Precipice Fund Project Update: FRONT

FRONT provides a print-based representation of Portland dance artists while fostering conversations between local creators and national and international peers in the field of contemporary dance. The publication serves as a design-forward visual object as much as a collection of critical writing on dance. On November 22, FRONT released the fourth edition of its annual newsprint publication dedicated to contemporary dance, the production and printing of which was supported by a Precipice Fund grant.

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ED4: BUOY focuses on dance practices and processes untethered from performance presentation and emphasizes conversations between West Coast dance makers. The newly released publication pays homage to two champions of the social potential surrounding performance: Performance Works NorthWest (PDX) and AUNTS (NYC). A brand new section, Notes from the Field presents a trove of artifacts from the creative lives of contemporary dance makers. From Houston, Rachel Cook of DiverseWorks delves into her curatorial vantage in a commissioned essay, while FRONT offers a glimpse into its recent Resource Room Residency at PICA.

Hosted by Ristretto Roasters on Couch, the release party for ED4: BUOY was attended by friends from Portland’s arts communities as well as passersby and members of the media new to FRONT. Since the release, FRONT has mailed BUOY to contributors across the US and abroad and sent out a number of mail orders—notably for archival purposes in the libraries of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. In the coming months, FRONT will participate in the Publication Fair via Publication Studio (12/14, Ace Cleaners) and have on-site presence at the American Realness festival and bookstore (1/8-1/18/15, Abrons Art Center, NYC).

FRONT ED4: BUOY FEATURES WRITING FROM:

LINDA AUSTIN/PERFORMANCE WORKS NORTHWEST (PDX)

ALLIE HANKINS (PDX)

KAJ-ANNE PEPPER (PDX)

LAURA/LARRY ARRINGTON (SF)

AUNTS (NYC)

CHRISTINE BONANSEA (SF)

RACHEL COOK (HOUSTON)

JESSE HEWIT (SF)

MONIQUE JENKINSON (SF)

SIRIOL JOYNER (ABERYSTWYTH)

HANA VAN DER KOLK (LA)

TAISHA PAGGETT (LA)

QUEEN SHMOOQUAN (SEA)

KATE WALLICH (SEA)

 

+MANY MORE

Get a BUOY today!

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FRONT

 

Precipice Fund Project Updates: Stream Room, M.A.S.S., and Spreading Rumours

As part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, with additional lead funding from the Calligram Foundation, the Precipice Fund was instituted last year as a grantmaking initiative designed to serve independent and collaborative visual art projects, programs, and spaces in Portland, Oregon. Administered by PICA, the program is now in its second year, with the newest round of awards (2014-15) to be announced in early December.

In the meantime, 2013-14 grantees have been busy executing their Precipice-funded projects, which span exhibitions, gallery spaces, performances, publications, residencies, workshops, free schools, televised plays, sound installations, an experimental film and media festival, web-based curatorial explorations, and political interventions in public space.

Below are updates on three active projects: Stream Room, M.A.S.S., and Spreading Rumors. Please scroll to the end of the post for images from Spreading Rumors’ most recent interventions.

Stream Room by deepwhitesound

Exhibition Artists: Dana Paresa, Matthew McVickar, DB Amorin 

http://streamroom.deepwhitesound.com/

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Hundreds of micro-compositions produced by dozens of international sound artists and musicians are randomly sequenced and broadcast via wi-fi to handmade streaming units. Each collected composition is designed to be played simultaneously as an immersive sound installation.

The result is a cacophonous, randomized bombast of disparate experimental compositions, playing over and against each other, an aural metaphor of the chaotic and over-stimulating nature of the internet itself. The discord of battling sound sources and quickly transitioned content creates a type of meditative experience. Rather than aiming to reach transcendence through minimalism, senses are bombarded and inundated in a type of maximalism. The dissonant nature of the installation draws allusions to the overwhelming qualities of the internet, social media and the information age.

Stream Room serves as an appraisal of this condition, an errant signal celebrated, a space for enthralled annihilation. On view through November 2nd at FalseFront (also a 2013 Precipice Fund grantee), 4518 NE 32nd Ave.

M.A.S.S. IX

www.mass-series.info

M.A.S.S. Curatorial Collective announces M.A.S.S. IX, the latest edition of their interdisciplinary events series at Alberta Abbey, featuring performances from Grouper, White Gourd, and writer Tyler Brewington.

Saturday, November 1
7:00 PM doors; 8:00 pm performances
Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta St, Portland
[email protected]

About: M.A.S.S. (an ambiguous acronym) is a bimonthly music & performance series set in the beautifully resonant 350-capacity sanctuary of Alberta Abbey, a historic church turned mixed-use venue. Using exceptional sound engineering and equipment provided by Tim Westcott (SIX music series), the series aims to provide a contemplative environment for group and/or anonymous reflection, while cross-pollinating local and non-local artists, musicians, writers, and performers.

Spreading Rumors

Project Artists / Collaborators: Garrick Imatani, Ariana Jacob, Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen
Images of Participating Artists’ Work: (see below): Confetti (“No Jail”):
Calder Gray Paulsen; Confetti (“overseer – officer”): Joel Sjerven; Confetti (“reasonable and necessary force?”): Maddy Freman; signs by Sharita Towne and Stephanie Syjuko.

Spreading Rumors is a series of collaboratively produced experimental project platforms designed to create new modes of distribution for artistic and political purposes, and to intervene in existing communication circuits. These forms are activated by invited local and national artists and activists and targeted at strategic publics throughout the city of Portland. The series aims to create more space within Portland’s art community to support the production and sharing of explicitly political artwork, as we have noticed a lack of discourse around this work. Spreading Rumors will consist of four platforms, each using a different form designed by the collaborative team and with aesthetic and conceptual content by invited artists, writers and activists.

