SALT on America’s wounds

Inspired by Gandhi's Salt March of resistance, Shaking the Tree's new venture blends art, theater, and dance in a collective raised voice

Shaking the Tree Theatre, under the artistic direction of the imaginative Samantha Van Der Merwe, incorporates visual art into each of its theatrical performances. With SALT, opening Tuesday for an all-too-brief six-day run, Shaking the Tree is flipping that concept on its head. SALT is the first of Shaking the Tree’s acts of resistance – “in direct response,” according to the SALT program, “to a Trump presidency and its implications of hate, exclusion, bigotry, and fear.”

Van Der Merwe was inspired to create this first act in Shaking the Tree’s four-year project by Gandhi’s speech on the eve of the 1930 Salt March (or Dandi March). In that speech, he famously encouraged his followers to resist peacefully. “We have resolved to utilize all our resources in the pursuit of an exclusively nonviolent struggle, he said. “Let no one commit a wrong in anger. This is my hope and prayer. I wish these words of mine reached every nook and corner of the land.” Van Der Merwe asked a cross-section of the city’s finest artists — from many cultures, genres, and backgrounds — to use Gandhi’s speech as a jumping-off point.

SALT teams around Samantha Van Der Merwe’s “Thread.” Photo: Meg Nanna

The Shaking the Tree space is divided into eight 8×8 boxes, and each artist (with Van Der Merwe’s piece, created out of salt, in the center) was given that space to create something, anything. Some artists will be performing as part of their piece, or have others performing. Some is visual art. Some have video. Some are interactive.

We asked each artist the same five questions, as they were putting the final touches on their pieces, to give you a sense of what to expect at SALT, which opens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 1, and continues daily through Sunday, May 6, at 7 p.m. (with additional 2 p.m. showings on Saturday and Sunday only).

 

 


 

“Acts of Existence.” Photo: Meg Nanna

Lava Alapai and Alex Ramirez de Cruz

Acts of Existence

“We were inspired by local members of our queer community because the simple, but radical act of being our authentic selves IS a form of resistance.”

Q: Describe your piece in one sentence.

A: We conducted interviews with six individuals about their experiences existing/resisting as LGBTQ+ here in Portland, and cultivated an intimate space for you to LISTEN to them, REFLECT upon how you can make changes both personal and public, and TAKE ACTION by committing to a small act of resistance.

Q: Tell us what your piece means to you.

A: The piece is definitely personal. Not only are we an artist pair, but we are gay women of color, who happen to be married to each other. We were fortunate to interview a diverse group of queer individuals for the piece, that continued to throw into focus how we are different, what binds us, and it reinforced for the two of us that we need to acknowledge those differences, inequities, and voices that exist WITHIN the queer community. We cannot assume that we are all fighting equally or for the same issues. We ALL need to spend more time listening to one another, so we can be better accomplices for each other.

Q: What do you hope the audience takes from your piece?

A: We hope the audience will feel inspired by all the pieces in SALT to take action and RESIST within our community by supporting individuals/organizations that are fighting with marginalized groups, who are suffering most under our current administration.

Q: What is the best thing about being part of SALT?

Being able to be a part of such a diverse group of artists. Diverse in our identities, our experiences, and our artistic disciplines. It has been fascinating to see what each group created from the same prompt.

Q: What has been the most challenging?

A: We accumulated hours of footage from the six interviews we conducted; hours full of rich experiences, honesty, pain and joy, and to edit that footage down to a few minutes was so incredibly difficult.

 


 

“Jane the Cleaver’s Bitch in the Kitchen.” Photo: Meg Nanna

Bobby Bermea and Jamie M. Rea

Jane the Cleaver’s Bitch in the Kitchen

“The baking show that asks the question, ‘Why shouldn’t my place be in the kitchen, since that’s where all the big knives are kept?’ ”; with Caitlin Nolan

Q: Describe your piece in one sentence.

A: Jane the Cleaver, everybody’s favorite, sassy, card-carrying, ball-busting, unapologetic, #MeToo feminazi, takes you on a culinary journey through the finer points of baking cinnamon rolls and smashing the patriarchy.

Q: Tell us what your piece means to you.

A: Our piece is a straightforward, without-qualms backlash to the backlash against the #MeToo movement. We take it personally that the patriarchy in this country — or any country — refuses to evolve and, further, deliberately fight any attempt on our part to do so. To paraphrase a famed revolutionary against the status quo: Women have a right to be hostile; we’ve been cat-called, groped, raped, and killed, all while making less money on the dollar and it’s time that sh*t was ended and if you don’t like it, get out of the way.

Q: What do you hope the audience takes from your piece?

A: We hope that people laugh and have fun, and at the same time see that it’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to demand change, and from housewife to transgender, every woman is the law and the final word on the autonomy of her own body. And goddamn! Why does this even need to be said, let alone fought for, in 2018?

And that Caitlin Nolan is one of the funniest and most unusual performers in Portland.

Q: What is the best thing about being part of SALT?

A: The best part about being part of SALT is working in collaboration with some of the finest and most singular artists in Portland on a cause we all believe in: being a direct force for change.

