MusicWatch Monthly: American mestizaje

Caroline Shaw, nyckelharpa and hardanger fiddle, Carnatic voice and violin, harps and drums, and American gothick

As we said a few weeks ago, American musical culture–whether we define “American” as USA, North America, or the entire New World–is above all immigrant musical culture. This seems to hold true for a broad interpretation of “immigrant” which includes, at the very minimum: Puritans and other English-speaking immigrants, with their blend of English, Irish, Scottish, and European traditions; abducted Africans with their own blend of classical and folk traditions; indigenous Peoples across North and South America who found their musical cultures decimated, consumed, and alienated by the arrival of Wendigo; and the successive waves of cultures pouring out of war-torn regions across the world, from Italy and Russia to India and Japan, all bringing their cultures with them and adding to the great and glorious New World Melting Pot.

To be fair, there’s another word that covers all this melting pottedness, and we’d like to follow Gabriela Lena Frank’s lead and adopt a term she borrowed from Peruvian anthropologist José María Arguedas: mestizaje. So let’s go all out and say that American culture is mestizaje culture. Sound good? Great!

The week ahead

Of all the living traditions that thrive in fair Oregon, the one we most enjoy paying attention to is the Contemporary Classical Tradition. We just love the way contemporary composers–like Portland’s David Schiff and this month’s guest star Caroline Shaw–tend the gardens of American Classical Music by embracing both the musicks of their predecessors and the distinctly mestizaje aspect of American culture. (Read more about Shaw and Schiff here and here).


The Week: TBA or not TBA?

As the contemporary arts festival surges onto an already bulging September calendar, that is the question.

A NEW CROP OF APPLES IS HITTING THE PRODUCE STANDS. Lush ripe tomatoes are overflowing gardens and markets. Cukes are ready for pickling. America’s schoolchildren, ready or not, are back in the saddle again. And today, for the 17th year, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s annual TBA Festival kicks off again. “TBA” stands for “Time-Based Art,” which mainly means performance – art that takes place in a set period of time, in front of an audience – although visual art’s part of the mix, too. And the time is very contemporary: the art of today, for good and sometimes ill. As PICA puts it, the festival, which runs in venues around Portland through Sept. 15, “gathers artists and audiences from around the world” for eleven days of “contemporary performance, music, visual art, film, workshops, lectures, food, drink, conversation, and celebration.” 

Eiko Otake. Photo courtesy Joseph Scheer, IEA at NYSCC, via PICA

Over the years TBA’s had a lot of hits and a lot of misses. Its emphasis on non-traditional and resolutely experimental work can elevate the narcissistic and the sloppy. It can also champion fresh art of astonishing provocation and beauty, as it did in the festival’s very first incarnation, on Sept. 11, 2003, when, on the second anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, the great butoh-influenced performers Eiko and Koma stunned their Portland audience with an outdoor performance in and around the water at Jamison Square, beneath a darkening sky. That performance, eloquently titled Offering, was sad, deep, ghostlike, hopeful, profound. “It strikes me, on this anniversary of death, that the world’s war-makers would detest this dance, which is about deep truths that can’t be glossed or managed,” I wrote at the time. “One watches an invisible flight of ideas. It is the holy and the profane, inseparable, wrapped into one. A mystery.”

The good news is that Eiko Otake is back at TBA for the first time since that 2003 performance, and she’ll be a busy part of things. You can see her tonight, at TBA’s opening reception, in her evolving piece A Body in Places, based on her return to post-nuclear disaster Fukushima. Prints and video works will also be on view through Oct. 24 at PNCA’s 511 Gallery. There’ll be a screening of her film A Body in Fukushima: Reflections on the Nuclear in Everyday Life, on Sept. 9. She’ll perform her Duet Project: Distance Is Malleable, with several collaborators, Sep. 12-14. And in a free event on Sept. 13, she’ll be in conversation with chroreographer Linda K. Johnson and PICA Artistic Director Kristan Kennedy.



