DanceWatch Weekly: TBA appraisals by three choreographers

Winding down after TBA, Tracy Broyles, Jim McGinn and Pepper Pepper share their memories

TBA (the Portland Institute For Contemporary Art’s yearly 10-day festival) is over. Ten days of workshops, performances, artist talks, visual art exhibitions, music performances and after-hours parties—I am reeling from its absence, and changed because of it.

I was hypnotized by the patterns and rhythms created by Christian Rizzo in d’après une histoire vraie, and Alessandro Sciarroni’s UNTITLED_I will be there when you die, both similar in their aesthetic and approach and use of repetition. I was absorbed by Morgan Thorson’s Still Life as the dancers, mostly from Minneapolis, some from here, danced in and out of the gallery space at the Portland Art Museum, enchanting the space, creating texture, rhythm and leaving behind traces of smeared charcoal, history, humanity, sheer beauty and talent.

I was confused by Meg Wolfe’s New Faithful Disco, as it seemed new, raw, unfinished and unclear in its intent. Leila’s Death by Ali Chahrour transported me to a different time and culture which I am grateful for, connecting me to my own spirituality and mortality through Leila’s story of loss and love and perseverance. Sadly though, I was distracted over and over again by the sounds of cell phones going off throughout the performance. Perhaps we should check them at the door or turn them off entirely.

And lastly I was disgusted/amused/angered by Geumhyung Jeong’s  7ways, during which she gave life to inanimate, household objects, turning them all into lecherous men that ended up having their way with her or another object. In the end she put on a blue bodysuit that had a small colonial ship (the kind you might find in a bottle) attached to the front, and lay on the floor, swishing around in a sea of ocean blue fabric, undulated her torso, creating waves for the ship to sail over. Her story was packed with symbolism bringing to my mind the colonization of the Asian female body, and the general female experience within patriarchal systems. It was tough to watch.

TBA now exists in the ether, in our memories and in the shared moments created through conversations. Talking about TBA with friends and colleagues is one of my favorite TBA experiences. I am always surprised by the variations of their viewpoints, and to celebrate that diversity I have gathered together a few of my dance colleagues and offered them space here to share their TBA moments. Below are those offerings.

If you also had a memorable TBA moment that you would like to share, you have my blessing to do so in the comments section below, but please keep it respectful.

First, though, this week’s dance schedule!

Performances this week

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Spectacle Garden #5: Equinox Harvest curated by Ben Martens. Photo by Nicholas Travers.

Spectacle Garden #5: Equinox Harvest
Curated by Ben Martens
7 pm September 27
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St
Show up early, hang out late. A night of contemporary performances curated by poet, electronic music producer, emcee, mover, organizer and performance artist Ben Martens.

The evening will feature live music by Fatha Green with performances by Butoh artist Meshi Chavez, bellydancer Laura Blake, contemporary dancer Andrea Larreta, intuitive movement by Katherine Rose and Paula Helen with music by Michelle Parrie, transfeminine poetry by JoeyJane Marie Lovechild, hip-hop dance and technology with Athan Spathas, robotics/animation/locking with Kiel Moton, a film with Megan Dawn, and an excerpt from dance artist Jamuna Chiarini’s new work,“The Kitchen Sink.” (The last is your correspondent here!)

TBA reflections

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Morgan Thorson’s “Still Life.” Photo courtesy of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.

Tracy Broyles (a Portland dance artists and bodyworker)

3 pieces, 3 poems.

1. Despite the beauty of dancing and dancers
I was lukewarm by conclusion
because I could not discern if it was
a choice to keep your joy and presence shrouded.

2. I never wanted to leave your tumbling landscape
ritual, thumping the space, turning time, numbers transforming
again and again-
So I made a space in my being and it cascades on
now with my own essence entwined.

3. Heart swelling and emotions rise and fall through the
humans who have become your tuning forks-
the physical with which to resonate the crafting of invisible-
the composition of sound/vibration.

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Kaj-anne Pepper / Pepper Pepper in Critical Mascara. Photo courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.

