Nim Wunnan


Tahni Holt’s ‘Sensation/Disorientation’ reveals the heart of dance

White Bird's world premiere of a dance by Tahni Holt gives us a glimpse into the deep structure of dance

Tahni Holt Dance’s Sensation/Disorientation at Reed College this weekend is the result of some truly heartening collaboration and mutual support in the Portland dance community. Holt, who has been making original work in and out of Portland for 20 years and is the founder of the dance center Flock, was recently awarded White Bird’s Barney Prize, which involved a commission for this project. Given Flock’s dedication to providing the resources for local dancers to make original work, it’s very satisfying to see Holt herself get such tangible support. Likewise, the piece has garnered a lot of attention from local critics, so you have many well-written opportunities to indulge your curiosity about the show.

Holt’s last major piece, Duet/Love, demonstrated her ability to gather major players in Portland’s contemporary dance community and push them to create something intimate, dense, and confrontationally enticing. The dancers’ unfiltered experience as artists, bodies, and people comprised much of the material of the piece, with Holt sculpting and directing its flow more than diagramming it with conventional choreography. Holt has clearly taken the space afforded to her by this commission to cultivate this approach further with Sensation/Disorientation.

Tahni Holt’s “Sensation/Disorientation”/Photo by Kamala Kingsley courtesy of White Bird

In the Q & A after the show, Holt reminded the audience that her main inquiry is how perception differs between perspectives. How one person can see or experience something in a completely different way than another can. For this piece, Holt focuses on the “…the material nature of [female-identifying] bodies, their sensation, emotion, and feeling,” as Hannah Krafcik says in her preview for Artswatch. The community of dancers that have been gathered for this show reflects a rich number of perspectives on that experience, and, like Duet/Love, showcases many facets of Portland’s dance community. While this is the debut performance for dancer Aidan Hutapea, age 15, she shares the stage with local dance veterans Tracy Broyles and Reed professor Carla Mann. Fellow dancers Muffie Connelly, Eliza Larson, and Suzanne Chi are also all active members of different, occasionally overlapping segments of the local dance community. Chi, whom audiences might recognize from Holt’s Sun$hine, is not the only former collaborator with Holt on the bill, as the prolific Luke Wyland of AU, who composed music for Duet/Love, performed his original score live.

Luckily, you have your choice of thorough previews and reviews to consult for a sense of what this show will be like, and whether it is for you or not. So I’d like to focus on the particular intentions of this piece, and how they are realized through a structure that may seem obtuse at times to some viewers.


Orchestra Becomes Radicalized reassembles for a new composition

Composer and drummer John Niekrasz presents a second installment of Portland avant-garde supergroup Orchestra Becomes Radicalized playing 'Five Hundred and Two'

This Wednesday night, a veritable supergroup of members of Portland’s avant-garde music scene will form for one night at Holocene.

Instigated and composed by drummer, writer, and composer John Niekrasz, Five Hundred and Two unites a fantastic roster of many of the leading musicians and artists producing experimental and new music in Portland.

That orchestra includes Luke Wyland on keyboards, coming from rave reviews for leading the Camas High School Choir collaboration with AU at this year’s TBA Festival; violinist Maddy Villano, the newest member of Smegma, an outsider sound institution performing since 1973; Sage Fisher, on harp and voice, performs as Dolphin Midwives and directs the 26-member Dröna Choir, and singer Holland Andrews has just returned from a European and US tour with her solo project “Like a Villain.” They’re joined by Brian Mumford on guitar, Jonathan Sielaff on bass clarinet, Andrew Jones on the double bass, and Ben Kates on alto sax. And if that wasn’t enough, the accompanying video was done by Portland institution Vanessa Renwick, recipient of RACC’s 2016 Fellowship Award. Niekrasz will, of course, be on drums. In addition to the Orchestra, the Ian Christensen Quartet and Visible Cloaks (formerly just “Cloaks”) will be opening the night.

John Niekrasz, center with drum sticks, has assembled another edition of Orchestra Becomes Radicalized, playing at Holocene on Wednesday.

John Niekrasz, center with drum sticks, has assembled another edition of Orchestra Becomes Radicalized, playing at Holocene on Wednesday.