Spreading Rumors was recently featured on two blog posts from “MLK in Motion”:

http://mlkinmotion.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/mlk-travels-on-black-americas-main-street/
http://mlkinmotion.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/i-cant-remember-what-this-used-to-be/

 

Confeti1 Confetti2 ConfettiProductionParty1 ConfettiProductionParty2 SharitaTowne2 SharitaTowneSign1 StephanieSyjuco1

Precipice Fund Project Update: C.O.P.S.

C.O.P.S. (The Conceptual Oregon Performance School) is a free, artist-run, experimental summer school, with a focus on contemporary art and performance strategies. Its mandate is to engage participants in the methodologies, critical theory, and dialogue surrounding the discipline, while investigating its social and cultural role. Participants will experiment with a myriad of contemporary performance strategies, based upon formal and informal lectures, seminar-based dialogue, and structured group critique.

Supported by a grant from the Precipice Fund, the C.O.P.S. 2014 season took place over three summer weekends, with daily sessions  hosted by visiting artist/instructor teams, who gave lectures, assisted in marathon critiques with students, and facilitated collaborative projects that culminated in an exhibition at ROCKSBOXCONTEMPORARYFINEART.

 

C.O.P.S. (CONCEPTUAL OREGON PERFORMANCE SCHOOL)

Many Many Women as read by Many Many Men – C.O.P.S. – Session 3 – A Collaboration

Web: www.conceptualoregonperformanceschool.com & www.rocksboxfineart.com

Vimeo: C.O.P.S.SCHOOL

Facebook: conceptualoregon.performanceschool

Instagram: conceptualorperformanceschool

Audience Response to Super Nature by BodyCartography at TBA:14

Typically, my favorite parts of a dance performance are the costumes, the sleek bodies and the elegant presentation of precision. I appreciate the way the body can move within the limits of choreography, but I frequently feel so distant from the dancers. The space between me and performer, whether it is a few rows of auditorium chairs or several hundred rows in a stadium setting, is almost always enough for my attention to wane. I can easily drift away from the present moment as the dancers express passion and energy between one another on stage. My experience with the installation Super Nature by BodyCartography Project was quite the opposite. When I entered into the installation space, I felt an immediate responsibility to engage. I was immersed, intrigued and invigorated. I was part of the installation, and my energy collided with the performer’s energy in a way that made me feel relevant and alive. I want audiences to feel enveloped by the work, reflective and engaged by the performers or the experience. The directors of BodyCartography Project describe this installation as an opportunity to train audiences to be present and available with their emotions when they engage with a performance.

BodyCartography Project describes Super Nature on their website:

An intimate installation functions as part one. It is built for a gallery space and an audience of one. In an empty gallery, one member of the public meets one performer and has a non-verbal interaction. Both performer and audience have agency to transform the energy of the space through their behavior and social interaction, sometimes very subtle and sometimes extreme. The evening length theater work functions as part two.

I have not experienced the evening length theater work, and this post only considers part one of the work, an intimate installation which was installed at THE WORKS at Fashion Tech in Portland, OR as part of PICA’s annual TBA festival. For those of you who didn’t experience the Works this year, Fashion Tech is a 30,000 sq. ft. warehouse that once housed an interior design supplier. Super Nature was installed in a small, cinder block room that was most recently used as a studio for a spray paint artist. The space has a large vent coming down from the ceiling for ventilation and a heavy, sliding wooden door that leads into one of the main hallways of the building. BodyCartography Project installed a wooden floor painted white and had the walls painted a warm gray. The room had one light and speakers installed.

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Otto in the Installation, photo by Chelsea Petrakis for PICA

During the installation, a single audience member is asked by a docent to “please remove your shoes and turn off your cell phone, feel free to be anywhere in the space and when the installation is finished, I will come open the door for you.” The exact language of these instructions is important for creating ambiguity and not dictating the audiences viewing response. Next, the docent opens the door, and audience of one enters the space to find a solitary performer. After approximately 15 minutes, the docent comes to open the door for them. When I served as docent for this piece, I waited for the participant to naturally emerge from the space before I closed the door behind them. If someone had nervous energy or expressed feelings of anxiety, I stated explicitly that they could leave the installation at any point if they felt uncomfortable. Uncomfortable interactions can lead to empathetic reactions that are sometimes unreachable in other realms; however, it is important that nobody feels trapped during the installation.

Super Nature is unique because both the performer and the audience member are alone in their role, and the performance is an interaction that unfolds, dependent on the energies of both people in the room. The tension between the social and intuitive body creates an immediate confusion about the role of the audience member. The experience questions whether the audience is a participant, a spectator, a collaborator or a witness to the performance. In my experience, I felt a nonverbal invitation to exchange with the performer. I felt agency to affect the situation, and I felt responsible to respond to the performer in ways that I would not under different spatial (ie. a larger room) or social dimensions (ie. more audience members). The relationship that Super Nature builds between audience and performer is special because of the metaphorical light that shines on the solitary audience member. From my perspective, the audience member is part observer, part participant and part collaborator.

