Aika & Rose: So far, sounds good

Amanda Spring, a band world mainstay, preps a musical theater debut.

aika_rose

Amanda Spring, Shana Lindbeck, Sara Hernandez and Tai Carmen.

In the beginning, Amanda Spring’s haunting voice simply lilts “ah’s” over a ukelele. The drum clicks gradually up to speed as a clarinet calls and a trumpet answers. Now the uke swishes into a samba stung by dissonant jazz chords, suddenly Brazilian. But as the horns lift in unison over funky wah-wah keyboard, you can almost picture ’70’s flyover footage of a majestic mountain range. A military snare muscles in, building speed and intensity, breaking at the groan of the lone clarinet, which lays the medley to rest with a quieting sigh.

These guys are good…and that’s just the overture.

Aika & Rose will premiere at Headwaters Theatre this Thursday, starring composer/singer Amanda Spring and co-writer/singer Tai Carmen. Spring’s a newbie to theater, but a well-established local musicmaker perhaps best known as the girl from Point Juncture Washington and Ioa (which, as any eyerolling music nerd will tell you, are not places, they’re bands).

Back in the day when being a girl in a band was still considered a noteworthy talking point or even a gimmick [writer leans back in rocking chair, spits tobacco], Spring’s unparalleled drumming and singing silenced all doubt. Her contributions to the bands’ aesthetics were memorable, too, like detailed spraypaint stencils of cats and dogs and hand-customized t-shirts. In Point Juncture, Spring’s penchants blended in with the rest of her active, creative, instrument-swapping quintet. But by the time she created Ioa, her inaugural solo project, certain hallmarks had surfaced as her own.

Spring sets her melodies to elliptical, mathy polyrhythms. Her voice sounds like a pan flute patch synth: smooth yet hollow, punching in and out with no noticeable buildups or breaths. Her timing between beats is impeccable. She’s the ghost in the machine…and the machine itself. Lyrically, Spring favors impassioned stances in complete sentences. Ioa lets dead-serious melodic essays about veganism, empathy, and interpersonal connection permeate its swirling, elaborate pop-scape—a sonic and ideological breach of convention.

If plainspoken preaching is the vinegar in Spring’s musical flytrap, stories and sonic surprises are the honey. Aika & Rose, a “supernatural star-crossed teen lesbian love story” seems poised to split the difference. But let’s rejoin the practice in progress:

Spring, playing teen lesbian suitor Rose, plucks the air to “ring” the invisible doorbell of her beloved Aika’s house. She’s met by Aika’s mother Momoko (The Angry Orts’ Sara Hernandez) and entreats her for permission to enter. Momoko forcefully denies her, superstitious that she’ll inflict the home with bad luck. “…but I won’t take no!” sings Rose, cuing an avalanche of drum fill and a blast of rock music. Teen, indeed.

“Yeah, let’s leave that part hanging out there,” she nods. “…as an ‘Acting Moment, TM’.”

These weekends cap off a year of Sundays that Spring spent crafting Aika, enlisting writing partner Tai Carmen and a 7-piece band (Will Hattman, Ben Barnett, Neal Wright, Victor Nash, Ed and Paul Bubl, and Ayal Alves). Eventually, Carmen and Spring took roles as the title teens and added three other cast members (Hernandez, Shana Lindbeck of Orchestra Pacifico Tropicale, and Jaime Lee Currier). “I bribed them with food,” Spring claims.

With its Asian motifs, Aika & Rose was a shoo-in at Headwaters Theatre, Portland’s butoh stronghold; moreover, Spring and Headwaters’ impresario Mizu Desierto have a lot in common. Both women woodshed their work at spacious outposts; Desierto’s got Prior Day Farm in St. Johns; Spring and partner Victor Nash built their studio and practice space, Desination Universe, in a freestanding barn at the outskirts of Johnson Creek. Both artists buck their disciplines’ usual genre restrictions; each has built up a creative network eager to pile onto her projects. Mere food wouldn’t lure seven musicians to Johnson Creek every Sunday. Make no mistake, that took talent.

At Fertile Ground Festival, Action/Adventure Theatre, Hand2Mouth and more, new musicals abound. Portland’s oversaturated bandscape continues to spill over into musical theater, even as mainstream culture (namely Glee) newly champions the form. In the last year, comic small-stage musicals like Roadhouse, Troll II, The Waterman, and Oh F–k Oh Sh– It’s Love have ruled the genre, and have kept their content light, which doubles as a built-in buffer against audience expectations. Mess it up? Laugh it off.

Aika & Rose, on the other hand, feels closer to Ashley Hollingshead’s Today! and Tomorrow! series. It’s more ambitious than the comedies, more idealistic, more mystical, more exotic, and more earnest. This creates higher stakes. If any technical efforts falter, these mood(s) could be ruined. But as long as they hold, the emotional payoff may be great.

Will that door open for Rose? She’s on the threshold, she’s rung the bell, and she “won’t take no.”

____

A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury
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