Weekend DanceWatch: TBA goes local

Interviews with the local choreographers included in this year's TBA Festival

TBA really gets going tonight! What is TBA? TBA stands for Time-Based Art Festival (art in real time), and it’s the yearly festival produced by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, known as PICA—they sure do like their acronyms over there. It runs from September 10–20th.

PICA’s focus is supporting the development and creative processes of contemporary experimental performing and visual artists, artists who are distinctive, risk takers, visionaries, and leaders in their fields. PICA is also interested in curating a global conversation and helping audiences access art and see it in new ways. This 10-day festival features live performances, music, workshops, talks and art installations.

This year TBA hosts an unprecedented number of local Portland dance artists. Because of that, I decided to highlight those performing artists through short interviews so you can get to know them better. This is not to say that there aren’t other amazing dance performances to take note of because there are. You can check out the full schedule on PICA’s website.

Because this is TBA’s 20th anniversary, the festival will be honoring that legacy by looking back as well as looking ahead. This means that Mike Barber’s Ten Tiny Dances is back and with that, ten new performing groups will take to the infamous tiny stage at festival’s late-night performance and mingling space, The Works.

Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre/Northwest
7 & 9 pm, September 12
Sustainable Northwest Wood Lumberyard, 2701 SE 14th Ave.
Interested in redefining the dancer/audience relationship and conversing about industrial sprawl and locally harvested forests through dance, Heidi Duckler Dance Theater NW will be performing in a lumberyard as part of a two-part series, the first of which took place last weekend in Hoyt Arboretum.

TBA dance artist interviews


Keyon Gaskin dancing down the stairs in “it’s not a thing” at Black genus, genesis, genius at Central Library. Photo by Robert Duncan.

Keyon Gaskin dancing down the stairs in “it’s not a thing” at Black genus, genesis, genius at Central Library. Photo by Robert Duncan.

it’s not a thing 
keyon gaskin
September 11-12
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.

What artists have you been working with and are inspired by lately?
I’m working on “A Song To…”, a piece by Mia Habib made in Oslo, Norway, with a 16-person cast. Elisabeth Tambwe is my latest art crush!

What is “it’s not a thing” about?
A lot of things most of which I don’t know.

Can you talk about your choice to replace a dance photo of yourself and a traditional bio with a black rectangle and no words?
There is a photo of me, but I chose not to use words because I don’t want to provide context for or frame this work in that way, and the black box seems a more appropriate way. Also this piece has really made me think about how we engage or are expected to engage as artists and ways of subverting or challenging those expectations.

What is your process of dance making?
Living/multifarious/non-existent/inclusive of everything/contentious/surprising/while smoking cigarettes/in my head/out of research/reading/dancing in my room/observing/conversations/crying a lot/trying to understand theory/try to confuse everything/going deep/disregard/lots of laughing/offending/(un) learning…

Is there anything that you would like to talk about that I didn’t ask about?
That I’m rushing to write this at the last minute, per usual, seems pertinent to who I am as a person/maker, I guess.


Lucy Yim. Photo by Cristin Norine

Lucy Yim. Photo by Cristin Norine

Devastation Melody
Lucy Yim
PNCA Mediatheque, 511 NW Broadway, Room 107
September 12-14

Please tell me about Devastation Melody. What is it about? When did you begin working on it?

Devastation Melody is my attempt at articulating a sensation/feeling that I have had for a lot of my life. In my 20’s I had this internship in Paris with a group of other Americans and we were late for our flight back to Spain. One of the girls had pissed off the cab driver because she was pressuring him to drive faster. When we got there, everyone except for me started running through the airport, knocking people over on the way. I was very awarely ashamed of the spectacle happening in front of me, all these hyper entitled Americans running over people…. I was walking quickly behind them, when one of them turns back and yells, “What the fuck is wrong with you?! Hurry up! Are you always like this?” I of course had no time to reply. The plane had already left without us at this point.

Maybe I tell you this story because that question is still lingering for me in a very abstracted way. There is a quiet trauma, like a whisper, that is a familiar friend—the sensation I am talking about. How it has been shaped interacts socially and culturally through the body and through language. I was interested in creating a work from this sensation through the medium of performance because of the direct audience-performer relationship, which to me echoes its internal/external shaping with the socio-cultural.

There are many things Devastation Melody is “about” and the way I have been articulating it in a way that one can read as a coherent statement is, Devastation Melody is a work exploring the space where mourning and melancholia intersect. It comes from the personal, but I am taking a good hard look at what my body, fragmented and non-synchronous, speaks to a larger culture. I am asking if it does speak to a larger culture. I am making what is invisible, visible and asking why they are. One concrete example of this is sexuality. I am drawing connections between the assumed hetero-ness of my body and the model minority myth. I am wrestling with where my responsibility to unpack, dismantle, unhinge the myth lies.