As part of TBA’s public conversation series hosted at PICA’s downtown office, Olive Bieringa (co-director of BCP), Otto Ramstad (co-director of BCP) and Michael Sakamoto discussed the installation in terms of its intended impact on the audience. Sakamoto, artist and faculty advisor in the MFA-Interdisciplinary Arts program at Goddard College, describes his experience with the installation as if he were “being danced.” He felt there was an immediate meeting of a shared moment during which he “was being danced.” His ultimate takeaway was the dialogue with himself that happened as a result of the experience with the performer. When the audience enters the space, they have to choose where to be, how to respond, and how they want to absorb or reflect on the situation. Some feel enlightened and inspired after leaving the space, others feel disquieted or uncomfortable with the silence or close proximity between performer and audience. Ideally, this piece opens up the sense of discovery for the audience and gives the audience a space to practice reflexiveness in their own body.

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Roz (left) and Olive (right), photo by Chelsea Petrakis for PICA

I spoke with a lot of people after they exited the installation, and frequently, people felt like voyeurs or had strong empathetic reactions, both physical and mental. I wondered why, in this more intimate setting, people felt specifically like voyeurs especially when compared to a more traditional setting where audience members are exclusively spectators. As an audience member at a stage performance, I have frequently felt myself disappearing into the crowd, but in this installation, my position as the audience member was more within myself than it is in a big theater. In some instances, audience members felt the desire to disappear and not disturb the performer. The option to disappear or interact is a spectrum for each person who enters the space, and some people may experience a moment where their relationship to the performer shifts. For many people, this shift came close to the end of their time in the installation when they began to open up their metaphysical energy to the experience. This type of experience gives the audience and the performer the opportunity to learn something new about themselves in relation to a stranger. Regardless of what behavior the audience chooses to enact, they affect the performer, and in a sense, the distribution of agency during the performance is constantly in flux. In some cases, audience members felt like they had little to no agency to transform the environment.

Anna and Roz

Anna (left) and Roz (right), photo by Chelsea Petrakis for PICA

After people exited the installation, I tried to give them a subtle, nonverbal invitation to share with me about their experience. Many people responded to the invitation, and I have transcripts of a few conversations to share with you. I tried my best to respect people’s need to be with themselves directly after the installation, and as a result, some of my conversations occurred hours after the audience member’s experience with Super Nature. Each of the following interviews took place in Fashion Tech where the project was installed, and all participants gave consent to be recorded. All names have been changed for the privacy of the individual.

Conversation with John from France
Right after he came out of the installation

John: There’s this thing about a relationship with someone, with the body, we’re just breathing the same air. Because she’s a dancer, she has a very different body, and it renews the gaze that I have on the body.

Roz: Was there a breakthrough moment for you in the piece?

J: It was just a tidal wave, it was coming, and it was disappearing, coming and disappearing. The fact that you can change your orientation in the room is making it like real life. You don’t have to feel the gaze of other people in the audience. This big, deep, profound intimacy with someone that you don’t know, that you probably will not know after this experience, it’s just great.

Conversation with Sophia from Portland
Right after she came out of the installation

Roz: How was the experience for you?

Sophia: It just feels really good. I just really enjoy when I connect with somebody.

R: Did you feel like you connected with her [the performer]?

S: Oh yeah. We rolled around on the ground some. It’s a thing of trust. It’s all about that. Letting you understand. Every other person who is in there is going to have a different bond or reaction. Some [audiencers] might be like “stay away from me” and freak out or just watch. Some will want to be with you, whatever you’re going through.

R: What about the interaction made you feel like you had connected [with the performer]?

S: I don’t know. It’s just about accepting somebody. It’s like, “Okay, you can lean on me, and I can lean on you.” Then there was a big smile. There were moments with eyes closed. There was a lot of allowances. I don’t do a lot of contact stuff, it’s weird.

R: Me neither, I’ve never done it before this experience.

S: I’ve seen so much dance in my life, and I have a lot of dancer friends. It’s nice to experience. I need more of that. It’s not my thing. I just like to learn other things, letting go.

R: Would you consider practicing contact dance after this experience?

S: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I should start going to Conduit [dance studio in Portland]. I need to roll around with people more. I like the lighting. The space makes you feel like you can just be.

R: And be however you want.

S: Yeah, you can be light. It’s just so beautiful. I’m really glad I came down.

Conversation with Emma from Portland 
Immediately after she came out of the installation

Emma: By coincidence, I was standing in this corner right before it was over. When you started to open the door, the weight [used as part of the door’s opening system]…



Roz: Oh no…

E: And then I realized, I thought it was coming down from space, but it was actually connected to the door. It was really interesting. I could tell it was ending and for some reason I had just put myself in that corner at the very end. It was a neat coincidence.

R: I’m glad you didn’t get hurt. I ended in that same corner once, too. I almost got hit with the weight, too.



E: [laughter], that was interesting. It felt like a complete closing in that sense.

R: What other experiences did you have there?

E: Well, it was interesting because it was so intimate that there was quite a bit of discomfort. I think I felt a little uncomfortable because the performer/viewer relationship is somewhat upset. Not upset, but it wasn’t as clear.

R: How did you respond to that ambiguity?

E: Well, I just kind of went with it. I found when he was on the ground, I sat on the ground because I didn’t want to be over. That felt too hierarchical. In a sense, I kind of moved around a bit in relation to his movements.

R: Did it make you feel like you would like to move around in a larger theater setting? To gain different vantage points?



E: Well, I’m not a dancer. I did kind of have a sense of where it would be interesting to mimic and respond to his movements.

R: Did you?

E: I didn’t really. Except, I moved up and down. I thought, “oh, that looks like my yoga pose, I could do that…I could do that.”

R: What held you back from doing those things you were feeling?



E: Being in this place [gestures towards the building and larger space around her].

