Disco Balls and Balloons: Until Next Time, TBA

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  • Photo courtesy of the artist

Today was the official, final day of this year’s TBA Festival (phew!). Last night ushered it in with a big celebration: Chanticleer Trü’s Evelyn. Folks made figure eights on roller skates, circling a giant disco ball wrapped in a pink tulle bow in the middle of the room. Balloons hovered a few feet above the floor, and videos from the ‘80s—of aerobics, nail art, and Jem—flashed on a giant screen.

At the entrance to the space was a graffiti wall—puff paint sat on the table as an invitation to draw. Nearby was Michael Horwitz, working steadily at his portraiture project. A man dressed as a giant, plush disco ball wandered the room, and party hats punctuated the heads of the attendees. It was like an underground disco party with an ‘80s infusion. The color pink was pregnant in the room (I'm pretty sure that's the only way to put it)—in the attire, in the lighting, in the flashing neon “Evelyn” sign.

Evelyn was booked as an art installation turned night club, which is fair enough: a party may be exactly what's needed after an exhaustive week of demanding contemporary art. The name of the party came from disco queen Evelyn Champagne King; King would’ve been proud.


Review: Hypnosis Display


Last night at PSU's Lincoln Hall, vocalist and musician Liz Harris (aka, Grouper) and experimental filmmaker Paul Clipson performed Hypnosis Display for the first time on US soil. The 75-minute, live audiovisual collaboration, commissioned by Opera North, is sourced from Harris' field recordings and Clipson's in-camera-edited films that capture naturalistic and man-made American landscapes. The performance notes on PICA's website hint at the piece's significance: "Hypnosis Display envelops viewers in deeply felt connections to landscape, environment, and place. With an attentive yet neutral eye, the film reflects on the American experience and what creates a sense of being at 'home.'"

The piece starts with a tangled and cacophonous take on nature: Using an array of cassette players, Harris mixes together sounds of water, while Clipson matches the ominous rumble with overlapping closeups of turbulent, oceanic surfaces. The water travels forward, across America. Breaking waves wash over the hard lines of pipes and wires, across unnamed roads and flashes of faces. Water beads up on green leaves, hangs in drops from blades of grass, feeds into the lush and later, the concrete. We're never in one place at one time. Both audio and visual layer and stack locations and subjects. Jittery edits of broken windows introduce an increasingly intense pace and, meanwhile, juxtapositional content becomes the rule. The piece moves from coast to continent, shuffling together instances of city infrastructure and places where the natural world edges back in, looking at technological order, human order, and ecological order (and where these forces fit into one another) with kaleidoscopic irreverence for the divisions in between.

As the title suggests, we're dealing with a hypnotic and dreamlike piece, though in terms of reflecting the American experience, I'm not sure that I follow. The sights and sounds didn't really bear an appearance I would describe as uniquely American. Undersides of bridges and closeups of disembodied legs, neon signs and streaks of light, could be from anywhere where these things exist. We're told that the films and field recordings are of America, therefor about America, but what is being said about America— about "a sense of being at 'home'"— isn't really clear. Is it that America is now a place like any other place? That what makes America distinct is its most indistinct features? Is it a way of pointing out the hegemonic quality of Western culture? Or, like the craftsmanship of the piece, is it that America is frantic, always divided, a culture in superposition and chaos?

I couldn't say.

Additionally, the claim that Hypnosis Display "envelops viewers in deeply felt connections to landscape, environment, and place" didn't hold up from my seat. The wild-eyed edits and ever-changing poly-subjects did less to envelope me and more to push me out, and after seeing Tim Hecker's TBA set last Sunday— which absolutely sucked me in and imparted environmental sensations— I was pretty underwhelmed. Halfway through Hypnosis Display, when images stopped for a reel-change, I was ready for things to wrap up, and subsequently didn't notice any specific moments that announced the necessity of the second half of the performance (which isn't to say things were unpleasant, just not super compelling).

When exiting the auditorium, one friend groggily commented that she'd fallen asleep, another that they had to close their eyes a lot because all the pulsing and flashing and never standing still got to be too much. A local comedian buddy noted that he would've given the piece about thirty seconds in any setting that wasn't "auditorium."