Kaj-anne Pepper / Pepper Pepper (a performance and theatre artist, educator and choreographer)

Recently, I had the privilege to view one of the largest drag shows in the Pacific Northwest from the stage. Yes, I was a judge at Critical Mascara A Post-Realness Drag Extravaganza. I got to see each and every contestant prance the runway, twirl their look, and I held the key to their potential winning. I had the best spot, front and center in the glitter dome. I get to see the contestants vogue, prance, waack, and runway in complex self-made creations of make-up and scrap costumes. I was moved to see the roaring crowd cheer and scream for each and every contestant, some even as young as 17.

Critical Mascara is all about creativity, community and competition. In its fourth year strong, Critical Mascara has proven it has community. As an event it is a temporary utopia, a place where the stage becomes an altar of transformation. Critical Mascara owes allegiance to the struggle and dance of survival grown from the East Coast Ballroom scene that predates Jenny Livingston’s groundbreaking and influential documentary “Paris Is Burning.” Mascara with its aims of celebrating the intersectionality of identities through their glamour is a living homage to a history misunderstood, appropriated, and still manages a resurgence among queer minorities in the Pacific Northwest. Queer is in vogue.

These dances are not just spectacle for TBA’s consumption or pleasure, no. These are dances of survival and necessity. Our bodies ache to be felt deeply, spinning twirling and pounding the runway. Our spirits demand to be seen through the artistry of identity with make-up, costume and ferocious charm. I believe every creature, queen, queer and dandy who walked across that stage got some jolt of the spotlight medicine they so richly deserve.

Mascara is the largest party PICA throws for its TBA festival. I am its main producer. This event is so filled with energy and enthusiasm I remember impressions like flashes. I’d like to share a few leading up to the start of the show:

I am on the ground floor watching the construction of the runway, the setting of the stage, the 4 hour tech rehearsal and the early fans lining up for the last remaining tickets.

I am alone for 5 minutes painting one blue eyebrow over my shaved brow bone.

I over hear the shop talk between my production team and tech crew—Is the video going to be clear? Where do we plug in the live feed?

I remember the sudden rush of activity when the doors open, the room filling up with friends and strangers with a hungry look in their eye.

I’m greeting my mother in a gold wig.

I’m ushering a lost drag queen into the green room.

I’m running upstairs to find my all-knowing clipboard.

I’m giving some drag queens backstage the “GET OUT OF MY WAY” look, they oblige parting like a glittery red sea.

The beat drops, the music starts. I smell liquid latex, hairspray and excitement. Queens are gluing down lace fronts, sewing ripped seams, everyone is melting.

My stage hands fanning queens and offering water.

A photographer yelling “CHIN UP LADY”

I’m backstage frantically gluing and taping hand crafted glitter nails to my fingers 3 minutes after my call to stage. I have three stagehands glitter flying around us, the lights are going dark, there are 45 creatures standing behind me wondering when the show will begin, rolling tape over finger after each finger, my mother is sitting front row in the VIP section, coming out for my drag show for the first time in 10 years, ready to see her son walk on stage and become a queen…

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Rinde Eckert. Photo courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.

Jim McGinn (Portland dance artist)

Rinde Eckert, My Fools: A Life in Song

What does he not do? He makes me want to secretly watch him in his own home. He makes me want to watch him scribble in his diary and follow his private late-night obsessions.

In his Saturday, September 17, TBA:16 performance at the Winningstad Theatre of My Fools: A Life in Song, Rinde Eckert was so absorbed in his own exploration that the audience was compelled to follow his meandering journey through a tiny fraction of his vast musical and theatrical history.

The stage was littered with musical instruments like a crime scene awaiting discovery. Like a bumbling detective, Eckert set about to document and classify each. Like many of his endeavors, he sets out upon a journey with one intention and discovers other things about himself along the way. He addressed each instrument as a fully personified entity, unveiling his long and complex relationship to each. Via this device he added multitudes of characters to the stage. Yet each character was not merely subservient to his narrative, as each had their own voice. The approximately three-foot by four-foot paper sheet was its own brash and unwieldy musical character at times played by Eckert and at other times playing Eckert. In Eckert’s’ arms, the paper sheet was music, dance partner and mutable costume.