The worst president in the history of the United States is in power right now and he’s bringing out all the worst elements of our already deeply flawed empire. But we don’t have to take that lying down. The installation format of this work allows for a variety of perspectives through diversity of form as well as content.

As we each create a stand-alone exhibit in dialogue with those of each other artist, we are a living microcosm of the revolution we are calling for from our greater community. SALT is our shot across the bow. We have not yet begun to fight.

Q: What has been the most challenging?

A: Baking. It’s freaking chemistry. Have you ever done chemistry while performing? Next time we’ll do a piece with something simple — like brain surgery.

 

 


 

Simeon Jacob in Sabina Haque’s “Belonging.” Photo: Meg Nanna

Sabina Haque

Belonging

Participatory installation with projected animations, video, and live performance.

Q: Describe your piece in one sentence.

A: Belonging is a portal-like space that explores the resistance to and transcendence of the many boundaries faced in our world: emotional, political, physical. Once we cross a border we get a certificate of belonging. What is it in our human nature that wants to push the next newcomer out? This cycle of welcoming and excluding is explored through projected animated shadow movements and live dancers that transgress these man-made borderlines.

Q: Tell us what your piece means to you. What do you hope the audience takes from your piece?

A: As the audience/participants move through the space, which contains projected images of hands, faces, maps, oceans, they are invited to consider the many physical and aspirational ways one might cross a boundary. As an ‘in-between place’ the installation also offers a kind of zone of neutrality, in which all choices are possible, and in which one can safely reflect on how we find belonging in a world both intensely connected and sharply divided.

Q: What is the best thing about being part of SALT? What has been the most challenging?

As a visual artist, SALT gave me the opportunity to make a participatory installation and work with dancers, which is new and exciting territory for me. Working with such a big production team of artist, performers, videographers and collaborators was both exciting and challenging.

 

 


 

“In Cryptic City, Entertainment Is King.” Photo: Meg Nanna

Infinit_Indigos

In Cryptic City, Entertainment is King

The Indigos are a multifaceted group with the intention of broadening the lens of modern art and entertainment through mind, body, and spirit: Aries Annitya (writer, director, actor), Eric Law (music, writer, director), Kristina Pedersen (wardrobe, creative consultant), and Jacob Beaver (writer, actor)

Q: Describe your piece in one sentence.

A: An exploration of isolation, purpose, and the senses of our reality.

Q: Tell us what your piece means to you.

A: It’s time we start broadening our minds to think beyond the physical and material, for our senses are what locks us into a reality that blocks the spiritual and what is still unknown.

Q: What do you hope the audience takes from your piece?

A: We hope the audience will be open to the inquisitive nature of mindfulness and will question the resonance of society’s choices as well as their own.

Q: What is the best thing about being part of SALT?

A: SALT has given us as artists a chance to explore different experiences and perspectives of humanity.

Q: What has been the most challenging?

A: The most challenging thing has been seeing how these stories connect to a similar theme but still have their own individuality.

 

 


Anya Pearson’s “Above a Whisper.” Photo: Meg Nanna

Anya Pearson

Above a Whisper

A fusion of poetry, contemporary dance, visual art, and film that explores sexual harassment; with Kayla Banks (dancer) and Tammy Jo Wilson (visual artist)

Q: Describe your piece in one sentence.

A: Above a Whisper is a fusion of poetry, contemporary dance, visual art, and film, which explores sexual harassment. Based on true events, the narrative follows the story of Anya’s experience of being sexually harassed by her college dean at Duke University, a man who wanted to be her father and her boyfriend at the same time.

Q: Tell us what your piece means to you.

A: I started out wanting to write a piece about the entire #MeToo movement, something for every woman. Instead, I have written a deeply personal story about my experience of sexual harassment in college. Being sexually harassed by my dean was extremely scarring for me, it was incredibly painful, and altered the entire course of my life.

I did not have the strength to talk about it for many years. I am finally strong enough to talk about it and despite how hard it is to do so, I hope in doing so, I can make space for women to speak their truths.

Q: What do you hope the audience takes from your piece?

A: As an artist, I don’t like boxes. I don’t like to color in the lines and I’m not interested in telling stories that fit within the dominant cultural narrative. So instead of me making a traditional one-woman show where I just tell my story, I wanted to make a piece where I am speaking multiple artistic languages. An audience’s experience of a piece is subjective; one person is going to take more from the dance, another from the story, and yet someone else, from the visual art.

I wanted to give the audience an opportunity to interact with the piece on their own terms. I do not want to dictate the experience of the audience but I hope people will find resonance with the piece, with feeling lost at 20, and with the unfortunately familiar position of being a woman who is taken advantage of by a man in a position of power.

Q: What is the best thing about being part of SALT?

A: The thing that excites me most about SALT is the collection of voices coming together to resist tyranny, oppression, and injustice. Each piece is so unique, but each is made with love and passion and a genuine desire to replace the hate in our current political climate with something more compassionate and human.

Q: What has been the most challenging?