DanceWatch Monthly: TBA gets it going

This year's Time-Based Art Festival is loaded with dance events, and the rest of the month is brimming with dance, too

It’s September and it’s time to celebrate because Portland’s 2019-2020 dance season is here, and it’s tremendous! Listed below are September’s performances as well as all of the dance related performances that I am aware of in Oregon from now until next summer. The list will of course grow as new performances pop up, so check back often. Spend time with the list, ogle its greatness, click the links, and research at will. There is a lot to choose from and you don’t want to miss a thing!

The incredible amount of Portland dance offerings this year span American modern dance history, show breadth in style and approach, represent different cultures/counter cultures and countries, offer many ways to interact with them, and will be performed by local, national, and international dance companies and artists.

This week? It’s TBA time! TBA stands for Time-Based Art, and it’s the Portland Institute For Contemporary Art’s annual 10-day festival (September 5-15) of performance, music, visual art, film, workshops, lectures, and after-hours parties. The festival is inherently interdisciplinary and champions local, national and international artists who reflect and respond to our times. It’s a mind-altering, opinion-changing, heart-opening extravaganza of the senses. 

This year, the work of legendary, slow-motion Japanese performance artist Eiko Otake opens the festival and her work is woven throughout, an homage to Eiko and her dance partner Koma. During TBA’s inaugural Festival in 2003, Eiko and Koma performed “Offering,” a meditation on sorrow, in Portland’s Jamison Square fountains.

Below I have highlighted the dance-centric TBA events along with other September dance performances, because that’s what we do here at DanceWatch. For the full schedule of TBA events go to PICA’s website. Enjoy!

September Performances by week

Week 1: September 2-8

Members of the cast of In the Heights. Photo courtesy of Michael Brosilow/Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

In The Heights
Music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, directed by May Andrales
August 31-October 13
Portland Center Stage at The Armory, 128 NW Eleventh Ave

In a Dominican-American community in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, life is bubbling on a hot summer day in this tale of a neighborhood’s struggles and sacrifices in search of identity and place, by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Premiering in 1999, this Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical directed by May Adrales (she also directed Chinglish or Portland Center Stage), with choreography by William Carlos Angulo, brings hip-hop and the sounds of salsa, merengue, soul, and rhythm and blues, to center stage. 

Renowned Japanese dancer Eiko Otake, in her solo work, A Body in Places. Photo courtesy of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.

A Body in Places (TBA:19)
Eiko Otake 
Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
6 -8 pm September 5 (Opening Reception) 
September 5 – October 24, Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at PNCA, 511 NW Broadway, Free

Inaugurating the opening of TBA’s 19th festival, Eiko Otake, one half of the renowned Japanese dance duo, Eiko and Koma, will perform her 2014 solo, A Body in Places, in and around the Pacific Northwest College of Art’s exhibition gallery. The work has been performed in 40 sites around the world, and it responds to the architectural elements of the gallery, the audience, nature, time and space, death, family, politics, and Eiko’s experience revisiting the nuclear disaster site of Fukushima. 


MusicWatch Monthly: A Septemberful of ‘music’

"Classical" music, "Hip-hop" music, "Queer" music, "Experimental" music

Well, friends, you’ve got a helluva nice September to look forward to. Oregon Symphony provides live backup to the greatest movie of all time and also Wyclef Jean. Cappella Romana performs a bunch of Byzantine music, Kalakendra and Rasika present Indian classical music and dance, Nordic folk band Sver comes to Alberta Rose, and local rapper Fountaine headlines a free Labor Day hip-hop fest.

FearNoMusic and Third Angle swing back into full Relevant Classical mode this month, while Oregon Repertory Singers perform local composer Joan Szymko. Portland State’s Queer Opera presents gender-bent opera scenes and art songs, Dolphin Midwives plays a Harvest Moon Cacao Ceremony, and the Extradition Series imports a Canadian trumpeter.

