The flavor of Angela Mattox is really pushing through with the performances I have witnessed so far. It’s a change that I welcome, although it is challenging. And my problem seems to be following the narrative. To my comfort, a fellow I was seated next to during Ten Tiny Dances also shared that issue. I was concerned that I’m too in my head, largely because of so much personal stuff happening. Like many people many themes at T:BA in 2012, I am going through transition, economic strife, and various power struggles. So if I’m in my head, thinking about those problems, is that a coincidence? No, I suppose not, and maybe the work that I’m viewing is triggering me. Well, I think then the curator is effective. Contemporary art must be a reflection on what is current. And these are the problems we are sharing today.
Mexico’s Lagartijas Tiradas El Sol performed El Rumor del Incendio (The Sound of Fire) last night at Whitsell Auditorium. An epic story is told in fragments with one female and two male actors performing several different characters based on historical accounts of socialist militia groups in Mexico from the 1950’s through 2000. The scenes follow pivotal moments in the history of the various people involved, following especially a female character that was involved with various revolutions in Mexico for nearly fifty years. The stage design allows for immediate set changes by switching video feeds on to a projector screen, including toy miniature sets with hand-cameras to detail action sequences, replicated through the miniature. Narration is performed live. This technique allows for constant movement and there is very little space to breath and collect what is happening. Even the costume changes happen right there on stage. The story is told entirely in Spanish while English captions are provided above the projector screen. The sum total of these aspects made it rather difficult for me to follow, although I was fascinated and curious.
First, having relatively no cultural context and familiarity with the names of the figures involved, I was struggling to piece together a context for the history lesson while it moved so quickly along. Second, listening in Spanish and reading in English meant that I could not close my eyes, focus on a character’s presence, or take notes of anything going on. And finally, the constant movement of multimedia meant lots of action, lots of changes. That said, I wouldn’t change a single aspect of it. This is a safe place for artists to present experimental theater and evolving ideas. And if it were told in English, the authenticity of this import would be lost. The great commonality is the question implied and the story told in this performance, because they are not only important to Mexico but relate meaningfully to everyone living in a democracy and those attempting to develop one.
Miriam, by Nora Chipuamire, is tremendous and freaky. The premise in the write up of the show is fully realized in the presentation, however it came with surprises. The challenging narrative continues on for this viewer. Challenging, not simply in the abstract manner about which this duet unfolds through intense movement, largely unintelligible speech and vocal expression, but also because it left me feeling upset, and at this moment, I have that bitter aftertaste. But in that, I understand. One difficulty is the painful screeching that Miriam belts out, almost at a constant; it sounds as urgent as it does ancient. I was bothered in a similar way to boiling a live lobster.
The character emerges from this rustling plastic bag and what looks to be a pile of potatoes, surrounded by police caution tape, hovered over by this demonic character, smoking a cigarette. Miriam bums one, rejects it and asks for more. That’s when the struggle begins between this rebel and her manipulative master. But she never seems to be the slave, so she is the stronger one. And in a series of interactions, sometimes fighting, sometimes coalescing, always Miriam battling the overpowering forces of this darkness, a story is told. The story is not so much a life as an evolution. As the program says, it is the struggle of beauty, equality, and darkness, being African American and fighting for freedom.
Oh what a day this would be if it were not for the humor and playfulness — thank goodness its Saturday night – of Mike Barbur’s Ten Tiny Dances. There is no doubt that this concept is a phenomenon. Twenty-nine shows have been enjoyed nationally and there is no doubt it will become increasingly international; a perfect festival import original to Portland. Each year, Ten Tiny is one of the most popular shows and I believe that’s because the hottest acts at T:BA have a chance to do something fun and really stretch out. A little joke, we’re talking about a four-foot stage. You can’t even lie down on that! I mean that humor, absurdity, nudity, and experimentation are all welcome on this stage. I have noticed that seasoned artists tend to improvise and do abstract humorous work while new artists tend to put more time and production in to it.
Local staple and heavyweight, Linda Johnson had a sort of paranoid attack with gunshots and city sound collage provided by Tim Duroche. Christi Denton worked up a mad scientist bit alongside Heather Perkins, standing in the shadows with soft dark blue/purple light off stage while Renee Sills interactively triggered audio on-stage through sixteen nodes placed all over her body. Miguel Gutierrez did a loop thing starting a solo of “Push It” by Salt-n-Pepa, which evolved in to some interesting cascades of Glass-like harmony. Julie Phelps played “snowball” with everybody, causing a huge eruption of audience participation: every time she said snowball, starting with one pair of dancers, each dancer would split to bring in a new dancer. Is it a coincidence that dancer sounds like cancer right now? Are there good forms of cancer? But Keith Hennessy had to follow this phenomenon, causing him to feel rather awkward, but he annihilated that by gathering a new record of people on the stage at once, all audience members. I was a little nervous it would collapse. And those are my top five of the ten.
UP TOMORROW FOR REVIEW… Miguel Gutierrez // Kota Yamazaki