn, try on the hyper-feminized looks of fashion magazines. Throughout his series, Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church, Harrell has taken up gendered and racial performance, in which one gender performs another gender performing another gender, and so on. In doing so, he poses questions such as, what would happen if a voguer from Harlem’s 1963 ballroom scene went down to the Judson Church to hang out with the early postmoderns? M2M reverses the series’ original provocation, exploring the imaginative limits and possibilities of an early postmodern (dancer) finding himself in the balls of Harlem. Drawing from the colloquial use of “giving church” found in ballroom culture—already a mix of high fashion posturing and the church-inspired lyrics of the deep house music that drives many a voguing competition—Harrell takes his audience to church with M2M. Needless to say, the aesthetic of “difficulty” central to Judson-inspired work tends to obscure the church service structure of M2M for the average viewer (at least according to my own surveying of audience members after the performance).

Ondrej Vidlar, Thibault Lac, and Trajal Harrell  Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made to Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (M2M) Photo by Chelsea Petrakis Courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

Ondrej Vidlar, Thibault Lac, and Trajal Harrell
Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made to Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (M2M)
Photo by Chelsea Petrakis
Courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

Like Still Standing You, M2M opens with audience address. The irrepressibly handsome Thibault Lac, awkwardly lanky and modishly coiffed enough to be—or at least stand in for—a Rick Owens model, coyly tells the audience in a French accent, “What you see couldn’t have been performed at Judson or the balls. I’ll ask you to forget this happened.” Lac suggests that the cast is merely trying out a possible beginning for the piece that they will likely discard. Yet, at no point is the culmination of the trial overture indicated, leading the audience to believe that the entire piece is a potentiality in itself, never etched into the tablets of history. Lac leaves the stage and the audience is met with the heavy bass and driving beat of a house remix of Adele’s impassioned (and widely played) “Fire to the Rain.” Unacceptable as it will seem to my academic cohort, I have lost nights upon nights of productivity to the emotional pull of this very song. An uncanny mnemonic, to hear it resonating throughout the theater, in public, is to sense a coalescence of queer community and mainstream cheapness. On the one hand, the song creates an affective commonality: conjuring a club, “Fire to the Rain” played as a danceless dance song points to dance’s potential. (My other favorite danceless opening to a dance piece done to dance music is that of Jerome Bel’s The Show Must Go On, in which, in a similar postdramatic mode, the lights take the entire length of the song “Let the Sunshine In” to rise on an otherwise empty stage.) Aside from an electric fan sitting on the floor, the stage is empty at this point. Finally the entire cast of three (Harrell, Lac, and Ondrej Vidlar) enters, clad in adjustable long black dresses by Complex Geometries, and sits down on wooden chairs. Seated upstage of Lac, Harrell immediately dons the pained expression of a woman wailing in church (a nod to Alvin Ailey’s iconic Revelations?). Because the audience is not privy to any emotional build-up that could have led to this moment of climax, Harrell’s expression reads as either a droplet of melodrama or grief stripped of context. Film scholar Linda Williams refers to melodrama as a “body genre,” as a film genre (or “mode”) that is excessive to the degree that its affect spills over beyond legibility (despite its recognizability).

Ever challenging established historical narratives (or the way they get “written”), Harrell has a knack for jogging the audience’s sense of temporality in two distinct ways, namely, through his strategic use of pop music and by deploying facial expressions of grief that function as signifiers. Harrell and company have explicitly stated that they are not voguers and that they do not completely embody its technique. Thus, pseudo-voguing here is a signifier of virtuosic dancing (but not its complete fulfillment). As such, Harrell points to the historical imperative for African American dancers to be virtuosic, to “be fierce.” Harrell is astute in drawing our attention—however opaquely—to the way melodrama and sincere emotion are easily conflated. In doing so, he arrives at the crux of ballroom culture (where voguing emerged), namely, its preoccupation with “realness,” the ability to pass such that one cannot be “read” (called out for faking it). In focusing on resemblance over reality, Harrell utters, “Sounds like the souls of black folks.” His fellow performers are white, dancing to a soulful soundtrack of house, disco, and hip-hop. Despite racialized and gendered ambivalence, however, M2M concerns itself with queer belonging, evoked at one point by the longing of Antony and the Johnson’s lyrics, “I need another place…will there be peace? I need another world, a place where I can go.” The dancers alternate between pious gestures of prayer (while holding phallic microphones) and frantic freestyle dancing that lies somewhere between runway strutting, voguing, and imitations of hip-hop. Evoking the demands of ballroom culture typically uttered by voguing MCs, Harrell, Lac, and Vidlar repeatedly say, “Mama said don’t stop the dance” as a command at times and a lullaby at others. In self-reflexive fashion, the dancers also state, “Contemporary dance is over.” However, in more play with colloquialisms, they could be saying “Contemporary dance is ovah,” which is a huge compliment, meaning “fabulous!” Perhaps one of the most hauntingly ambivalent commands Harrell preaches to the dancers during M2M is “Don’t think; work.” Which, of course, could be “Don’t think; werq,” and to werq is to fulfill ballroom’s realness, to be an utterly convincing performer. Nevertheless, the danger Harrell points to is our culture’s expectations for (and assumptions of) black performance as unthinking labor, far from the self-reflexive, critical terrain of Harrell’s imaginings. What does it mean, though, that the dancer “working” the hardest is Lac, flinging his limbs every which way in a sinewy, breakneck solo that tries to defy stereotypes of white boys and rhythm? In following the command to work/werq, the dancers emerge from M2M covered in sweat. Things wind down and fire returns via a lonely plea into the mic: “Won’t you wet my fire with your love, baby?” “M2M” could also stand for man-to-man. Both Campo and Harrell remind us that, underlying boys’ huge capacity for play is the threat of violence: what risks will you take for (and to perform) your identity, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or otherwise? (Is Jesus watching? And, who’s there to support you when he fails?)

_

Ariel Osterweis is Assistant Professor of Dance at Wayne State University (Detroit, MI). She earned her Ph.D. in Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and B.A. in Anthropology at Columbia University. At work on her first book, which theorizes virtuosity, race, and sexuality in the dance career of Desmond Richardson, Osterweis also researches contemporary African dance and the disavowal of virtuosity in feminist and transgender live art and performance. Publications appear in Dance Research Journal, Women and Performance, e-misférica, Theatre Survey, The Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen, and more. She danced professionally with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Mia Michaels, and Heidi Latsky, choreographs, and is dramaturg for choreographer John Jasperse and performance artist Narcissister. Osterweis is currently living in New York City.