In my research and making of this work there are all sorts of double standards that are popping up, and they might be my own paranoia around being an artist of color making work that circles that part of my identity, but I don’t know. I don’t think I will know until I perform it.

How has the Creative Exchange Lab influenced you, helped you?
CEL was amazing. Any supported time to create is helpful. I am so active in supporting this performance community here in Portland with Physical Education, it was timely. It allowed me to step away for a moment. I have to say that all of the PICA ladies are quite phenomenal people and they have been very supportive of me and my work. I am so incredibly appreciative, and they make me quite proud to be a part of this community. Meeting the other artists and getting a glimpse into how hard everyone works and how invested in their craft they are, was inspiring. The other artists are further along in their careers, so from my vantage point, it was motivating. I took great strides in prioritizing this work after CEL, and I don’t think that was coincidental.

Who/what influences your work?
I am going to intentionally answer this question in a particular way that I think will give a context for Devastation Melody rather than me as an artist because I am quite scattered in my influences. I became acutely aware of the lack of experimental/avant-garde artists/poets/performers of color and took time for that research. I looked at the poetry and film work of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, she has been a big influence, as well as installation, sound artist Nam June Paik. The psychoanalytic research of Anne Anlin Cheng and David Eng on racial grief, the consideration of racial grief in relation to queer theory through the writing of Dina Georgis, and the book The Senses Still by Nadia Seremetakis on the dissolving of culture….

What is your process of dance making?
Being inside of a process gives access to a whole world of want and curiosity. I can already see the desires and the questions that will go unanswered in Devastation Melody that will inform the next project. It’s comforting in a way as it relieves the pressure to fit it all into one piece. I want to say it all, but I cannot, or maybe I could, but I do not know how to with where I am at right now. It’s like rollover minutes. And, I don’t have a definable process of making per-se. I do have a definable process of neurosis and creative surges inside of a process. It’s bodily and intuitive.

Suniti Dernovsek performing in Leading Light as part of the New Expressive Works residency at Studio 2 @ Zoomtopia.

Suniti Dernovsek performing in Leading Light as part of the New Expressive Works residency at Studio 2 @ Zoomtopia.

Leading Light
Suniti Dernovsek
September 12-13
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.

Can you tell me what Leading Light is about?
Leading Light began with a clear idea to research the life of well-known singer Dalida. She received great recognition but dealt with depression and unbearable loss and ended her life by ingesting barbiturates. As I pondered her life I kept coming back to what was personal and relevant for me at present. Questions arose in regards to presentation and the vulnerability in expressing what feels honest. How do I include all of myself? While in the act of dancing, the dance kept asking more questions and offering ideas. The work began to examine the performer’s role in expressing an ideal versus what is intimate and honest. I am in a place in the process where the dance feels like it knows more than me yet I continue to find interest in investigating a body that has perfected posturing and presentation but is consumed by a mind that self-identifies with its scars and is unwilling to part with them.

When did you begin working on this piece?
In the second half of last year I received a six-month residency at Studio 2 and made a 20-minute solo, which currently has become a broken up section that will eventually be part of a larger work. For the TBA Festival I have reconfigured and reconsidered this 20 minute solo to show it one last time.  It feels like an important part of the process for me to find an embodied intimacy and clarity within my choreographic vision.

I am premiering the evening length work in December at Studio 2, and it will include performer Allie Hankins and live music by Holland Andrews.

What does your studio/dance making practice look like?
It’s different all the time. I have many practices. I keep making more to break up the predictability.  I move, I ask questions, I journal, I read, I bring in other artists to inspire and wreck what I make, I look for surprises, I look for what is interesting, different and what’s the same.

Luke Gutgsell performing in The Self Possessed as part of the New Expressive Works residency at Studio 2 @ Zoomtopia .

Luke Gutgsell performing in The Self Possessed as part of the New Expressive Works residency at Studio 2 @ Zoomtopia .

The Self Possessed
Luke Gutgsell
September 12-13
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.

What is The Self Possessed about?

The Self Possessed is about the attempts I make to change events through the powers of imagination rather than real world engagement. The work is, at times, a bizarre form of prayer and ritual intended to provide a protective shield from the perceived threats of the world. The work speaks to my opposing feelings in the face of love—my reluctance to bond and simultaneous desire for intimacy.

In one section of the work I try to inhabit my body from the inside while experiencing the vastness of space around me. I become lost in my cells and the eternal falling feeling of the stars. This piece highlights the bazar feeling of being both an infinitely vast network of awareness and lump of flesh stamped with culture.

This dance is about claiming my gayness and aligning myself with people of all types who are proud to be exactly who they are. It is a practice in saying, “I am this and not that. I can say yes AND say no. I have a border between my body and yours, and yet I am here, accessible to you. You can see me if you would like. Even in these high heels.