R: Being in the audience role…

E: Right, you’re not supposed to move. Right? I mean, I moved around a little bit. Also, when you do it, you don’t see the other person as much.

R: Totally.



E: So, that was kind of interesting, too. I’m not sure where the word cartography comes from because I didn’t really feel there was a lot of mapping going on.

R: This project is called Super Nature and the artists are called BodyCartography Project.

E: Oh, okay. Yes. The soundtrack was interesting. So industrial. So hot. I feel so bad for the guy. There’s no air. That’s not a heady discussion. I expected it would be more tactile. But, it wasn’t.

R: Do you think you had agency to make it tactile, or not?

E: I didn’t feel like I did.

R: Interesting.

E: Because of the spotlight. And because of his movements, they were very dance movements. They weren’t pedestrian movements at all. So, you had a sense that he was being a modern dancer and you were in a small room watching him. I felt that I had a certain agency, but not…if his movements were different, I would feel more agency.

R: Thanks for your reflections.

E: It was interesting, thanks a lot.

After TBA, the first participant at the Portland installation asked to share feedback about the experience via email. Here are his remarks:

Hello my name is Andre Middleton, Community Services Coordinator for the Regional Arts and Culture Council, and I was fortunate to the be the first participant in the BodyCartography Project’s Super Nature performance at the 2014 PICA TBA festival. I knew very little about this participatory performance experience outside of what I read in the description.

Let me start by saying that the stark grey walls of the room in which it took place were very prison like. As I entered the room and the door was closed behind me I felt as if I had stepped through a portal that removed me from the world at large. The silence that enveloped me soon gave way to an atmospheric rumbling that came from a single speaker suspended from the ceiling. The lone male figure in the room seemed poised, almost coiled with potential energy. I was unsure if I or he was to be the instigator of the performance so I started to move. I can’t recall how I moved, but I do recall that I wanted to avoid limiting myself within the space. I wanted to have the right to touch all the walls, I wanted to break down my personal bubble and therefore establish a presence within his as well. As we moved closer, the normal walls we often build around ourselves were shattered as we touched. In an instant I thought about the taboos of male on male contact. I wanted to let the dancer know that he was welcome in my space, so I didn’t retreat from his touch. I also wanted to acknowledge his contact so I simply rotated my hand as we continued to move now in tandem. When we parted it was not a separation of sorts but the next phase of the dance. soon our eyes made contact. In a way, this next phase was even more intimate than our physical contact. Our gaze lingered for what felt like an eternity. By the time our eyes parted it felt right, not rushed or hurried. Our bodies had somewhere else to go and of course our eyes followed.

After talking with audience members, I realized that there are a lot more outcomes and variables to this installation than I thought after experiencing it myself, and I wondered how the directors have decided to measure success for the piece.

The following quotes come from an email correspondence that I had with Olive and Anna, one of the performers, after they left Portland and returned to Minneapolis. My goal was to give the performers a platform for describing their intentions during the installation, to share the vulnerability and practice that goes into such a performance.

Email between Roz and Olive from September 25, 2014:

Roz: During the public conversation at PICA’s downtown office, you described your work in terms of creating opportunities to form relationships. Can you explain how a relationship develops between the audience and the performer in Super Nature?

Olive: I’m interested in engagement. I’m interested in identifying the moments we feel connection with each other. I’m interested in how a changing relationship, in this case between performer and audience, can manifest in a dance. I’m interested in how our attention can be deeply focused on this feedback loop between ourselves and another person and the information passing between us. I’m interested in the gap of attention that this provides thereby allowing the unknown potential of our body to unfold. I’m interested in how we can be present with each other.

In the Super Nature installation, we get to practice being present with a complete stranger. Practice being vulnerable. Practice feeling our own inner melodrama. As an audience and performer I need this practice.

We had considered the installation as a potential training for our audiences before coming to the Super Nature stage show.

R: You jokingly mentioned during the workshop that you were trying to get the word in the dictionary, how do you define “audiencing”?



O:  Audiencing – verb, to practice being an audience, to be in the practice of being an audience???

I’m interested in the active engagement of our audiences. The job of viewing or experiencing good art work is not a passive role of consumption. How do we honor peoples time when they make the effort to come out and see our work? By honoring the choices they make while experiencing it [the work]. By giving audiences agency. By letting them have enough space to create connection and meaning. With the Super Nature installation I’m interested in creating an opportunity to practice audiencing in a tight frame where we can all feel the causal effect of our actions. It is a dense feedback loop.

R: Do you think it is possible to define a successful audience in Super Nature? A successful performer? How are the parameters for success different for this installation than they would be for the same piece performed on a large stage with 200 onlookers in chairs.



O: A successful audience for the installation is someone who is up for the challenge of being present with a stranger. For some people the room is too claustrophobic, or their expectation of seeing something “good” gets in the way of their ability to perceive what is happening.

A successful performer for the installation is someone who can attend to themselves and the audience and allow the performance to unfold in the space in-between. Inviting their whole body to be seen, 360 degrees, in detail. Receptivity and transparency are critical. Finding the balance between doing and being is where the dance begins.

We don’t perform exactly the space piece on stage for 200 people. The Super Nature stage work is a radical ecological melodrama with fifteen performers onstage, a live sound score by Zeena Parkins and mobile set design my Emmett Ramstad.  The installation is a close up with the same performers and content unfolding in an improvised frame. In both versions we have attempted to choreograph empathy. This plays out very differently with the different scale of each work.