Ouch. It's a case of less is more, I think. And also a case of a project that might be a little too coy about how it packages and relates its significance.

Regardless, we can take it as a reminder that mastery of technique and craftsmanship don't guarantee an outcome that people connect with, and that artists might be wise to put an audience's needs before their own.


SQUART: Review

Tonight Chanticleer Trü reins in this final Works performance of this year's TBA Festival. He made a guest appearance however earlier this week (Wednesday) during SQUART, which, to recap, was a performance of mayhem and asses— literal asses, which aligned nicely with the New York Times's recent declaration about our fine butt nation.

Bare butts and a dog named Giovanni
  • LB Tomczak/PICA
  • Bare butts and a dog named Giovanni.

SQUART—which is short for Spontaneous Queer Art—is a project that San Francisco-based, TBA veteran Laura/Larry Arrington started four years ago. It began as a response to the isolating effects of artmaking and grant proposing. Arrington wanted to do something collaborative, something that "was silly on purpose.” Mission accomplished. How SQUART works: an open call occurs and people sign up and show up a few hours before the show; they're then divided into four groups to create a 14-minute performance, which is judged by a group of “celebrity” judges (Wednesday's judges included Holcombe Waller, the aforementioned Chanticleer Tru, Linda Austin, and others). The contestants are judged by whatever silly, sometimes entertaining, bullshit that pops into the judges' heads at the time.

The run time of the SQUART was two hours, which is way, way too long for an absurdist performance like this. It’s framed as “usurping the conventions of reality TV shows,” but SQUART doesn’t have much to do with reality TV, or with anything that has a narrative structure. Instead, there’s a lot of crawling around, naked wrestling, screaming, grunting, groaning, etc. that occurs during the 14-minute acts of the show (of which there are four). Two women next to me muttered sarcastically the whole time, moaning, “Good thing we only paid $45 for this,” and eventually they were gone, and, after about an hour into SQUART, there were a lot of people that had gone, and quite a few abandoned seats in the audience.

On the contrary, the performers on stage seemed to be having a good time. The takeaway: SQUART works best for the people who are involved in the performance, and for people who WANT to get involved and create a community around movement; it’s not a fun show if you’re expecting to sit back and be entertained. At a performance like SQUART, you will be asked to do aerobics, and you will be asked to “get the fuck up.”


Chelfitsch: Ground and Floor

chelfitsch, Ground and Floor
  • Photo by Misako Shimizu

Japanese playwright and director Toshiki Okada's theater group chelfitsch specialize in a certain kind of discomfort. In Enjoy, which saw it's Portland premiere earlier this year at CoHo, that discomfort manifested in the way characters addressed the audience. His characters, members of Japan's "lost generation," frequently seemed to plead with the audience to understand them, or at least laugh with them. Realizing that the audience was laughing at them seemed to break their hearts.

In Ground and Floor, playing last night and tonight at Imago Theatre as part of TBA, the discomfort again arises from the way the characters interact with the audience. Unlike Enjoy, Ground and Floor is performed in Japanese. Subtitles are projected onto a screen on the stage, and the characters seem sometimes to know this is happening. One of the characters, a shut-in who has retreated into herself and in her loneliness speaks too fast for the subtitles to keep up, openly resents the need for subtitles, and that translates into a combination of resentment and pride about Japanese.

If that sounds complicated, keep in mind that that's one of five characters, only a few of which are alive. Okada seems to be interrogating the idea of life in Japan, actually weighing its virtues in an eerily morbid way. Some of these characters are ghosts, some only resemble ghosts.

Chelfitsch plays often include strange, deliberate choreography, requiring the characters to repeat odd motions endlessly. At first it's jarring, but it quickly becomes hypnotic. In Ground and Floor, characters dance these strange dances to an original score of alternately ethereal and percussive music from somewhere offstage.

It's a spare play, slow and often nearly silent. It centers around a woman, her husband, his brother, their mother, and another woman, Satomi, from the couple's past. Much of the actual content of the play is laid out plainly but briefly, offering strings to grasp at, but pulling on those strings seem only to wind up the odd mechanisms that send the actors reeling and dancing.

