pam tzeng

Risk/Reward Festival review: value proposition

Annual showcase takes audiences on the journey from artistic concept to realization

Here’s the deal with Portland’s annual Risk/Reward Festival. Artists take a risk by trying something new, often a segment of a work in progress, in a forum where audiences expect various levels of development. Audiences take a risk on new, unvetted work. The reward for the artists: audience feedback, a deadline to get work going, some ideas about how to proceed. For audiences: the thrill of seeing new, sometimes experimental work aborning — and this year, at whatever price they want to pay. More than ever, that deal is a real bargain.

Now in its 10th year, this year’s festival risked one filmed and five staged contributions, and produced as many different outcomes: a concept that seemed promising but the execution shaky, or simply incomplete; another that felt conceptually underdeveloped; another that seemed overextended — and one glorious creation that brought together a powerful concept with an exceptionally moving performance.

Linda Austin Dance’s ‘A world, a world.’ Photo: Chelsea Petrakis.

You could spot the driving concept for Linda Austin’s A world, a world on the floor, in the music, even on the dancers’ bodies: collage. Both costumes and floor design resembled a scattering of fragments, and the dancers “produce a constant low-level, barely or sporadically decipherable humming, mumbling, and singing of a textual collage from news headlines, songs & poetry, periodically going to headphones mounted on a movable step unit, to receive and channel sound bites referencing the worlds of politics, pop culture, ‘high’ culture, science and philosophy, riffing on these sound bites until they need another ‘hit.’” Austin’s program note explains. What showed up on stage was strolling dancers forming then abandoning various groupings and formations, gestures falling in and out of group coordination, while chanting random snippets of songs and other pop culture ephemera that elicited occasional chuckles of recognition.

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