Performer of Super Nature, Anna, also responded via email on October 1, 2014:

Roz: Do you think it is possible to define a successful audience in Super Nature? A successful performer? How are the parameters for success different for this installation than they would be for the same piece performed on a large stage with 200 onlookers in chairs.

Anna: I don’t think there is a specific successfulness. There I feel like my natural sense of evaluation after a run, as the performer, goes to a thinking that is similar to that of my pedestrian life, remembering what I offered, rethinking their ideas with more space and objectivity, I feel like I have less of the Merde-like blasé or the learned confidence I might feel in another performance setting, I do feel a bit more of that with the stage version. But I also feel or remind myself that it is one small, and first encounter, as I might remind myself when first meeting someone. There is a desire to put forward the best things, in this area; the openness, an ease in mutual understanding translated through physicality and the body, a certain honesty, but it’s a two way street, and there are many factors that might interfere with my desire. The important thing is just the exchange, or the meeting, or the opportunity. I think it would be the same for the audience, though without some of the preparation and fore-warning, which might come as both a hindrance and a benefit.

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Roz (left) and Olive (right), photo by Chelsea Petrakis for PICA

In their email correspondence with me, Olive and Anna both describe a necessary openness from the audience and the performer that is key to the work’s success on a performance-to-performance basis. The movers are trained in choreography that aims to induce empathy and highlight the kinesthesia in the audience, but as Anna describes, the intention is not always met. People experience this artwork by engaging or not-engaging from the perspective of an audience, within this experience is an inner dialogue and an outer interaction which becomes the artwork. No documentation or final product is necessary. In my experience, the level of intimacy and openness that I was able to achieve with the performer was genuine and felt like the most authentic response I have ever had to a dance performance. I attribute that authenticity to the performer’s capacity to meet me halfway. This setting provides a space where audience expectations can be deconstructed through movement, quiet observation or dramatic nonverbal communication. This piece allows the willing audience member to engage directly with the energy of a stranger and experiment with how that energy is affected by their presence. Each person who enters the room, audience and performer, have a responsibility to respect the emotional atmosphere of the other and help each other find comfort in the discomfort of the unknown.

Essay and transcriptions by Roz Crews. Roz is currently a student in the Art and Social Practice MFA program at Portland State University.
You can email her at [email protected]

 

 

Dance Party Evelyn, Chanticleer

there was a breeze of disco in the air and men in jumpsuits and high heels, while a rush of disco undercurrent washed all in gathered glamour. Upon the still waters of a tranquil culture, the liquid color explosion of Evelyn splashed all in neon invention. Where are the stylish jet setters of Portland? Some wonder as they watch the pleasantly rotund denizens often seen comporting themselves amidst donut shops. My friend they were there. At Evelyn. In the night racing through dance and changing the face of the night. They mingled in scintillating outfits, stitched with mirrors, dripping with bangles, sleek in leathers. Women wore shoes of tangerine while men dressed as bashed disco balls flew past on roller skates. Outside the sonic umbrella of force field party music, the outside terrace gathered those who contrived to light a cigarette and mix. Ideas and gossip flew on tingling wings of informative instance. There was light. Faces and visages revealed themselves. Beautiful eyes. Strong chins. Lush hair. There were the elbows and shoulders of a crowd in full swing, permitting one to navigate their modest yet fabulous midst, just barely. The art of tomorrow careening through their blood, the songs of beyond dancing in their minds, this bunch of gathered beauty and humor and sly what-have-you impressed upon me the thought that tomorrow will be forward fabulous, retro informed and stellar. huzzahs in multitude to you beautiful ones and twos….   Hugh Gallagher

Speech and dance

There’s only one person on stage in Jack Ferver’s Mon, Ma, Mes, but the work is modeled on dialogue. There is dialogue with the audience, first of all, as Ferver begins the show with a forced Q&A session. And there is also plenty of dialogue in Ferver’s own speech, as he constantly refutes or modifies the details of a life revealed to us in spurts of energetic performance.

All these dialogues are simulations, however. The questions are scripted, openly so: the audience members chosen by Ferver (spontaneously, it seems) are handed notecards with a generally adulatory and leading question on it. The exchanges are funny, the way it’s funny to overhear a bad date or a pedantic museum conversation. But the equally simulated dialogue that Ferver carries out with himself grows decidedly less funny as the work goes on. In conversation after the performance was over, the question came up of when exactly I thought the tone changed. After all, the show began with loud and repeated audience laughter, but these moments gradually faded as it progressed. I thought, maybe simplistically, that the change had come when Ferver said the word “rape.” But this isn’t exactly so, as Allegra Jongeward pointed out to me, for there had been a previous moment when Ferver responded to an audience question with a long silence that led into his first dance performance. Both the pause and the dance elicited plenty of laughter, but in retrospect they foretold the improbable mix of lightness and gravity that would follow.

We might miss it as it’s happening, but this foretelling becomes retrospectively evident in another dance sequence, this one in the middle of a therapy session in which Ferver mimes both shrink and patient. I don’t want to talk about that, says the performer in response to some question he’s asked himself, I just want to dance for you. In isolation, this desire might be silly, but in the context of a work that constantly unveils the solipsism and insufficiency of language, it feels more serious. It places two forms of expression, speech and dance, in relief, and I think it holds the latter up as an ideal.