Loneliness, pain, duty - meaning in Ground and Floor is difficult to get at. It's a ghost story, but one gets the feeling that the whole population of Japan is either made up of ghosts, or about to be. The politics are subtle, and meaning is obscure and challenging. It's unlike any theater experience you'll have at TBA or elsewhere.

Ground and Floor is playing tonight at 8:30 at Imago Theatre. Get there early!


GERMINAL: A Delightful Microcosm

TBA performances are winding down this week, so it seems safe to say: GERMINAL has to be one of the best performances of the festival this year. GERMINAL is a piece of theater, created by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort, that probably shouldn’t work. (I’m not sure what I like more: this performance, or the fact that they were able to pull this performance off.) The premise is four individuals, who, “if they had the opportunity to start the world from scratch, how would they do it”? It sounds like it would be a mess—just look at this chart they create during it—but it isn’t. Instead it’s actually really fun, playful, and smart.

GERMINAL begins in darkness, with a dim, searching spotlight on the stage. Soon the lights on stage are flickering, and we see our four protagonists seated, fidgeting with controllers. They realize through gestures that they are the ones controlling the lights. They live in a closed universe, we find out later, which is the empty stage. We follow them through the next 75 minutes as they learn how to voice their thoughts, classify information, understand finiteness, and establish laws of physics. And on that note, yes, I am aware of how boring this sounds. But you just have to take my word that it's a lot of fun. FOR INSTANCE: At one point our protagonists hack into the stage with a pickaxe and find a guitar, and a “manual” to their universe (also known as a laptop). At another point, they unearth a guitar amp, and a “swanky swamp" which is full of packing peanuts. (See? Fun.) The piece is mostly spoken in French, with English surtitles.

GERMINAL is about language, communication, meaning, and it’s about theater itself. There’s a lot of moments where it is a self-reflexive mind-fuck; it made me think back to early conceptual work, like One and Three Chairs by Joseph Kosuth—it’s a piece that explores the space between concept, meaning, and object. It's a piece that exists between the lines of theater, visual art, and theory, and in that way reminds me a little bit of that critical favorite The Method Gun, which was at TBA in 2011.

Tonight is the last performance of GERMINAL, and I so hope you were able to catch it. TBA is host to the U.S. Premiere of GERMINAL, however it will be at Seattle's On the Boards Festival next week before returning to France.


A Gossip-Free Recap of "All the Sex I've Ever Had"

Not one of the Portland cast. Might be gossip to post pics.
  • Photo by Lucia Eggenhoffer

At the beginning of Mammalian Diving Reflex’s new show “All the Sex I’ve Ever Had,” the audience was asked to stand and take a pledge not to gossip. For the next two hours, a panel of Portland’s friskiest seniors would describe, year by year, their sexual history. With admirable, impossible candor, these three men and two women described not only all the sex they’d had, but the sex they’ve missed out on, the loves found and lost, the obstacles overcome, the lessons learned and not learned.

The show swings easily from sweet to sad, funny to fucked up. Periodically, the panel would poll the audience based on one of the vignettes they’d just offered. “Dear audience, how many of you have paid for or been paid for sex?” “Who here is into BDSM?”

Between the panel’s incredible openness and the oath not to gossip, raising one’s hand and even sharing stories (MDR casually questioned certain audience members) feels comfortable, safe, even cathartic. I found myself wishing they’d ask about my specific sex stuff, just so I could raise my hand and announce it semi-anonymously.

Because I pledged not to gossip, I feel I shouldn’t print exactly what happened last night. But in the spirit of encouraging you to go one of the next couple nights, here is an edited list of excerpts from last night’s show:


“I saw Grandma in just her ______ and _____. She _____ed me.”

“I was tapping my _____ with a _____ _____.”

“He was seventeen, tall, and identified as a _____.”

“I find that my _____ is already _____. I’m disappointed.”

“His ____ is not _____ but is very _____ and _____.” “_____, that’s a good word.” “I know, you just want to bite it.”

“_____ _____ _____ dungeon, with _____, _____, and _____.”


I’ll give you a clue: One of those blanks is “scientist.”

