TBA:11/ Critics do what critics do: disagree, with passion


tEEth's "Home Made": the critics love it and hate/Gia Goodrich courtesy of PICA

One of the pleasures of the TBA festival comes from comparing your take on a performance or exhibition or performa/bition with someone else’s.  Did the two guys in the Rude Mechs really have helium balloons affixed to their bare privates, pulling them skyward? Check. Are the dancers in Abraham.in.motion as fit and powerful as I think they are? Check. And how nice was that breeze wafting down the Willamette during “The Private Life of Bridges”? Very nice indeed.

A couple of places are taking TBA:11 very seriously indeed. Or at least posting about most of the shows, the Mercury and Portland Monthly’s Culturephile. And that means you can get most of your questions answered, though maybe not your opinion seconded. In fact, the reviewers disagree among themselves.

So, Culturephile’s Claudia La Rocco gave  tEEth’s hit show “Home Made” a good punch in the mouth:

“The duet was dishearteningly cliché-laden in its depiction of the paradoxical thickets of emotions and impulses individuals must navigate within intimate relationships. Manipulation, vulnerability, tenderness, violence, silliness, alienation … check check check. Nudity. More nudity. Yelling and screaming and nonsense talk and a little more nudity. Messing around with microphones. And then some polished dance technique.”

But Noah Dunham at The Mercury begged to differ. Well, I doubt if any real begging was going on:

“Powerful, gripping, challenging; adjectives can only tell you so much about tEEth’s Home Made. In many ways the piece defies definition, beckoning the audience to grapple with its themes in a very experiential way. Which is what ultimately makes Home Made a successful work; it communicates, engages, questions, and specifies without words.”

See what I mean?

For the record, La Rocco didn’t mention the balloons in the Rude Mechs’ show, nor did she like the show very much (“It was all so easy in its manic, loosely spun thoughts on what it is to try at creating, to try and to sometimes fail or maybe always fail but to go after that glittering thing you don’t yet know how to describe. That’s a big and a gorgeous and a worthy subject, and it’s one that a company might well fail at. I just …want them to fail better.”), though I found it considerably more inventive. So did Alison Hallett at the Mercury: “The show, from the Austin-based experimental theater company Rude Mechs, is focused, funny, and breathtakingly surprising.”

Still, I really liked the way La Rocco distinguished between art that is “contemporary” and art that is truly “experimental or boundary-pushing or whatever.” We’d have to talk some to reach a meeting of the minds, though. Art that we both consider simply “contemporary” in its personal, informal style and self-regarding nature would be taken as “avant-garde” by those who usually go to American theater or dance performances, where other conventions rule. Let alone people who mostly watch popular culture products. I have to think about this one a little more.

I found myself largely in agreement with Anne Adams’ take on Kyle Abraham, though, yes, these guys move like gods. Which Jenna Lechner acknowledges, in a way, at the Mercury’s TBA blog. She seems a little skeptical, and I understand why: Although the program notes suggest that the dance is about both Alzheimer’s AND the closing of a radio station, that doesn’t read directly in the dance. For some reason, I didn’t mind a bit. I liked the layers, the ambiguity, the common static that binds them, the “body” implications of the rhythm and blues songs, past and present, in the soundtrack and the disease.

Oregon Arts Watch isn’t doing gavel-to-gavel coverage, but we will continue to dip into TBA when we think the record needs to be, maybe, clarified?  We’ve taken on “The Hidden Life of Bridges,” for example, and Jesse Sugarmann’s “Lido (the pride is back),” among other things, in case you’ve them, and we’ve got more in the works. And maybe we’ll keep picking at the descriptions the other critics have given us, because, really, it is one of the pleasures of the festival.

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