TBA:13: Campo puts the ‘man’ in dance

The first big hit of the Time-Based Art Festival involves a little manly competition

By MATT STANGEL

From the back of the Winningstad Theater at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, I belly laugh through clinched teeth as a nude Guilherme Garrido leads a likewise naked Pieter Ampe around the stage by his penis, like a dog on a very short leash. It looks fairly painful, as has much of the contemporary dance duo’s choreography, but the audience laughs through it. We’ve been laughing all night. “Still Standing You” is that kind of show.

Just when it seems that Garrido will maintain the upper hand, Ampe returns the gesture and grabs Garrido’s penis. They stop in their tracks, each man holding the other’s member, as if challenging one another to a competition. They contort their bodies, twisting and wrapping around each other, keeping a firm grip. Garrido whispers “The Matrix” as if presenting some impressive style of martial arts or secret yoga position. They do look an awful lot like a mirrored pair of Neos dodging bullets in slow motion. You know, while holding each other’s dicks.

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Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido in "Still Standing You"/Photo by Gia Goodrich, courtesy of PICA

Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido in “Still Standing You”/Photo by Gia Goodrich, courtesy of PICA

The evening started as the audience filled the theater, Ampe laying flat on the stage with his legs held upright in the air, Garrido sitting on Ampe’s feet, using him like a highchair.

Someone shushes someone else and Garrido (together, Garrido and Ampe are called Campo) starts talking: No no, please talk, get to know each other. He muses on Portland, how it’s different from his hometown in Portugal. He notes people’s friendliness, the oddness of his Trimet experiences. He asks the audience for the name of the vegan strip club and is obliged—”Casa Diablo” bounces around the theater.

Every so often Garrido asks if the Time-Based Art Festival crowd is comfortable, his legs dangling in the air. The joke gets more laughs each time—yes, the audience is comfortable, but Ampe strains to make himself a chair under his collaborator’s weight. Garrido plays it clueless. It’s nice to have someone to support you, he adds.

The pair don’t look much like folks who are about to perform on a fancy stage in a contemporary dance context—jeans and T-shirts, sneakers—and as the lights dim and the show gets under way, they resemble less and less the stereotypical professional dancers at a contemporary art festival.

Funny hand gestures are sarcastically labeled “contemporary dance” and “avant-garde,” making light of the often-dead-serious disposition of modern professional dancers. It becomes more and more apparent: While, yes, these men are clearly trained professionals of the bodily arts, capable of feats of strength, agility, and endurance that only decades of training can explain, they’re playacting, positioning the show as much as performance art as dance.

Still Standing You – Pieter Ampe & Guilherme Garrido / CAMPO from CAMPO on Vimeo.

The pair stomp around the stage with machismo, doing velociraptor impressions and creating sound effects with their mouths like little boys bringing to life a battle between action figures. They hiss and bite and scratch, growl and slap and fondle. The notes I took read in blips, like, “men finding all the ways to entwine with each other,” and “violent and homoerotic in equal parts—a wrestling match becomes an embrace, a brutal attempt to throw a person across the stage is co-opted with a trapeze artist pose.”

They drag each other around, stomp on one another, engage in punching matches, give titty twisters, rip each other’s clothes off competitively. Belts are used as whips, faces are smushed into the ground, Superman underwear is worn like a helmet, and dramatic gestures that indicate “contemporary dance” are executed with sarcasm, exaggerated for humor’s sake.

My notes go on: “one guy eats underwear (doesn’t swallow),” “butoh for men joined at the penis,” “dick slapping competition.”

A bit after the show shifts to “Nakey Time” my notes stop. When the tone changes. Slowly, without warning, all the shock and awe of two naked men touching each other in bizarre and unexpected ways dissipates; they are no longer acting like cavemen, no longer committing bodily harm on one another. I realize the audience has become entirely silent for the first time in the show.

In a word, what is happening on stage is captivating, in stark contrast to what preceded. It’s kinda sweet, actually: Holding their bodies in a shifting series of angles, Garrido and Ampe finally reach a place of mutual support and shared balance. Nobody is dominating, as has been the theme of the night; the previous power struggle and oscillating moments of control are gone. The performers simultaneously offer and accept each other to achieve pyramidal, stacked, and puzzle-piece postures unattainable by one person.

Eventually, Ampe offers himself, once again, as a chair, and Garrido accepts. It rounds out the gestures of the evening before the men string together a few more sections of staged movement and take their bow.

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Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido, "Still Standing You"/Photo by Gia Goodrich courtesy of PICA

Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido, “Still Standing You”/Photo by Gia Goodrich courtesy of PICA

Leaving the Winningstad Theater toward the yellow Max, I carry some parting thoughts: As much as “Still Standing You” might come off as immature and steeped in shock value—it would probably be fair to use the word spectacle at some point—the conceptual footing is solid and important. It’s about establishing a space for masculinity in contemporary dance, an artform traditionally rooted in the feminine.

This is especially weighty after Thursday’s TBA:13 opening night performance from The Julie Ruin, a band frontwomaned by seminal riot grrrl figure Kathleen Hannah (who was a pioneer in carving out a safe space for women and feminism in punk rock culture and music). Where Hannah helped pave the way for women and feminism in punk rock, Garrido and Ampe follow, working to establish a space for men and masculinity in contemporary dance.

It’s exciting to see this kind of conversation play out between performances—a conversation about who can do what in the arts, and how that has changed and will continue to do so—and I can’t wait to see where TBA:13 will take things next.

 

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