This weekend brings us more hot weather (I’m not complaining, really I’m not) and a lull in the Portland performance scene, giving us a chance to hone in on the two dance performances that are happening this week. Pure Surface, a vehicle for the intersection of improvisation, dance, writing and film curated by Stacey Tran and Danielle Ross, celebrates its one year anniversary on Wednesday, and Fun/Fuck, a new dance performance piece created by Lucy Yim, Takahiro Yamamoto, Linda Austin and Karen Nelson, premieres Friday.
Lucy Yim, Takahiro Yamamoto, Linda Austin, Karen Nelson
8 pm, July 24
Performance Works Northwest, 4625 SE 67th Ave
Fun/Fuck will be performed as two duets of the same score, exploring the shape and power of those two words, fun and fuck.
The project’s choreographic score—sometimes used as a tool in the choreographic process to help shape an idea or used like a musical score that replaces notes with dancers, ideas, sounds or objects—came to life during a residency on Vashon Island, Washington, hosted by renowned dance improvisation artist Karen Nelson. The score will provide the framework for the dance and everything in between will be improvised. It will get all fucked up, in the words of the dance, and should be lots of fun to watch.
I thought it would be interesting to talk to Yim and Yamamoto and hear about the ideas and creative processes that brought us Fun/Fuck. I emailed questions to Yim who was performing in Morelia, Mexico, with Austin, and then she emailed the questions and her answers to Yamamoto, who sent them back to me. This is that conversation.
ArtsWatch:What is Fun/Fuck about? What does the title Fun/Fuck mean?
Yim: Fun/Fuck is interested in language and communication, in the process of making a sound and what meaning comes from sound. The movements are in conversation with the sounds and their meanings. These conversations come in all sizes and shapes, like people. They are parallel, perpendicular, circular, short and long. They shape shift. They are genderless. Sometimes selective hearing is actively employed as a theatrical tool. Sometimes we dance to the sounds as if it were music. It is music, as language is. It is also clumsy, as language can be.
It started as “Un + Fuck” based on this silly shirt that I have. Then Linda said, “Can it be Fun + Fuck?” Leave it to Linda to make it uncanny and brilliant.
Yamamoto: On a conceptual level, this work juxtaposes spoken language with physical movement. Maybe, “juxtapose” is too fancy of a word, but it displays two elements side by side, just like both performers are situated side by side. We explore how the symbolic meaning, either through words or gestural movement, gets encoded in the viewers’ and performers’ brains. In order to investigate this, we deconstruct it. Physical movement is, in comparison, easier because it is abstract by nature without explicit functionalities.
So, the movements accompany the sound of spoken words by reacting to it, harmonizing with it, or ignoring it. But the language is more closely tied into meanings, so we take a word apart, into pieces, to see which combination of uttered sounds implies a meaning. f. fu. fuh. far. ah. u. oooh. ar. In the score, we also work in repetitions and its transformative power. It is fascinating when a word loses meaning and becomes mere sounds after it is repeated a numerous of times. Two words, one trivial and one profane, start the score, but through the repetitious process, words often transform into something else. That’s something we cannot plan or control. We just surrender ourselves to the flow.
These conceptual ideas I just talked about are important, but I don’t think that is the sole reason why this performance excites viewers and performers. On a practical level, this performance brutally exposes the performers’ thinking bodies as well as their focus and commitment. That is because the score itself is very simple and loose. I believe it is thrilling to see how the performers think and surrender themselves to the present. It is scary for me to expose myself this way, but being scared has not stopped me from doing it.
ArtsWatch: Was the project originally just you and Taka? How did you bring Linda Austin and Karen Nelson into the project? What was that process like? What is your process of collaboration? Where does it start? Who continues it?
