Kaj-anne Pepper / Pepper Pepper

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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DanceWatch Weekly: TBA appraisals by three choreographers

Winding down after TBA, Tracy Broyles, Jim McGinn and Pepper Pepper share their memories

TBA (the Portland Institute For Contemporary Art’s yearly 10-day festival) is over. Ten days of workshops, performances, artist talks, visual art exhibitions, music performances and after-hours parties—I am reeling from its absence, and changed because of it.

I was hypnotized by the patterns and rhythms created by Christian Rizzo in d’après une histoire vraie, and Alessandro Sciarroni’s UNTITLED_I will be there when you die, both similar in their aesthetic and approach and use of repetition. I was absorbed by Morgan Thorson’s Still Life as the dancers, mostly from Minneapolis, some from here, danced in and out of the gallery space at the Portland Art Museum, enchanting the space, creating texture, rhythm and leaving behind traces of smeared charcoal, history, humanity, sheer beauty and talent.

I was confused by Meg Wolfe’s New Faithful Disco, as it seemed new, raw, unfinished and unclear in its intent. Leila’s Death by Ali Chahrour transported me to a different time and culture which I am grateful for, connecting me to my own spirituality and mortality through Leila’s story of loss and love and perseverance. Sadly though, I was distracted over and over again by the sounds of cell phones going off throughout the performance. Perhaps we should check them at the door or turn them off entirely.

And lastly I was disgusted/amused/angered by Geumhyung Jeong’s  7ways, during which she gave life to inanimate, household objects, turning them all into lecherous men that ended up having their way with her or another object. In the end she put on a blue bodysuit that had a small colonial ship (the kind you might find in a bottle) attached to the front, and lay on the floor, swishing around in a sea of ocean blue fabric, undulated her torso, creating waves for the ship to sail over. Her story was packed with symbolism bringing to my mind the colonization of the Asian female body, and the general female experience within patriarchal systems. It was tough to watch.

TBA now exists in the ether, in our memories and in the shared moments created through conversations. Talking about TBA with friends and colleagues is one of my favorite TBA experiences. I am always surprised by the variations of their viewpoints, and to celebrate that diversity I have gathered together a few of my dance colleagues and offered them space here to share their TBA moments. Below are those offerings.

If you also had a memorable TBA moment that you would like to share, you have my blessing to do so in the comments section below, but please keep it respectful.

First, though, this week’s dance schedule!

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