The most challenging part has definitely been flying back to Portland from New York on Friday and going into tech on Saturday. I’ve been in New York for the past three weeks because my play, Made To Dance in Burning Buildings, just performed at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater. Juggling the two projects has been quite the challenge but I think, lack of sleep aside, I have managed it pretty successfully.

 

 


 

“The Lottery of Birth.” Photo: Meg Nanna

Chris Ringkamp

The Lottery of Birth

“The Lottery of Birth is resisting the notion that inequality is inevitable and the system is just.

“No life is disposable.

“No labor undignified.

“Inequality is not an inevitability.

“The system is not just.”

Q: Describe your piece in one sentence.

A: Lottery of Birth examines the nature of privilege and how it functions to maintain the status quo of a broken system.

Q: Tell us what your piece means to you.

A: To me, Lottery of Birth investigates the absurdity of how something completely beyond our control will determine the likelihood of our success.

Q: What do you hope the audience takes from your piece?

A: I hope the audience can use my piece as a springboard for further introspection. It is necessary to have hard conversations with ourselves on the daily.

Q: What is the best thing about being part of SALT?

SALT is a revolutionary piece in and of itself. I feel honored to be in the same space as these incredible artists. Sam has found a great format for the series and it truly gives space for each artist’s voice to shine.

Q: What has been the most challenging?

A: The biggest challenge has been pushing myself to be true to the piece, as well as the exhibition as a whole. The other pieces are strikingly powerful. Great art always challenges.

 

 


 

Beth Thompson’s “Container/Contained.” Photo: Meg Nanna

Beth Thompson

Container/Contained

“This incomplete picture is dedicated to the 70,000 women who died last year of unsafe abortions. These paper dolls are representations of the lives they sacrificed in the act of saying ‘My life is mine to direct.’ ”

Q: Describe your piece in one sentence.

A: A reflection in space and performance on the continued consequences of reproductive freedom in one family.

Q: Tell us what your piece means to you.

A: It’s an uncomfortably personal piece and so intimate it feels hard for me to see what it means to me. But, what has continued to direct my process is the continued isolation of and subjugation of women’s bodies and women’s power. The piece was inspired consciously by words Rep. Paul Ryan used in his response to Trump’s Pussy Grabbing recording, “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified.”

The perception that women need to be saved and idolized is a pervasive style of objectification. Unconsciously, I realize it was inspired by a dream Miss Julie has in Strindberg’s Miss Julie about being trapped on a pedestal and jumping to her death being the only way out. We have a great deal of work to do personally and politically to release women culturally and systematically from The Whore, The Mother, and The Virgin paradigm.

Q: What do you hope the audience takes from your piece?

A: We still have work to do and a big part of that work is the telling of our own stories and acknowledging them as valid. And, hopefully a reminder that you are not doing that hard work alone.

Q: What is the best thing about being part of SALT?

A: The combination of The Obligation and The Support. The nature of the production asked me to make something out of my comfort zone and that is a wild gift. Additionally, having access to a “traditional” design team and Sam’s (Van Der Merwe) willingness to give me her feedback gave me the technical expertise, inspiration, and care I needed to make the piece happen as it revealed itself.

Q: What has been the most challenging?

A: Cultivating content in a room by myself and not losing the work to judgment. I am primarily a theater artist. I’m used to doing the majority of my work in a room filled with other fearful, courageous and inspiring artists who, simply by their example, remind me to trust. Cultivating that practice of trust on my lonesome was hard. I’m really grateful for a few crucial times I bumped into Sam (Van Der Merwe) in the studio, vented my frustrations with myself and she would just point to another quote on her wall.

This gem from Martha Graham on the uniqueness of each artistic voice was a well-timed gift: “It is not your business to determine how good nor valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself aware and open to the urges that motivate you.”

 

 


 

“undercurrent” installation. Photo: Namita Gupta Wiggers

Namita Gupta Wiggers

undercurrent

Materials: Khadi cloth, fabric remnants, discarded textiles from the Goodwill, paint, Borax

Q: Describe your piece in one sentence.

A: In this era of the largest refugee crisis in decades, perhaps ever in human history, undercurrent is a space to contemplate what it takes to leave every person and everything known and familiar and move — by force or by will — to another place. Here, salt, ice, and cotton are metaphors and materials, and bear witness to revolution, atrocity, and the everyday.

Q: Tell us what your piece means to you.

A: I am most American when abroad, and most Indian when at home.

Q: What do you hope the audience takes from your piece?

A: In this moment of xenophobia and resistance to isolationism, who around us is at risk and needs help?

Q: What is the best thing about being part of SALT?

A: Incredible commitment to open collaboration and making space for voice and expression by Shaking the Tree Theatre. It is a space to express the personal in public, and to feel community in conjunction with all the performers and artists brought together by Samantha van der Merwe.

Q: What has been the most challenging?

A: Creating an installation for the first time.

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SALT opens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 1, and continues daily through Sunday, May 6, at 7 p.m. (with additional 2 p.m. showings on Saturday and Sunday only). 

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