I think so because of the way that Ferver’s narrative runs from self-indulgence to absurdity. We all need to talk about ourselves, but from the outset—already in the title of the work (three French translations of my) and definitely in the simulated Q&A—Ferver is ridicules this societal norm. It is common tic among pundits today to chalk excessive self-involvement up to new technologies of the self like social media platforms and front-facing cameras. But to be thorough we’d have to go farther back, starting with the introspection encouraged by Freud’s talking cure and before that Catholic confession. Michel Foucault has even traced the phenomenon of parrhesia—etymologically, saying everything—back to the ancient Greeks. In short, narcissism isn’t the invention of the millennial generation. When Ferver sings about being the only person in the room, he’s tapping into a long history.

And in the structure of the work, no manifestation of narcissism is as evident as therapy—both as a practice and as a diffuse cultural form. A barely mentioned trauma gives a nearly absent baseline to the performance, and Ferver’s monologues are reminiscent, for me, of classic SNL characters like Jack Handy (self-affirmation: good enough, smart enough) and Mary Catherine Gallagher (anxiety: hand and verbal tics). His intent seems to be not to mock therapy, but rather to incorporate its structure of feeling into the show as a way of revealing the insufficiency of speech.

In this way, Mon, Ma, Mes can be contrasted with Germinal, a show I had seen the night before. Here also the construction of the self is placed on stage, but its comic effect derives from the futility of things like the drive to categorize and the inescapability of the dialectic. It shows how absurd it would be to arrive at where we are today through a careful consideration of all our options. Its funniest moment was when the characters had the opportunity to order a starter kit for existence via phone. Germinal’s foils or sources seem to be Hegel and Derrida, while Ferver’s—more refreshingly, I think, because Hegel and Derrida are cold thinkers and terrible writers—is the more eloquent lineage that runs from Freud to Oprah.

That lineage gives the context of Ferver’s work, but he’s not in thrall to it. If telling one’s truth always involves some level narcissism, dance takes us elsewhere, outside ourselves. At least that’s the hope I saw in Mon, Ma, Mes. Not only does dance come in when speech becomes difficult, but it also provides the only occasion for real coexistence. About halfway through the work, Ferver asked a dancer in the audience to join him on stage. Initially, their interaction shows a one-sided collaboration, ridiculing the egomania of Ferver’s character. But when they begin to dance, the task he carries out—following his partner’s hands with his own, turning the other’s horizontal palms into the letter T with his own vertical hands—is vulnerable and soft. He follows instead of leading, as the two become engaged in an elaborate game of Twister in the air. The scene represents an alternative to both speech and narcissism: bodily movement and entanglement with someone else.

Craig Epplin is an assistant professor in the World Languages and Literatures Department at Portland State University.

sexy deconstructed

Double feature, Death of the Pole Dancer and Macho Dancer by Eisa Jocson

I get great satisfaction from both being a part of and watching an audience who is negotiating whether or not they have been intentionally been made part of a performance. Comfortable or uncomfortable, it is thrilling to be in the moment and let the experience happen, as opposed to controlling it. Being surprised is part of the fun. That’s what TBA does best – surprising us at every turn, inviting artists to blow open their corners of the world and hone in on their point of view for us to see. Eisa Jocson’s audience on Saturday was rearing to go. They were excited and fully invested in whatever was to come.

Ms Jocson, a contemporary choreographer and dancer trained in ballet, with a background in visual art, asks us to examine relationships between the economics and cultures surrounding pole dancing and Macho Dance – (a subgroup of sexualized dance for men in the Philippines). It is interesting that she chose to investigate these two marginalized forms of dance.

The performance of Death of the Pole Dancer began in the smaller of the two studios at BodyVox and we, the audience, filed in forming a circle around the middle of the room, creating an anticipatory space for a pole and a dancer that had not yet materialized. How was this going to work? Where was the pole? A pole didn’t seem like a movable prop. Shouldn’t this sort of thing be set up before hand?

While waiting for the show to start, lots of questions started to come to my mind. I thought about audience expectations and how much power that has over an artist, especially when there are economic stakes.  And, isn’t money always at stake? What exactly is objectification, and does it happen more often than we realize? Are we each guilty of objectifying someone? Objectification is treating a person as a thing or tool without regard for their dignity, disregarding their feelings and experience and taking away their autonomy. Ms Jocson was making us wait for her. Was she intentionally creating space for us to reflect? Was she objectifying us? Was this the audience participation part?

Eventually, Ms Jocson – donning six inch, bondage inspired, black patent leather heels, dressed in black short shorts and a halter-top – entered the room carrying a rectangular black nylon bag on her shoulder.

With an expressionless face and long black hair cascading over her shoulders, she knelt down, laying the bag on the floor. With crafted precision, she opened it taking out the different components of what was to become the pole and its mechanics in a ritualized choreographed manner. Four metal tubes – two long, two short, two round bases, one Allen wrench, one metal rod, three towels – one pink, two white, one small spray bottle, two band aids and one pair of fingerless leather gloves. Two moments of attentive self-care surprised me in how they revealed Jocson’s humanity and fragility. The first was when she took a moment to adhere the two Band-Aids to her palms before slipping on the gloves; the second was her use of the towels to protect her knees while assembling the pole. These both provided an interesting juxtaposition against the steeliness of the metal pole and her demeanor.

I am calling this a post-modern distillation of the act of pole dancing, its relationship to the audience and its emotional impact on the dance. It was brilliant! Even though she was dressed in a sexy, alluring outfit, it did not change the fact that she was executing a task. This was not a sexy task. It was one as mundane as unpacking a suitcase or rebuilding a car engine.

What is sexy? Why isn’t this sexy for me but it is for others? What makes this sexy? Who created this particular idea of sexy? Why has this particular image of what is sexy for women become the norm propagated by the media and clothing manufactures like Victoria Secret? What happened to individually based preferences? How do stereotypes shape a form?