If you're into gently kinky talk, senior citizen dance parties, or oral _____ (I meant "storytelling!" Get your mind out of the gutter!), you have to check out “All the Sex I’ve Ever Had." The show happening tonight and tomorrow night at 7:00pm at the PSU Shattuck Hall Annex. Get there early to get on the waitlist, as it will sell out!


Jack Ferver Hosts an Artist Q&A You'd Actually Want to Attend

Ask me about Return to Oz!
  • PICA/Ian Douglas
  • "Ask me about 'Return to Oz'!"

"I never wanna stay for the Q&A." That's how Jack Ferver opened his TBA performance, "Mon, Ma, Mes," at Ecotrust last night. And why would he? At worst, post-show Q&As can seem like exercises in cruelty*. So I have to admit, the conceit of Ferver's performance—an artist Q&A that isn't really an artist Q&A, also a retrospective of his performance work—seemed like a tall order. How do you mimic something so universally understood to be boring, and make it interesting?

By making fun of it, obviously. Which is exactly what he did, selecting unsuspecting audience members, giving them pat, dull questions to read aloud for him to answer, then acting surprised, and going off on absurd, self-mythologizing tangents in response. For example:

Question: "How did you achieve so much at such a young age?"
Answer: Rumination over childhood drawings, and how great they actually are, but he didn't know it at the time.
Question: "How old are you?"
Answer: No answer. Lengthy pontification on what it's like to be any age, and connecting with his inner child, so sometimes he feels three years old, and sometimes "a million!"
Question: "What was your favorite film growing up?"
Answer: Return to Oz, followed by a lengthy, highly detailed plot summary of Return to Oz.

You get the picture.

When you're at a post-show Q&A and hear questions and responses like this, it's frustrating. But when the audience is in on the joke, when everyone present knows exactly how softball the questions are and how batshit crazy the responses—it becomes something else. On some level, it becomes broad comedy. For 45 minutes, Jack Fervor embodied every embarrassing self-serious art world cliché, and the audience loved it.

Then there was a shift. Ferver stopped taking questions, and launched into an autobiographical litany about his childhood, about abuse, trauma, about his anxious mind and exchanges with doctors, a raw monologue implicating his totally engaged audience as witnesses to cruelty. Ferver punctuated these almost confessional moments by dancing frenetically, with repetitive, laborious movements, with the performance style so intense it's gained comparisons to exorcism. At one point, he asked Jordan Kindell of the Oregon Ballet—helpfully planted in the audience—to physically carry him. It was a weirdly tender moment. By the end of Ferver's performance, the room felt deflated, and also electrified.

I left with more questions than answers, which is as it should be.

*I have also been to great, productive Q&As where I definitely even took a lot of notes and chuckled along with the audience over art jokes. Those totally exist. I have been to them. Just not as frequently.


Portland Stand-Up Comedy Photo Album: Live!

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  • Jason Traeger
  • Christian Ricketts

Many comics argue in favor of stand-up being an art form; both Patton Oswalt and Kyle Kinane have said as much on their comedy albums. And there is a real case to be made on their behalf. Most long stand-up sets are arranged much like a symphony or a Broadway musical: a strong opening riff to draw you in, an extended middle section where little motifs and beats spark and dazzle along the way, and a big closer to send you out into the night beaming.

It was great, then, to see comedy given a big showcase as part of an arts festival like TBA, and to see the stand-ups invited to be part of the night by host Jason Traeger (he takes the pictures on the Portland Stand-Up Comedy Photo Album blog when he's not doing comedy himself) bring so many different variations of the form to The Works.

The biggest surprise of the evening was an appearance by former Portlander Ron Funches. The jocular co-star of the NBC sitcom Undateable was apparently in town, in part, to finalize his divorce, a situation that he was quick to make light of in his signature lackadaisical style: "At least I know who is to blame for this situation...[long pause]...my son. Have to put the blame squarely on his little shoulders." (I'm paraphrasing this so forgive me if I didn't get it exactly right.) It was obvious the situation wasn't getting him down, or he's just been enjoying some local weed, as he seemed downright giddy up there, snickering at his own punchlines and not seeming phased when the stairs leading off the stage collapsed underneath him (he didn't get hurt, by the way).