This is the second installment in Niekrasz’s Orchestra Becomes Radicalized project. The series premiered at Holocene last December 8 with /Reward Cycle/. Conceived and composed while Niekrasz was living in Paris just blocks away from the Charlie Hebdo mass shooting, that piece was a cacophonous, energetic response to the climate of violence and political uncertainty surrounding the attacks. The piece drew inspiration from political texts as well as the “macabre palette of sirens and church bells” Niekrasz heard in Paris while writing it.


Choreographer Camille A. Brown asks: ‘What is so uncomfortable about a black girl playing?’

White Bird brings Camille A. Brown & Dancers to town for some playground games—and some sharing of black culture

In the Q&A after the opening night performance of “Black Girl: Linguistic Play,” Camille A. Brown was asked whether she thought it was easier or harder to engage racial issues in her performances in the “current political climate,” a phrase which sent a distressed chuckle through the audience.

She joked that when the title was just “Black Girl,” she assumed she wouldn’t have a tour. She imagined a genteel couple picking what they wanted to do on a Friday night and shying away from the performance called “Black Girl.” Who wants to think about that on your night out? “We live in a post-racial world, anyway,” Brown quipped, to another uneasy chuckle. To answer the original question, Brown asked another, simple question. What, exactly, is so uncomfortable about a black girl playing?

She’s made my job as a reviewer rather easy, in fact, by naming her show after exactly what it is about: the language behind some of the ways that black girls play. The thesis of this show is that there is legitimate language of movement that has been passed down through a rich cultural history that can be found in traditional schoolyard and side-street games played by girls, frequently black girls. Further: That’s worth watching, and it deserves more space.

Camille A. Brown and Catherine Foster in "Black Girl: Linguistic Play"/Photo by Christopher Duggan courtesy White Bird

Camille A. Brown and Catherine Foster in “Black Girl: Linguistic Play”/Photo by Christopher Duggan courtesy White Bird

If you have a sideways, gut feeling that the show will be “racially charged” or “confrontational,” I can tell you that it will only feel that way if you are uncomfortable with the idea of giving this particular form of dance a stage and engaging with it from the perspective of contemporary dance. PICA’s TBA Festival has brought performers from around the world who have done the same thing with the folk dances that informed their upbringing—Brown’s just doing it with a folk tradition that thrives in our playgrounds and city streets.


Dance review: DIAVOLO goes to work

The LA-based movement theater starts its flashy new show in the office, but it doesn't stay there long

DIAVOLO has been busy since it last visited Portland. (For one, they capitalized their name and attached their slogan, “Architecture in Motion,” to it.) “Losing One’s Self Temporarily,” or “L.O.S.T.,” is an all-new show, and Friday night was the world premiere of its second act, “Passengers,” another coup for dance presenters White Bird.

Live-wire artistic director Jacques Heim calls the show “An abstract study of our transient reality as we traverse through our daily lives and our daily work,” and the founders of White Bird call Heim “our favorite crazy Frenchman,” a title Heim seemed to relish as he took the stage for one of his trademark introductory speeches (and a celebratory white feather boa).

DIAVOLO opened White Bird's new season with "L.O.S.T." Friday night/Daniel MacSween, courtesy of White Bird

DIAVOLO opened White Bird’s new season with “L.O.S.T.” Friday night/Daniel MacSween, courtesy of White Bird

He has the ability to become a sort of highbrow hype-man for his own show, crackling with both joy and curiosity about what his troupe is about to do. It’s rare to see directors speak so freely about their own work before the show, and rarer still for them to do it with such unbridled humor and glee. He seemed as enamored with the conceptual framework of the show as he was with the exciting new contraptions the company has built. Watching him let his enthusiasm roam freely from intellectual to athletic challenges was the best introduction the show could have had, as it gave the audience a license to enjoy the same freedom.


Northwest Dance Project: Dances with wolves

Northwest Dance Project's Summer Splendors features a wolf and a Woolf and some fine dancing

This weekend, Northwest Dance Project adds three world premieres to its already impressive list of debut performances. Summer Splendors is a set of three new works that look to tap into some of the wild energy that arrives with the warm weather in the bipolar seasons of the Pacific Northwest. The show opens with We Were Wolves by guest choreographer Carla Mann, who teaches dance at Reed and sports an extensive résumé of Portland-dance collaborations, including Imago Theatre, tEEth, and Minh Tran & Company. Next is the remarkable Woolf Papers, from NDP’s artistic director, Sarah Slipper, about a different kind of “wolf” entirely. After the second intermission, the show ends with international performer and choreographer Yin Yui’s Distant Fold.