Over the course of the performance, there were two overtly sexual moments which made me question who was in control and who was being objectified. Was it the performer or audience or both? One was when she was shining the pole with a cloth and the other was when she first promenaded around the pole. Her energy changed and for a moment her movements were sexualized and then they weren’t. It is a tool that can be turned on and off.

After the pole had been affixed to its central location in the room, Ms Jocson began walking around it shaking it vigorously to test its strength shaking it so violently that it jerked her body back and forth flinging her hair up into a crazy cloud around her head. The pole would bend in the middle but never break. She began building momentum with a series of repetitious movements pulling her in towards the pole and banging her chest against it. This energy propelled her off the ground and around the pole into a series of beautiful feats of amazing strength. Swinging around and around until her energy wound down and she slid off the pole onto the floor and finished in a heap of disheveled hair, with the pole haphazardly remaining between her thighs. It’s a rough image. We are uncomfortable and don’t know if she is finished. We stand silent for some time until a brave soul begins to clap and we follow suit. We file out of the room leaving her lying on the floor.

 

Eisa Jocson- Death of the Pole DancerEisa Jocson- Death of the Pole Dancer

 

Macho Dancer

Eisa Jocson’s second dance, Macho Dancer is the culmination of her time spent with a small group of young Filipino male dancers who perform in nightclubs. Their style of dance is culturally specific and distinctly Filipino. It is designed to appeal to both men and women and is a social construct of what is thought to be strong, sexy, cool and masculine.  It is a series of strutting, posing, hand gestures, flexing, body stroking and knee crawling that Ms Jocson performs flawlessly in a pair of cut off jean shorts, a tank top, cowboy boots and black knee pads.

“By emulating and simulating the macho dancer, she investigates social, cultural and economical conditions that ultimately unveil this perfect, normative body as a constructed body.”

Even in the “normative” state of our daily lives, doesn’t the body continue to be a construct of whatever environment we are a part of? Are any of us ever really free from such societal constraints?

This gender loop that she created as a woman performing as a man is so convincing that I easily loose track of the fact that she is a woman even when she pulls her top off and is bare chested.

Ms Jocson, with the help of a fog machine and spectacular lighting, brilliantly re-recreated the atmosphere of a nightclub, adding an array of music choices to facilitate the full exploration of emotions and movement within the form.

Her ability to shape shift and completely let go of her own body construct and adopt that of another was astounding.

She is fierce, raw and honed. She is smart and deliberate. I am moved, inspired and invigorated.

 

Eisa Jocson- Macho Dancer

 

Jamuna Chiarini is a freelance dance artist, producer and dance writer, writing regularly for Oregon Arts Watch in Portland Oregon.


 

Making A Living and ‘A Living Documentary’

Cynthia Hopkins, A Living Documentary. Photo by Thomas Kochie.

Cynthia Hopkins, A Living Documentary. Photo by Thomas Kochie.

I’m so glad that I read Kate Sanderson Holly’s post about Cynthia Hopkins’ A Living Documentary before I began writing mine. One of the coolest things about people blogging during the festival is that you get to hear some of the thoughts that are happening in the theater with you. As Kate was wondering if this performance had meaning to someone who wasn’t an experimental theater artist, I was questioning what the experience of the piece was for its inner circle audience, those who could intimately relate to Cynthia’s story. I am not an experimental theater maker, but A Living Documentary still echoed with my experiences as a young person trying to figure out how to make my way in the world.

So many of the questions raised in this piece are questions I ask myself. Replace ‘theater’ with ‘writing’ or ‘poetry’ or even ‘queer,’ and it seems these spheres aren’t so distinct. These questions about art making may not be universal, but they are certainly relatable. There’s particularity in grant writing and theater lights, but in Cynthia’s work there’s also the applicability of how incongruent our desires are with our ability to make a living and survive.

I’d argue that Living Documentary’s ability to highlight these commonalities and parallels is fostered part and parcel by the humor and quiet with which Cynthia presents herself. Her piece was equal parts dark penciled eyebrows/wigs and naked guitar solos, getting me with both her ridiculous facial expressions and tranquil tones.

She spoke candidly (in her way, through recorded tape and characterization) of what it is like to move away from traditional ideas of artistic and financial success, to fold your nonprofit theater company, to stop paying unemployment tax on an enormous team of designers, and to envision a different freedom for yourself: freedom where artistic expression isn’t predicated on debt and fancy theater lobbies.

In humor and in nakedness, when some of the artifice of art is stripped away, when we’re just in a theater with one another, there’s a space of relatability. When Cynthia removed her makeup and clothes and stood with a guitar in low light, I was a wholly disarmed viewer. I was ready to hear her story and enjoy its intersections with my own.

I’m left wondering about the socioeconomic and biographical influences on the form of this work. Cynthia is the daughter of two English teachers, and she only very briefly experienced the spending power of financing extravagant works with her own money (which even then was tainted by its inheritance from her abusive grandfather), so when she speaks about survival, she is speaking about real survival, about how to make a living that is sustainable and safe. The intimate scale of Living Documentary amplifies the humor and honesty, but it also drew me in with its honesty about how much art costs and how much an artist needs to get by.

 

Olivia Mitchell is a Whitman College alum, cat-lover, and writer. Sometimes, she even writes about art. She lives in Portland, OR.

 

Eisa Jocson, Can You Help Me?

The dancer in Eisa Jocson’s Death of the Pole Dancer says, “Can you help me?”  These four words are the only audible words of the whole performance, and each one punctuates the silent stage with an affect of doubt.