Otherwise, we got an array of familiar, and mostly male, faces. And if there was a theme to be teased out of the night, it was an emphasis on some absurdist voices. Tim Ledwith ceded most of his time to a hilarious PowerPoint presentation that had AppleTalk reading a long suicide note he supposedly wrote when he was 12, accompanied by a slideshow of childhood pictures. Christian Ricketts, on the other hand, presented a long bit that involved a mute ventriloquist's dummy named Lou that warned of the dangers of tobacco products before apparently ranting about a Zionist conspiracy. It was one of those set pieces that goes from really funny to not funny at all back to being funny again, if only by dint of the sheer ridiculousness of watching a grown man wrestle a felt puppet onstage.

The comic that seemed to wake the late night crowd up the most was Amy Miller. As you may know, her style has a more traditional stand-up bent, but that seemed to spark something in the 300+ strong audience. Having seen her set a number of times now, I can safely say that the X Factor was the confidence with which she delivered the material. Her riffs on dating younger men and growing up in a trashy family were familiar to me, but I still found myself guffawing away at them anew. If anything came out of last night's fine comedy showcase, it's that my money is on Miller becoming the city's next breakout star.


Review: Tim Hecker @ PSU's Lincoln Hall

TimHecker_TracyVanOosten1.jpeg
  • PICA/Tracy Van Oosten

I'd follow general blogging procedure and start this post with a picture from last night's packed-past-capacity Tim Hecker set at PSU's Lincoln Hall, but all you'd see is a black box hovering above this sentence.

When the lights went down for the hour-long, no-stops musical experience, they didn't come back on until the performance concluded. In that expanse of darkness, Montreal-based electronic musician Hecker pushed the limits of sound, making something that felt less like composed music and more like an exploration of the physical properties of sonic experience. His sub-rumble bass oscillations penetrated my body, rattling my eyes, passing faint frissons on my pant leg, implanting the sensation of a new and more interesting heart beat within my chest— all of this happening by virtue of sound. Beautiful sound and uncomfortable sound. Melodic sound and sound purely of texture. Sound that worked like music and sound that worked like a massage chair. Hecker's compositions are as much for the body as they are for the ears, an important point which had escaped me until experiencing his craft in a live setting.

Hecker is one of those rare sound artists to break into mainstream pastures. His albums have landed on year-end Pitchfork lists and the like, and his audience ranges the big-box summer music festival crowd to the more academic set you'd usually find at a TBA performance. Over the years, I've tried— without success— to get into his stuff. I'm pretty sure that's my fault, that he got drowned out in a time when ambient experiments and noise music seemed to be more about a cultural experience than a musical one— I'm thinking back to the days of Lucky Dragons' androgynous Renn Faire cuddle parties at Holocene, or those all-night, 'feel free to bring a pillow' Dublab shindigs— leading me to get a bit bored with sound artists and the ways they interface with their listeners.

Hecker is a remedy to that noise-culture listlessness: his music isn't about being the cool guy at a party, it's about listening with the entirety of your body; it's about feeling sound. That isn't to say that his compositions are non-musical. To the contrary, Hecker is a master of using narrow-palate noise and texture as a jump-off point for minimalist, synth-and-acoustic-sample melodic arrangements. Melody arises from abstraction; from sounds that pummel the body with suggestions of physical environments. In total darkness, Hecker made my body— and later, brain— feel like I was in a new place; the combination of human-penetrating bass and emotive melodic uncertainties giving the physical sensation of say, being under a bridge or at the edge of the ocean, or both at the same time.

This became even more apparent on my Max ride home, still in a trance from the music. I closed my eyes, noticing how the train's vibrations signified a shift in tracks or direction, much the same way Hecker manipulated my sense of place with the hugeness of his music.

It's a shame that Hecker was only booked for one night of the festival. If he had repeat performances, I'd strongly urge you to get a ticket. Last night was, without a doubt, the most memorable and moving musical performance I've had in my six years covering the festival.

Local bookers: please bring Tim Hecker back as soon as possible. I'll buy a ticket. Promise!


