Laurie Anderson ended the tenth annual Time-Based Arts Festival with not so much a bang as a plunk. The plunk of a piano, to be exact, that was pounded out by her dog in a YouTube clip. That’s right, the matron saint of modern performance art prominently featured her dog playing piano. From YouTube. Onstage at the Schnitz. In a show that one of our editors likened to a Grateful Dead cover band. (Read the full review).
Anderson played it safe, if not cheap, which is a shame, because artistic director Angela Mattox stressed in her various show introductions that she was trying to support courageous, fearless artists locally and globally. And to a great extent she succeeded.
Instead of losing steam as we all wore out, the fest actually got better as the week progressed. Not only did themes start to uncoil and swell (I talk about some in my Week 1 Wrap-up), but it seemed like the quality of the performances themselves improved, creating a narrative build over the 11 days. As the opener, Big Art Group was epic and gloriously, messily inventive in its use of physical space and lo-fi video technology for The People—Portland. But then the UK/German ensemble Gob Squad took many of the same elements (live video feeds, audience participation, riffing off the classics—though of a distinctly difference variety), and then screwed it watertight before blowing our collective gaskets. Or Miguel Gutierrez introduced us to the singular artist’s viewpoint, seeking to pull us in with his inviting, off the cuff storytelling about creating his work of ‘contemporary art,’ before exploding into a frenzy of dance. Congolese artist Faustin Linyekula followed a very similar structure, starting with the story behind his show (in his case re-learning to dance), before descending into a most mesmerizing dance. But whereas Gutierrez performance seemed inaccessible and half-baked, Linyekula drew us in unequivocally. Even the Mexican theater company two shows improved from the first to the second.
And of course there were the more challenging shows—the artists being courageous. Like Nora Chipaumire, who sought to emulate the darkness cast on Africa by Europeans through a nigh-impenetrable darkness on stage. Or Chelfitsch, whose unique style of almost ritualistic, interpretive dance-style theatrical meditations on the mundanity of office life was both befuddling and absurdly amusing—and is also reshaping the face of contemporary Japanese theater.
Going into the festival this year, there were only a couple familiar faces and names (Anderson, Gutierrez), which left room for apprehension. And I gather that, just like during Kristy Edmund’s first year, some folks were unhappy with the selection (Keith Hennessey’s Turbulence being the most controversial). In a way, the fest was back loaded, and I hope those folks stuck with it. Yes, there were one too many deconstructed shows about making shows for my taste (it made it seem like a fad), but the international breadth, quality of many of the performances, and risk of others made up for it in my book. All and all, it was a promising start for Mattox.
Here’s looking forward to moving into the teen years that we can only hope are rambunctious, at a new venue that we can only hope is more conducive to late night performance and events.
But in the meantime, if you want to look back at the nonstop arts adventures of TBA year 10, below are day by day accounts and reviews.
TBA Finale: Laurie Anderson
The matron saint of performance art ends the festival with not so much of a bang as a plunk.
TBA Day 11: Are Portland Audiences Boring?
As we say goodbye to the fine conversation of the Works, we have to ask: have we all grown just a little too bland?
TBA Day 10: Faustin Linyekula's Le Cargo
The Congolese choreographer takes us on a journey with little but the beauty of his story and dance.
TBA Day 9: Gob Squad's Kitchen
The theater collective offers a witty and charming multimedia riff on Andy Warhol that makes it the best of the fest.
TBA Day 7: Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol Double Review
The Mexican theater collective tackles ambitious political topics with their two shows.
TBA Day 7: Keith Hennessy's Turbulence
A world premiere of a glorious mess that's shot through with enough rigor, humor, and heart to entertain and incite.
TBA Day 6: Perforations
A series of site specific performances by Serbian and Croatian artists contain moments of beauty that are overshadowed by aching moments of boredom.
TBA Day 5: Ten Tiny Dances Slideshow
The perennial favorite delighted with goats, cyborgs, all new performers, gunshots, group slow dances, and a new record for the maximum number of people on stage.
TBA Day 4: Miguel Gutierrez + Nora Chipaumire—Contrasting Reviews
The two artists give performances from opposite sides of the artistic spectrum: from light to darkness and self-revelation to self-obfuscation.
TBA Day 3: Christeene Recap + Nora Chipaumire Talk
Christeene sings "African Mayonnaise," and Zimbabwean-born dancer Chipaumire talks about being an African artist, dealing with the black body, and her performance, Miriam, which will have its final showing tonight.
TBA Day 2: Big Art Group's The People—Portland
Big Art Group transforms Washington High School, inside and out, into a modern retelling of a Greek tragedy that's epic both in scope and imagination. Playing tonight and tomorrow at Washington High School.
TBA Day 1: Interview with the Gender Terrorist Christeene
Austin performer Paul Soileau talks about his booty-bouncing, trash-rapping, grill-wearing, gender queer alter ego who will shake up the Works.
Time-Based Art Festival Preview
TBA celebrates its 10th birthday with a global lineup, some returning stars, a new curator, and a fancy new late night setup at Washington High School. Here are our picks for Week 1.