The Self Possessed is about the strength of vulnerability and the vulnerability of strength. It is about the rejection of male standards of behavior and beauty. It is an elegy for the hours of punishment and denial that I have inflicted upon my body so that I might be “loved” a little more and seen as strong, masculine and forever young.

Even though this work deals with some tough issues, it is not without ample doses of humor, compassion and generosity.


The movement vocabularies of Trisha Brown and the late Merce Cunningham have been a huge influence on my dancing. Also my time spent in the companies of David Dorfman, Risa Jaroslow and Tiffany Mills really shaped my approach to making dances. These three choreographers bring interpersonal dynamics and broader societal issues into their work in a way that Brown and Cunningham did not. My own work contains both abstraction and meaningful content. It is not my goal to neatly portray any one idea but rather to explore all of the nooks and crannies in and around any number of related themes. I try and leave it up to the audience to decide what to take away.

You have a collaborator in this piece?
The piece was originally developed as a solo, but I asked Nicholas Daulton to join the process about two-thirds of the way through. Nicholas brought a wealth of great ideas to the table that definitely changed its overall content. I wanted the work to highlight his theatrical sensibility, humor and Waacking skills. It was very important to me that this work honestly present Nicholas as the extraordinary individual that he is.

What is your process like?
The Self Possessed was made in the context of the New Expressive Works residency at Subashini Ganesan’s Studio 2 in Portland. Four artists were given about 6 months to create a 20ish minute long piece which would be performed at the end of residency. Along the way we met as a group on 4 occasions. During these meetings, which were facilitated by Katherine Longstreth, we provided feedback about each other’s work using the Fieldwork method. This method assured that the feedback given was free of value judgements and relevant to the inquiries and interests of the artist. Having to be accountable on 4 occasions within the course of the process encouraged a productivity and forward momentum that really benefited the work.

I do not have a consistent studio practice so I create opportunities to improvise with or without music in any number of public and private spaces. I record and study the improvisations and then post many of them to the internet.

Mike Barber leaping into the very first Ten Tiny Dance. Photo by Jim Lykins.

Mike Barber leaping into the very first Ten Tiny Dance. Photo by Jim Lykins.

Ten Tiny Dances
Jen Hackworth, Subashini Ganesan, 11: Dance Co., James Healy, sub.set dance, Dawn Stoppiello, Michelle Ellsworth, Wade Madsen, Vincent Lopez, and Keith Hennessy
9 pm, September 14
The Works at The Redd, 831 SE Salmon St

Interview with Mike Barber, founder and curator of Ten Tiny Dances.

How did Ten Tiny begin?
I wanted to come up with a unique idea for a fundraiser for my first full evening’s work. Cold called the guys at Crush and  asked if I could stage a dance performance/fundraiser there and knew I’d need to make a small stage to fit the small space…some of us also  danced on the bar. Was rehearsing with Randee (Pauvee) in SF when we thought of the name. Go figure. Hadn’t planned on its success or it being a series.

Tiny is back! Where did it go? What brought it back? Is it back for good?

I’m glad it’s back. It ran for nine years straight at TBA, and both I and the PICA folks thought it would be good to take a break. I approached Erin about bringing it back this year. I’m so happy and satisfied for the run it has had….future is up in the air.

Who are the artists performing tiny dances?

A mix of local and visiting artists, some emerging, some established. Local: Jen Hackworth, Subashini Ganesan, 11: Dance Co., James Healy, sub.set dance, and Dawn Stoppiello. Visiting: Michelle Ellsworth, Wade Madsen, Vincent Lopez, and Keith Hennessy.

What is your process in choosing performers? What are you looking for? How do you curate the evening?
I work for balance…of emerging and established, male female, artistic form. For the TBA event, I collaborate in the curation with Erin (Boberg, PICA’s performing arts program director) and Angela (Mattox, PICA’s artistic director). I seek out performers who I find interesting or who I feel would be a good match….but also respond to folks who have asked/expressed interest.

2 Responses.

  1. Lc_allison says:

    “It’s not a thing” is aptly named….it is nothing. It is not interesting, it is not fun, it is not funny, it is not thoughty. Most performers strive to connect with their audience. Not this time! The first 10 minutes is in the dark with the performer stomping back and forth, muttering and screaming, sometimes slamming doors. You can not understand most of what is said. When the lights come on and after he tells you all the things he hates he requires all people to come down on the stage, rub their hands while he stalks through the crowd lip singing to rap music, dancing with a frying pan, taking his pants off (naked), climbing the chairs and ending by kicking every one out. Short (thank god) and boring. Huh?.?.?.?

  2. Oregon ArtsWatch says:

    I feel like there has to be a safe platform for artists to experiment and TBA seems to be just that. Thank you for your review on “It’s not a thing.” I would love to read more audience reviews on the performances that they see. This was enjoyable.

Comments are closed.

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