Journal: Portland's Time-Based Art Festival

Reports from the 10-day avante-garde extravaganza, sponsored by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and which runs through Sept. 16.
Crosscut archive image.

Clowning drag artist Taylor Mac. (Dennis Galonka)

Reports from the 10-day avante-garde extravaganza, sponsored by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and which runs through Sept. 16.
Thursday, Sept. 6, 7:15 p.m.

There were many (many) more people attending than performing at tonight's TBA: 07 opening in downtown Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square. This wouldn't usually raise an eyebrow, but as the premiere performance - a newly commissioned work called "On the Great Migration of Birds" from Pulitzer-nominated composer Rinde Eckcert - was initially slated to involved 400-500 local choral singers, the meager 90-something singers assembled was a disappointment. And the even more meager amount of sound those singers produced was vastly overpowered by clanging MAX trains and noisy passers-by.

Eckert's new piece calls for a flock of sounds - bird calls and whistles, rustling wings and chanted singing - and extra-musical elements (bird-like gestures; a nonsensical bit with sunglasses) all invoking the bringing together of humans as a flock of birds. The sense of the piece is beautifully designed as a metaphor for TBA as a whole, but Eckert's piece will have to wait for another hearing to see if it holds up. In this lackluster, underpowered opening performance, the real magic was with the birds overhead, not overheard.

Saturday, Sept. 8, 10:15 p.m.

Just in from Marc Bamuthi Joseph's virtuosic show at the Gerding Theater/Portland Center Stage Armory. Hip-hop is a running live wire in this opening TBA: 07 weekend, and Joseph's new work-in-progress ("The Living Word Project: the break/s") shows immense promise. If there were still rusty transition points and arching through-lines to work out, what's already good is quite good: virtuosic, literate rhyming, joyful dancing, potent storytelling. From working with youth in cities in the U.S. urban core to trips to his African motherland, Joseph takes us on a voyage into the heart of hip-hop, and - more potently - into our own joyous and conflicted hearts.

Sunday night, Sept. 9

A packed day of performances - two competent, one exceptional.

TBA's sort-of-secret weapon with their presentation of the talented young Donna Uchizono Company was the legendary dancer-choreographer Mikhail Baryshnikov, a longtime champion of Uchizono's. Her 2006 dance, "Leap to Tall," was commissioned by the Baryshnikov Arts Foundation and features the master himself as a central dancer.

I was vastly underwhelmed with Uchizono's dancemaking. While the movement vocabulary favored intriguing stuttering legs and liquid arms, the accompanying patchwork musical soundscape was poorly edited and offered little with or against which the choreographer could create. There was one highlight: a funky-sexy trio with Misha and two female company dancers (the lithe Hristoula Harakas and Jodi Melnick), where the master was manipulated like a loose-limbed puppet. One would expect a standing ovation for Misha, and that's exactly what one received.

The exceptional Sunday performance was given earlier that night by Taylor Mac, a clowning drag artist who continues to raise the bar, and the level of emotional commitment, for male drag in the 21st century. There was passion and pathos in Mac's ukulele-brandishing show, and a big heart underneath all that frilly finery.

Later still? The Works - moved this year to the more intimate and slightly more snobbish environs of Northeast Portland's Wonder Ballroom. A Washington band called Mirah and Spectratone International entertained with light pop-art songs about insects, with accompanying video installation. Local celebrities kicked back local brews. In a strange departure from years past, the party petered out just past midnight. Hmmm.

Monday, Sept. 10, 4:30 p.m.

Today was for the visual arts.

After discovering that Cristian Silva's planned non-green garden installation was abruptly cancelled, I headed to the Pacific Northwest College of Art for a few various installations.

Regina Silveira's "Tracks and Shadows" included wildly shaped black tire tracks racing across walls and windows, and onto floors; a second room, less intriguing, offered a mega-sized button and darning needle, painted to be reflected all out of proportion.

Arnold J. Kemp's installation, "Daydream Nation (The Suspiria Vision)," was a large five-sided hut painted a flat black, with simple oil and chalk drawing adorning the outside walls. Step inside - past an attractive and elegant collage with the bejeweled white female's hand, holding a ship - and you're plunged into darkness, save for two lighted texts: a small halo of light highlighting the words "A Black swan on a black lake on a moon with no night. Just black." And the glittery white (!) letters of "Black monochrome," shining away in a low corner. Chilled, and chilling.


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