We’ve even got a few concerts for you outside the Portland metro area, in case the shame trolls decide they want another helping of bananafied humiliation optics, police cover, wasted city resources, and charitable donations.

“Drip, drip.”


What is involved in the making of a dance? What does the duality of Shiva and Krishna look like in Bharatanatyam? What happens behind the scenes at a circus? What does the space between two people look like? How do you play a skeleton piano? How can you express yourself in performance beyond the conventional? What happens when you bring a writer, dancer and a filmmaker together in a small space? These are all questions that this weekend’s performances will address. If you don’t go, you will never know.

Evidence of a dance, Marginal Evidence by Katherine Longstreth.

Evidence of a dance, Marginal Evidence by Katherine Longstreth.

Marginal Evidence (an interactive experience of dance-making),
Katherine Longstreth
October 1 – November 14
White Box, 24 NW 1st Ave
6 pm October 1, Opening Reception
3 pm November 7, Panel discussion with paleontologist Theodore Fremd, artist Sara Huston, and Mark Johnson, a criminologist with the Portland Police Bureau.

Twenty years ago Katherine Longstreth, a Portland dance artist, received a camera for Christmas from her father, she took the camera to rehearsal, turned it on and forgot about it. Twenty years later after moving to Portland Oregon from New York she unpacked and found these beta tapes, had them converted and realized that they were the only record she had of the full rehearsal process of any of the dances she ever made. Little did she know that the footage she took of herself in those rehearsals, would become the spark for Marginal Evidence, a visual art exhibit that she developed, which opens tonight, at University of Oregon’s White Box gallery.

Marginal Evidence is a visual art installation about the intimate act of choreography. Dance is ephemeral and when it is gone, what is left? How do we know it existed? What is the evidence left behind? Using the approach of a forensic investigator, Longstreth reveals the private process of dance making and exposes the inner life of archival materials.

“My goal was to try to lift the lid metaphorically on the creative process and my creative process is dance: that’s what I am using because that’s my material and my expertise. I am hoping it will reverberate for any artist in any kind of creative process.”

She was also interested in broadening the definition of choreographer. What would be created if you took an artist from one field and had them create art in a field outside of their discipline? What would they make?

Using set design, text, illustrations, diagrams, photographs and video projections, Longstreth has created an interactive experience in collaboration with filmmaker, Dicky Dahl, and composer, Loren Chasse. As visitors move through the three rooms at the White Box, they will be encouraged to engage with the materials by reading, touching, watching and listening to it.

Inspired to look at this research process through different lenses, Longstreth has organized a panel discussion on November 7  at 3 pm, with paleontologist Theodore Fremd, artist Sara Huston, and Mark Johnson, a criminalist with the Portland Police Bureau. A Q & A with the artists involved with the exhibition will follow.

Choreographed by Jayanthi Raman and Guru Adyar Lakshman, presented by RASIKA
7 pm October 2
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park
Choreographed by Jayanthi Raman, this troupe of seven professional Bharatanatyam dancers from India and the US, will perform Anubhava. The word has many meanings but generally refers to the ecstatic experience of the divine. The first half of the dance will be about Lord Shiva, the Hindu god known as the destroyer, and the second half will be about Lord Krishna, the most popular Hindu god identified by his dark blue skin (the color of a dark monsoon cloud) and his love of cows.

Raymond Silos of Ballet Fantastique

Guest artist Raymond Silos of Ballet Fantastique

Cirque de la Lune
Ballet Fantastique, directed by Donna and Hannah Bontrager
7:30 pm October 3
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park
Set in the 1930’s depression era, Ballet Fantastique will take us behind the the scenes of a traveling circus company just an hour before curtain. Mother and daughter choreographic duo from Eugene, Donna and Hannah Bontrager, have created a contemporary ballet piece that sets the scene on faded grandeur and romance, combining texture and illusion, set to original music by Troupe Carnivàle, Mood Area 52, and Betty and the Boy. Expect the unexpected. Guest starring three folk orchestras and international guest circus artist Raymond Silos.

Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe in 88: Hachi Hachi

88: Hachi Hachi
Unit Souzou, directed by Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe
October 2-4
Zoomtopia, Studio 2, 810 SE Belmont Street
Portlands newest professional Taiko company, Unit Souzou, will perform 88:Hachi Hachi directed by dance artist Susan Banyas. A new work that weaves taiko, dance and theater, the piece will investigate the space that exists between two people in a percussion journey.

Skeleton Piano Dances
Agnieszka Laska Dancers
October 3-4
Bodyvox Theater, 1201 NW 17th Ave
Now in its twelfth year, Agnieszka Laska’s modern dance company will be searching for the truths that have occupied human minds for centuries: what is true, what is worth fighting for, and what is worth being lost.

The evening will fuse modern dance choreography, video work by Takafumi Uehara and live music by three living composers—Jack Gabel, Dan Senn and Jennifer Wright—on the Skeleton Piano. Wright has written Obscure Terrain for Laska and will be playing a shot glasses, wire brushes, timpani mallets, picture wire, scrap wood, a homemade bottle cap mandolin rail, cannibalized hammers and keys, a tambourine stick, magnet strips and a junkyard cymbal. You can get a sneak peek to her marvelous music on Vimeo.

Performance artists Kelly McGovern

Performance artists Kelly McGovern.

Lucy Lee Yim, Kelly McGovern, Future Death Agency and Antibody Corporation
Presented by Lacuna Club & Performance Works NW
9 pm October 2, Lacuna Club, 5040 SE Milwaukie
8 pm October 3, Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th
One performance, two locations, two different days, brought to you by Lacuna Club and Performance Works NW, this show features Portland performance artists Lucy Lee Yim, Kelly McGovern, Future Death Agency, and Chicago-based Antibody Corporation, who will be performing new works.

Pure Surface
Dora Gaskill, Tyler Brewington, Justine Highsmith
6 pm October 4
Valentine’s, 232 SW Ankeny St<
Curated by Stacey Tran and Danielle Ross, Pure Surface is a performance series interested in encouraging cross-disciplinary practice and performance by bringing together movement, text and film in the spirit of improvised collaboration. Each month a new group of artists is brought together in the intimate, open air setting of Valentine’s and performance is made. This month’s artists are dance artist Dora Gaskill, writer Tyler Brewington and filmmaker Justine Highsmith.

Jayanthi Raman rides the tiger

The Bharata Natyam dance master dedicates her updating of the form to Shakti, the tiger rider

Saturday night, at the Winningstad Theatre in downtown Portland, on a stage crowded with musicians—superb musicians—and their instruments, Jayanthi Raman, richly, colorfully dressed in pleated, jeweled silk, starts her solo from a squatting position, knees turned out to the side, bare feet arched as elegantly as a bas relief of an ancient temple dancer’s.

Slowly, as the music starts, she rises and begins to perform the hand gestures, foot stamps, and shifting facial expressions that are the hallmarks of the South Indian classical dance form known as Bharata Natyam.

Jayanthi Raman dances with keyboardist Osam Ezzeldin and violinist Vidwan Ganesh Rajagopalan/Courtesy Rasika

Jayanthi Raman dances with keyboardist Osam Ezzeldin and violinist Vidwan Ganesh Rajagopalan/Courtesy Rasika

Raman began her dance training in India as a child, and  got a medical degree as a young woman. She came to Portland 25 years ago with her husband, retrained to get her medical license and worked as a research doctor at OHSU. At the same time, she began dancing in street fairs (I first saw her at ArtQuake), started a school and with others founded Rasika, which produces Indian music and dance performances, many of the artists brought over from India. A few years ago she decided to focus entirely on her dancing and choreography, and she has had considerable national and international success, including a National Dance Project touring grant.