Yim: This all started with some word play I was doing some time ago. I was having a hard day. Fuck seemed to be an appropriate word to use. Really, I think it started with a workshop with Simone Forti. [the dancer, choreographer, artist, and writer, who specializes in improvisational techniques]. During the workshop a bunch of us conspired to go up to Vashon Island and have an exploratory residency together. We all shared a practice of some kind, including the (F)UN/FUCK score. This score really works. It was random, the pairings, but Taka and I discovered some kind of chemistry between us with this particular work that we wanted to do again. Linda and Karen had a real something-something, too. They are masterful improvisers and performers, I would come to see them. Damn, I am really excited for their duet. Anyway, we wanted to keep the project going and share it again so we wrote the RACC grant and voilà!
I fucking love Taka and have a lot of fun with him. While we were in LA in residency at Pieter Performance Space, I realized how radical his listening skills are. Radical in the political sense of the word. He really knows how to listen and leave space. This comes through his work and improvisation skills. I want to be around this kind of sensibility and so does Fun/Fuck. So I wrote the RACC grant and convinced him to keep it going with me. Gladly, he agreed. I got the grant, he got us the residency. He connected us with Julie Perini’s class at PSU and Carla Mann’s class at Reed College, where we taught the score. Linda offered her space. Karen said yes. It starts and continues and ends with a village.
Yamamoto: Whenever I talk about Fun/Fuck, I often joke, “in order to fuck around and explore rigorously, we also need to have fun.” I see this in the rigorous and invested practices of both Linda Austin and Karen Nelson: two performers who we learn a lot from and admire. At the same time, I can see how much fun they are having in their performances. Their serious exploration and sheer enjoyment makes me happy as I witness their performances. When they explored this score at Vashon Island, they were hilarious. I laughed so hard, but also engaged in their real-time exploration of what this score can do. We want to see again what they do with this. Also, maybe, it is just as simple as wanting to see these legendary ladies performing together.
Lucy and I talk a lot, either via email or in person, about a lot of things, and we are very critical yet thoughtful of and to each other. At the same time, we just have fun spending time with each other. So in a way, we do fuck around and explore ideas, but enjoyable company is always at the base. This project is very fitting in relationship to that as well. So to answer the question of collaboration, it starts with our constant conversations and love for each other. It also mirrors with Physical Education, a Portland-based group with Allie Hankins, keyon gaskin, Lucy, and I, and how that group functions.
Pure Surface Anniversary Party
Curated by Danielle Ross and Stacey Tran
8:30 pm, July 22
Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St.
Pure Surface turns 1 and you can celebrate the anniversary with many of Portland’s multi-disciplinary artists. Performances and work by: COLDGOLDCHAIN, Los Datos (1/2 of Acid Farm), Jin Camou, MATTRESS, Seth Nehil + Kelly Rauer, Justine Highsmith, CL Young, Steven Gonzalez, Francesca Capone, Danielle Ross, Stacey Tran ( in collaboration with Jonathan Raissi + others) and last but not least a Pure Surface performance by Cat Egan, Lindsay Allison Ruoff, and Hannah Piper Burns.
Lucy Yim is a performance artists and the recent recipient of PICA’s Creative Exchange Lab and will debuting a new work in September for PICA’s TBA festival called Devastation Melody.
Takahiro Yamamoto is a visual artist and performer who most recently choreographed a new work in collaboration with composer Jesse Mejia that was performed at Conduit’s Dance + Festival.
Linda Austin is the co-founder & director of Performance Works NorthWest and has been making dances and performances since 1983. In 2014 she received a $20,000 Fellowship in Performing Arts from the Regional Arts & Culture Council.
Karen Nelson is a dance improvisation artist, meditation practitioner, community activist and learner. In her teaching she brings over 35 years of embodiment practices developed through the lenses of Contact Improvisation/Material for the Spine, Tuning Scores, Contemplative Dance Practice and more, with teachers Steve Paxton, Lisa Nelson, Barbara Dilley and others, respectively. She co-founded DanceAbility, Breitenbush Jam, Diverse Dance Research Retreat and the performance group Image Lab. She often travels, both teaching and performing, and lives on Vashon Island in Puget Sound, Washington.