The Triumphant Return of Critical Mascara: A Post-Realness Drag Ball

Host Pepper Pepper and her clipboard.
  • Pat Moran
  • Host Pepper Pepper and her clipboard.

Critical Mascara: A Post-Realness Drag Ball debuted last year at TBA, and was so well-received that it just might be a new festival tradition, filling the coveted Saturday night spot once occupied by Ten Tiny Dances. The Paris Is Burning-inspired drag contest features extravagant, glamorous, and occasionally downright bizarre performances from West Coast drag artists, and the whole thing is hosted with perfectly disaffected charm by Kaj-anne Pepper, who—hey!—we profiled in the first issue of Agenda.

Last year, the show took place in a giant warehouse; this year, an outdoor stage wedged into 3/4 of a closed-off street. Sightlines suffered, it was super packed, and it felt more like a show than a club—people pretty much packed in and stood still, rather than circulating. All of that said, it's pretty hard not to love this show.

The performers are competing for $666 and prizes hand-made made by Pepper herself. Each contestant gets two chances to walk and pose; the show is divided into three categories, "Fierce," "Shapeshifter Fantasy," and "Next Level Femme." I think last year's categories inspired more creativity, for whatever reason (I loved seeing last year's contestants riffing on the theme of "Hair") but this year offered some weird, memorable moments nonetheless—I really liked the two women dressed as a (sexy) centaur.

But honestly, there's no point writing more about this when we've got pictures.

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Macho Dancer

It was a packed house Friday night for Eisa Jocson’s two-part performance of Death of a Pole Dancer and Macho Dancer.

The first thing you notice about Eisa Jocson is that she’s an incredible performer—masterful and captivating with her control—even though the majority of her first piece, Death of a Pole Dancer, consisted of Jocson merely assembling her portable pole (while wearing approximately 5-inch stilettos) in the space of Bodyvox. Half of the audience sat on the floor of Bodyvox’s studio space, pretzel style, and half stood up. Eventually we get to the dancing, which initially and primarily consists of Jocson violently throwing her body against the pole, in complete silence—aside from the rhythmic tapping of her foot on the floor.

I found myself looking around the room, losing attention during this piece, however Jocson has a quiet confidence that pulls you back into the performance. Things do pick up a bit when Jocson begins dancing on the pole; she is upside down when the music kicks in—the song is "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself" by Dusty Springfield. Jocson is suspended upside down, on the pole, for a long, long time before she slips to the floor. She lies there belly down. This is the end of the performance. The audience files out of the space, clapping, and trying not to step on Jocson's faux-dead body.

The end.
  • The end.

After a 20-minute intermission, we filed back in to Bodyvox and took our seats. We were greeted by a fog machine and Metallica. Macho Dancer is a full-fledged runway performance. "Devil’s Dance" was playing on the speaker when Jocson appeared on stage in black cowboy boots, camo hot pants, knee pads, and a rosary.

The term “Macho Dancer,” can probably use some parsing. Jocson is Filipino, and in the Philippines macho dancing is a really particular kind of club dancing; as Jocson explained in an interview with ArtAsiaPacific magazine, it’s “performed by young men for both male and female clients. It is an economically motivated language of seduction that employs notions of masculinity as body capital. The language is a display of the glorified and objectified male body as well as a performance of vulnerability and sensitivity. The music used in macho dancing is mostly power ballads, sung by artists such as Mariah Carey or Celine Dion, as well as rock and soft rock, like Metallica and Scorpions.”

Jocson’s performance is mostly a study in movement, also in gender. After her performance on Friday night, I was left thinking about what it means to move in a masculine way: so many of the movements in Macho Dancer are about making yourself look bigger, about broad stances, about lunging forward (and pelvic thrusts, naturally). It’s helpful to see Death of a Pole Dancer and Macho Dancer together, for comparison. As Jocson said in that same interview, “Pole dancing is vertically oriented and works with the illusion of lightness and grace, while macho dancing is horizontally oriented, and works on the illusion of weight and volume. It’s more compact.”