Can we help her?  What is in our control?  Who is in our control?

Jocson’s 25 minute piece masterfully presents a dancer (Jocson herself) dressed in impossibly high stiletto heels and a leather bikini.  In a concert of silence, the dancer spends the majority of the performance assembling, shining and aligning the chromed stripper pole, which she stakes directly in the heart of center stage.  The last portion of the performance exhibits the physical effort of the performer, visible by sweat and labored breath–both halfway covered by an invasive pop song beaming from overhead speakers.  The end (oh, the end?!?) finds the dancer face down on the floor–legs dangling around the unresponsive pole.  To complete Death of the Pole Dancer, the audience must exit the performance space, leaving our performer alone and sprawled on the floor.

After Jocson’s performance I overheard many viewers in the lobby expressing the desire to ask the prone (“dead”) dancer if she was okay or if she needed assistance.  Eisa Jocson’s dance elaborates on the notion that the audience can help–that the audience can do something about the uncomfortable mess on stage.  But what exactly are the actions Jocson asks us to take?  The audience members’ expressions of pity, of shame and of insecurity point to the core of Jocson’s piece:  Jocson exposes a dynamic out of balance and a relationship between performer and viewer that needs care and assistance.

Something dies in Jocson’s piece, and Jocson herself is the assassin.  A woman in total control of her whole performance, she kills the presupposed power of the audience over her body.  Jocson tops from the bottom.  She inverts the audience’s gaze.  Really, who is powerless in Death of a Pole Dancer?  The dancer or the audience?

 

Jackie Davis is happy to be alive in a time where art can be beautifully ugly.  She is honored to walk this Earth surrounded by so many creative geniuses.

Dear Cynthia Hopkins

photo

Dear Cynthia Hopkins,

You may not remember this but I met you once in Gary Grundei’s music composition class at Naropa University.  I was there getting an MFA in Contemporary Performance, and you were there writing the music for a production of Trojan Women.  The women who sang your piece rehearsed in the studio next to mine, and every time I heard it drifting through the hallway I would freeze completely, because I didn’t want to hear any sound except for that song.  It was, and remains, one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard.  You came to our class one day and listened to our songs.  In my piece I harmonized with myself, played two instruments that I barely know how to play and sang about wolves.  Gary told me later that you really liked my work, and knowing this carried me through a good chunk of the following year in my artistic life.  Being someone who went to all the trouble to get an MFA in Contemporary Performance, I am clearly in the target audience for your new piece, A Living Documentary.  I am so much the target audience that I can’t really assess whether the piece would be enjoyable or have any relevance for anybody else, but I want  you to know how profoundly meaningful it was for me to witness.

Once I had a dream about the theater director, Anne Bogart, one of my artistic heroes.  She was waiting at the end of a long line, like a guru, and each of her devotees got the chance to bow before her and ask one question.  I wasn’t sure what I would ask until I got in front of her, but as soon as I opened my mouth I burst into tears.  I wailed “I gave my life to theater, and theater ruined my life!”  I guess I was hoping she would offer me some comfort, or wisdom, but instead she looked at me horrified, mouth agape, as if I had just spoken the unmentionable phrase.  I cried so hard in the dream that I woke myself up, and never did hear her speak.

I was reminded of that dream tonight as I watched your piece.  So many times I have shared the feelings and thoughts and frustrations that you expressed, but it is hard to find an audience to air those grievances to.  With my own collaborators there was a need to keep an optimistic spirit.  With my non-artist friends and family there was a gap in understanding–the response would be something like “Well you shouldn’t have gone into theater if you wanted to make a living”, or just a sympathetic smile that you might give to an astronaut talking about how rough space travel is–they want to be supportive, but they will never know what its like.

For me, this lack of understanding came to a head this year when I realized that my own husband no longer supported my artistic aspirations, because now I have somebody else who has to share my debt, my mortgage payments, and my stress.  These last few months are the first in my adult life when I have not been working on a theater piece, and it does feel something like a drug withdrawal.  For the most part I suffer silently, and I don’t talk about that part of myself because I don’t know that anybody can really understand.  But tonight you gave me something that the dream guru Anne Bogart couldn’t–you showed me that there is somebody who understands what I have gone through.  Not only do you understand, but you have made an entire brilliant, brave and wildly entertaining musical about it so that maybe some other people who haven’t been there will also understand.

As I was wrapping up my graduate education I went through a phase of being determined to “succeed”, and one of the things I wrote in bold permanent marker on a poster on the wall was “Play the Game”.  I have always been reluctant to play the game that was created by others, and seemingly for others, but I knew that I wanted to make a living as a “slightly experimental” contemporary theater artist, and so I decided I should try my hand at The Game.  That was four years ago, and while I haven’t yet succeeded in the way I wanted to then, and by most accounts it could be reported that I dropped out of the game, I have found tremendous freedom in my life since.  In your closing song you sweetly lilted “You are free to play whatever game you want to play”.  That is a conclusion that I have also come to, but I assumed that I would never land on the TBA stage (one of the ultimate markers of success in my world) unless I played somebody else’s game.  Your piece was a refreshing reminder that playing somebody else’s game is never what TBA is about–its about courageously sharing your authentic truth while also bringing the full force of your professionalism to the stage, and you pulled that off in spades tonight.  Thank you, and bravo!

Sincerely,

Kate Sanderson Holly

former founding member of Fever Theater and Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble, currently free-floating yoga studio owner with a toddler

p.s. I will totally buy you coffee.  E-mail me, girl.  [email protected]