We Were Wolves starts in the woods, with a floor-to-ceiling projection of children playing outdoors, late shifting to lush images of trees, with a breathy voiceover talking about summer memories of going wild with freedom in the outdoors. It’s by far the most summery piece of the night: the longing buzz of cicadas appeared on the soundtrack throughout the work, and it was easy to imagine the air thickening and warming again like the troubling early heatwave the city just left. The show did what it says on the tin, with dancers one after another becoming more and more lycanthropic in their movements. When they howl, they really howl. I kept imagining what it was like to practice that, and how it had to have brought at least some of the dancers to a new, wild place for a moment to find such throaty sounds.


Srijon Chowdhury: Remembering memory

Painter Srijon Chowdhury recalls Renaissance memory devices in a large and seductive installation at Upfor gallery

Memory Theater gets its title and framework from a never-realized project of 16th century inventor Giulio Camillo. He imagined a universal device for the storage and retrieval of knowledge in the form of a coliseum-style room. Objects and symbolic paintings would be arranged in the amphitheater to prompt the thoughts of a single viewer standing at its center.

Camillo imagined that “using an associative combination of the emblematically coded division of knowledge, it had to be possible to reproduce every imaginable micro and macrocosmic relationship in one’s own memory”, though it was never made clear how that would work. However, he was clear about the need to encode profound knowledge in ciphers of images and symbols; the exhibition materials at Upfor quote his warning against the dangers of exposing “the rays of divinity” to “the eyes of vulgar wills,” hence the need for a protective layer of esoteric symbology.

Srijon Chowdhury, Memory Theater/Upfor

Srijon Chowdhury, Memory Theater, Upfor / Photo courtesy of Mario Gallucci and Upfor Gallery

This is a pretty rich vein of historical material to mine if you’re building an installation. With some forceful labeling and maybe an essay or two, a lot of artists could get away with referencing the concept as an inspiration and throwing up what they choose. However, painter Srijon Chowdhury seems to have fully apprehended how the conceptual structure of Camillo’s Memory Theater fits into the contemporary gallery experience.


Katherine Bradford: We float and dream

"Katherine Bradford: Divers and Dreamers" at Adams and Ollman loves its medium

Until June 3rd, you have the chance to immerse yourself in a small, luminous set of Katherine Bradford’s acrylic paintings, Divers and Dreamers at Adams and Ollman. While Bradford is a regular at A & O, this show is the first one dedicated to her recent paintings of rough-hewn figures awash in a firmament of some kind. The bathing figure is a well-established theme of figurative painting, but Bradford’s sort of humble mysticism goes somewhere entirely different than any formal study of a body in water. From a recent review in  Art in America: Hers are salt-of-the-earth American swimmers and surfers, not fancy-pants ‘bathers.’” There is humor and a sort of ringing, distant strangeness in the atmosphere and material of these paintings.

Before you picture these paintings, you need to know about the surface. The paint is thick and layered to a degree rarely seen with acrylic. Acrylic has long been characterized by its fast drying time, its water solubility, its capacity for bright synthetic colors, and the literal plasticity of its dozens of mixing media. These qualities, compared to the alchemy of oil paint and its media, are inescapably modern: acrylic is bright, fast, synthetic, and convenient. Bradford works with acrylic in a way that takes advantage of these qualities of the medium in a way almost no one else does. Big names like Warhol, Riley, Kelly, and Lichtenstein got acrylic into museums as an almost ideally-flat medium, a spiritual middle ground between painting and photography. The surface of Bradford’s paintings reads more like a Monet.

Katherine Bradford, Three Swimmer Pool, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 21 x 24 inches/Adams and Ollman

Katherine Bradford, Three Swimmer Pool, 2016, acrylic on canvas,
21 x 24 inches/Adams and Ollman

Bradford’s colors are broken and reassembled over many layers, and they build depth and vibrance through complex relationships of transparency, texture, and accident. Her figures are immersed in this sea of material, and built up from it, with an overall effect of a magical, electrified land populated by lumpy people either enjoying a day at the beach or a spiritual ascension.