To further explain this, I present to you this manual that Jocson created, with illustrations by Jocson herself:

Book by Eisa Jocson
  • Book by Eisa Jocson

I'll leave you with this video, a trailer for Jocson's Macho Dancer:


Chris Sutton Reads From His Tumblr

Before the main portion of his Re: Disc COVER lecture, Chris Sutton struck a Sarah Palin-like tone, letting it be known that when he writes about music on his blog Record Lections, he's not concerned about facts, but rather how the songs and albums make him feel.

The idea, I'm guessing, was to let him off the hook for when he screwed up a detail about one of the 15 songs he was about to talk about, but it also added to a rather oppositional stance that the musician/DJ was taking for this evening. Sutton was quick to point out in his opening remarks how frustrating it was for him to find people his age (39) listening to only one kind of music. He was different, you see. He listens to everything. Except the obnoxious subset of '90s hardcore techno known as gabba.

For the next hour, Sutton did his best to prove this point, playing segments of 15 tracks by the likes of DJ Shadow, Augustus Pablo, The Kinks, Growing, and The Shocking Blue and reading his blog entries about the songs or the albums they came from over the top. Some of it was insightful and powerful, like his closing assertion about jazz pianist Thelonious Monk ("Time, by definition is a law. Monk has broken it and showed you how to burn down the jail."); most were as hyperbolic and breathless as you would expect someone's casual music Tumblr to be.

It was never made clear, though, why we should care about his opinions about Hound Dog Taylor or Flipper. Sutton only occasionally connected the songs to his own experiences and only once talked up how a band (ESG) helped inspire the sound of one of his musical projects (C.O.C.O.). And for someone who claims to be a voracious music fan, I found it odd that the most recent track he played was released over a decade ago.

What Re: Disc COVER lacked was, yes, some factual information. And I don't mean just about the artists he was highlighting. I would have loved him to have walked us deeper into his world and show us how these songs affected his life in small or large ways. Or find some dramatic or thematic way to connect all the material that he played outside of the fact that he really likes them. A mixtape without context feels like an odd gift.


Not About Face: GHOST PARTY!

It's a Rorschach test of sorts: Fifty adults in a room, all wearing sheets with eyeholes cut out. What do you see?

Ghosts, decided most people at Luke George's Sunday afternoon show, though I heard a few comments on the resemblance to a full-body hijab. The Klan connection is there too, though I think it's deliberately discouraged: Many of the sheets are pale pastels, like last-minute Halloween costumes, rather than bright white. Mine was pink.

I was a pink ghost.

Upon entering the studio where Not About Face is performed, each member of the 50-person audience is draped, one at a time, in a bedsheet that smells like it's just been through a hotel laundry. For a few minutes, everyone just roams the space freely, getting their... ghost legs? Most people seem to take to their sheets quickly, flapping and swooping and twirling. (Or, if you're me, giggling uncontrollably because you've got the Diarrhea Planet song "Ghost with a Boner" stuck in your head.) There's a video monitor at one end of the room, showing a picture of the space we're in—but on the monitor, the room is empty. We're ghosts! We're invisible. And it's hard to be inhibited when no one can really see you.

After a while, two of the ghosts begin shouting lines of dialogue, revealing themselves as undercover performers. (I do not remember what they said because ghosts don't take notes and I have a terrible memory.) The rest of the audience sort of coalesces around them, a formation that reminded me of watching the Chapman swifts swirl around the school chimney. Soon the lady ghost summons the audience toward her and leads us in a quick breathing exercise, encouraging us to be aware of our bodies in the space, in relation to other bodies. I've been asked to be "present in the moment" many, many times during the nearly 10 years I've been covering live performance, but something about the anonymity of this scenario made it more resonant than usual. Then everyone was asked to sing together—again, not something that usually works, but surrounded by all my faceless fellow ghosts, I had a became a beautiful, emotional moment. I have a terrible, singing voice, but somehow I felt the way I imagine people with nice voices who sing in really fancy church choirs must feel. (There's an obvious religious/ritualistic subtext to much of the show, beginning from when you step into a pool of light to be draped in a sheet by two volunteers as you enter the space.)