Long a beloved performer to the Portland contemporary performance cognoscenti, Eckert and his explorations on the Portland stages have been vast. Having seen all of Eckert’s’ Portland performances in over 20 years, perhaps the most memorable to me was a noon-time show during the 1990’s, which only eight people attended. We sat on the wooden floor of a dance studio while Eckert told the story of having found a short pipe, somewhat like a crude Turkish Zurna, which he taught himself to play. He unfolded a series of musical stories capstoned by a fierce rendition of a spiritual about the road to heaven in which he amazingly piped and simultaneously sang.

Similarly, in “My Fools,” he played many unconventional instruments from the aforementioned paper sheet, to a mandolin sized banjo that I choose to call a banjo-lin, to the xylophone-like three wooden boards in his lap, to an un-tunable mistakenly built guitar, along with more conventional instruments such as a tuba, a piano, and a couple accordions. Each instrument is always accompanied by his signature, effortlessly soaring, choirboy voice that goes from operatic to beatbox.

While “My Fools” is not the kind of work that really fits within the genre of time-based art, it offers a deep and inspiring window into the world of a great artist at work. Eckert brings to the stage his personal artistic inquiry, an inquiry that does not stop at his tireless self-imposed virtuosity, but opens doors for each instrument to show us its unique virtue.

Upcoming Performances

September 30, Performance by Spenser Theberge and Jermaine Spivey
October 6-8, Diavolo-Architecture in Motion, White Bird
October 7-25, A Photo Exhibit of Fuse-Portland Dance Portrait, Jingzi Zhao
October 8-15, Giants, Oregon Ballet Theatre
October 13-15, Camille A. Brown & Dancers, White Bird
October 13-15, Bolero, NW Dance Project
October 20-29, BloodyVox, BodyVox
October 20-22, Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak, White Bird
October 21-22, Lines of Pull, The Holding Project
October 28-30, INCIPIO, PDX Contemporary Ballet
November 3-12, Reclaimed, Polaris Dance Theatre
November 4-6, Obstacles and Victory Songs, Stephanie Lavon Trotter and Dora Gaskill
November 11-13, Epoch, Jamuna Chiarini and push/FOLD-Samuel Hobbs
November 12-20, the last bell rings for you, Linda Austin Dance
November 17-19, Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group, White Bird
December 2-4, N.E.W. Expressive Works Residency Performance, Dana Detweiler, James Healey, Jessica Hightower, and Renee Sills
December 8-10, In Good Company, NW Dance Project
December 8-10, ARCANE COLLECTIVE, Presented by BodyVox
December 10-26, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 15-17, Complicated Woman, Katie Scherman/2016 Alembic Resident Artist
December 18, Gifts, a film by Clare Whistler/2015 Performance Works NW visiting artist
December 22-24, Cirque Dreams Holidaze, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland

One Response.

  1. House of Aquarius
    Morning of Movement Workshop
    Sept. 10, 2016

    For three years I’ve had the pleasure of working on the volunteer Press Corps team as photographer for the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art (TBA) Festival. I always loved documenting and watching the transformative experience of the varied movement and choreography workshops. Upon hearing that the House of Aquarius was facilitating a Morning of Movement workshop this year, I was unusually timely at registering for it. I had seen the collective perform at Holocene this past year for a Tribute to Erykah Badu, and it was the most spirited performance I had gone to in a long time. This workshop was transformative for me. I left the space (Studio 2 in SE Portland) feeling cleared of weight and filled with vibrant energy. Akela Jaffi, William Ylvisaker, and Grace Eucker were our group’s guides, leading the way for all of us to enter a liberated and expressive space for our bodies and minds. They had created altars for the four cardinal directions: North, South, East, West. The beginning of the workshop was a meditation where we laid on the floor and breathed into a more relaxed state of mind while Akele, Will, and Grace each read for a time on the interconnected power and spirit of the elements of Water, Air, Fire, and Earth. The soundtrack of meditative drums and soft thunderstorm sounds invited me to sink into myself. The three talented and spiritually generous dancers graced us with their humor, candor and beauty as they engaged us in stages of rhythm and movement. We learned some choreography from Grace, Will and Akele individually, working on hips, rhythm and sway movements; like Hip Hop, Jazz, and Soul movement mixed with loose, feel-good movement. After we danced and even had a soul train at one point, everyone’s heart beat higher and higher into an elevated state of clearing. The House of Aquarius are pure love, and truly facilitated the clearing of energy, spiritual connection and gift of healing for all of us.

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