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BodyCartography Project's Super Nature in Review

I waited for about an hour last Friday for my turn to see Super Nature. I waited at The Works, reading about the finer points of carving carousels to the sound of MSHR’s installation (which, after an hour, sounds like a jackhammer that has been auto-tuned) in the background.

Super Nature is 15 minutes long. It’s experienced one person at a time. You put your name and phone number on a list, and wait to get a text that it’s your turn (it’s drop-in only; they don’t do reservations).

This year The Works is hosted in Fashion Tech, a warehouse space, where the aesthetic is modernism meets industrial chic, what with the decorative cinder blocks, the astro turf, the snow-white camo net.

INDUSTRIAL CHIC: Exterior shot of The Works.
  • Pat Moran
  • INDUSTRIAL CHIC: Exterior shot of The Works.

Waiting for an hour in this environment is a little ominous. Especially given that the Super Nature performance occurs in a small cell with a sliding door, and you can hear…things happening in the performance chamber while others take their turn before you.

By “things” I mean: stomping, mostly, and bodies hitting walls, possibly?

Where one waits.
  • Where one waits.

When it comes your turn, the TBA attendant briefs you: she tells you to turn off your phone, take your shoes off, and that you can move around in the space if you’d like. Once it was my turn, the door slid open and I stepped into the cell. I was surprised to find a young girl, probably about 12, stringy, with braces and straight, shoulder-length hair, wearing a tank top with jeans. She looked at me with indifference. The door slid shut behind me. My heart sank as I realized this would be my destiny for the next 15 minutes (junior high, anyone?). The performer, lying on the ground, made grimaces, jiggled her shoulders with nervousness, walked behind me, then suddenly pounced across the room.

In short, the installation is that Sia video—if the Sia video was shot in a square cell with no windows, and there was fuzz on the speakers instead of Sia, and if there were grey walls and a spotlight (and no clock). And if I was a ghost stuck in that Sia video? Sometimes the Super Nature performer ignored me, sometimes she stared at the floor, in the direction of my toes, and sometimes she pushed me around the space via doing the worm on my back. As for myself, I stood with my repressed Midwestern reserve—my arms crossed behind my back, leaking out the occasional awkward laugh. Super Nature was more or less my awkward preteen years distilled into a sweet little 15-minute morsel. (For more thoughts on the ubiquitous awkwardness at this year's TBA Festival, see here).

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Performing Gender in Duet Love

TahniHolt_DuetLove_EugenieFrerichs.jpg
  • Eugenie Frerich

Portland choreographer Tahni Holt's Duet Love begins with iconic images of heterosexual couples, and breaks down those images over the course of the evening. The show opens with four dancers, two women and two men, striking and holding poses in the silent theater. These establishing shots let the audience know we're dealing with archetypes, as do gendered costuming touches like a male dancer's collared shirt and a female dancer's cleavage-exposing top.

Eventually, the dancers split into pairs, one set taking control of the spotlights while the other pair poses together. A witchy singer—longtime Holt collaborator Corrina Repp—does a slinky lounge number that reminded me of Twin Peaks for no reason I could pin down. The dancers come onstage wearing beige sacks; one at a time, they wriggle shoulders-first out of their coverings, naked bodies emerging. Subsequent duets are performed in the buff. (I am torn on this: Do I like looking at beautiful bodies? Yep. And in a dance context, I appreciate a chance to see how bodies move without clothes getting in the way. But isn't physical perfection a little bit... boring?) Holt seems to be going for a sort of tabla rasa thing here—these dancers are only their bodies, stripped of outward signifiers of gender. When they eventually put their clothes back on, it's to mix up and reconfigure "masculine" and "feminine" costuming and affects.

I typically really enjoy Holt's perspective, but this show didn't work for me; I found it kind of condescending, and it conflated gender expression and sexuality in weird ways. I also don't find the show's central question—per the PICA blurb, "If masculine and feminine are forces and factors, how do markers of gender inflect the movement, emotion, and decisions of dancing bodies?"—particularly compelling; I think it might resonate more with people who are more deeply invested in contemporary dance than I am.

For a different—glowing—take on the show, check out this review from our sister paper The Stranger.

Duet Love runs through Tuesday. Details here.