Portland scene clocked by Time Based Arts Festival

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Yoko Higashino, Offsite Dance Project
Photo by Yuta Hinohara

Just up the coast, the contemporary art binge that is Portland Institute of Contemporary Art’s (PICA) ninth Time Based Art Festival (TBA) bubbled with fluidity and openness as the resounding spirit. From September 8-18 that fluidity and openness occurred between contemporary art practices, between the city and the art, between performers and audience members, between onstage and offstage. Not only addressing current global issues, the festival embraced the increasingly porous walls between art disciplines and outside fields, collapsing the container for presenting art experiences.

Under the direction of Cathy Edwards (also the Director of Performance Programs at New Haven’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas and formerly of Dance Theater Workshop and Movement Research), TBA employs a nomadic citywide platform requiring attendees to explore nooks and crannies with eleven main venues spread throughout the four quadrants of Portland. PICA headquarters the festival at the closed Washington High School called “The Works,” a hub for the round-the-clock possibilities including morning workshops with the TBA artists, noontime salons, afternoon happenings, evening performances and late night activity with a beer garden for gathering, digesting and discussing. The clear nights, lush nature, industrial pockets, culinary delights and bike-friendliness that accompany the festival indeed dovetail with the tastes of many San Francisco residents, and help make TBA a ten-day utopia for art lovers.

“The TBA Festival future-forecasts important aesthetic developments,” writes Edwards in the program, and the performances do, in fact, ripple out, with a handful of the TBA artists appearing recently and upcoming in San Francisco. On the opening day of the festival, Shantala Shivalingappa performed solos by her mentors Ushio Amagatsu (of Sankai Juku) and Pina Bausch. Catch her in San Francisco with a Kuchipudi program at the Herbst Theater November 1, presented by San Francisco Performances.

Also coming to town this season, the Portland-based company tEEth appears at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' Left Coast Leaning Festival, December 1-3. Directed by choreographer Angelle Herbert and composer Phillip Kraft, tEEth performed Home Made at TBA, an intimate work with live-feed video, haunting vocals, and plenty of nudity. In the push-pull between hostility and tenderness, hostility dominated the stage for the majority of the work, demonstrating missed connections and relationship struggle with silent and amplified screams, as well as quick-morphing theatrical expressions.

Kyle Abraham, who appeared in San Francisco during the 2011 Black Choreographers Festival with his work-in-process Live! The Realest MC, brought a further developed version of that solo, as well as his full-length work The Radio Show to the festival with his company Abraham.In.Motion. His technique, illuminated during a TBA Institute class, unfolded as a fast-moving mashup of postmodern movement, incorporating influences from New York teacher Kevin Wynn, Merce Cunningham and, naturally, the swift and luscious language of Abraham’s own body.

Taylor Mac, having recently completed his San Francisco run of the epic The Lily’s Revenge, performed his first cabaret at the festival, Comparison is Violence or Ziggy Stardust Meets Tiny Tim Songbook. Highlighting the human tendencies to bring an agenda to the theater and resist audience participation, Mac interrupted himself for a dramatic song here, a David Bowie story there, and, in the end, had the audience on their feet for a mime routine dancing in imaginary bubblegum bubbles.

These are just a handful of the performances that occurred during the ten days in Portland. Augmented by the evening’s natural fade from light to darkness, the Offsite Dance Project, in three parts by Japanese choreographers, immersed witnesses in the playful with Mika Arashiki and Mari Fukutome, the complex with Yukio Suzuki and the disorienting with Yoko Higashino. A train actually ran through the site-specific work, featuring the dance of the city. The program used sites in Southeast Portland’s industrial district for fresh remix of the surroundings.

Austin’s Rude Mechs performed The Method Gun, a theater work based on A Streetcar Named Desire, and gave a talk at the TBA Institute discussing the consensus necessary to create devised work with their group of thirty artists. Additionally, Malina Rodriguez’s Dance Truck – a mobile project that uses the back of a rental truck as a stage - made an appearance from Atlanta. Participatory games by artist Michael Groisman stirred the crowds at Washington High several afternoons. Andrew Dinwiddle’s Get Mad at Sin revisited a 1971 Alabama sermon by Pentecostal preacher Jimmy Swaggart performed in a tent at dusk. Add to that a 24-hour monologue by Mike Daisey, an installation and performance by Seattle-based Zoe|Juniper, and visit from French choreographer Rachid Ouramdance L’A, and you get a sense of the possibilities at TBA.

This year marked a leadership transition for the festival as Cathy Edwards ends her three-year tenure as guest artistic director, passing the torch to San Francisco export and former Yerba Buena Center for the Arts performing arts curator, Angela Mattox. Mattox will remain in Portland year-round (unlike previous directors) expanding PICA’s performing arts programming. While the dates for next year’s TBA are, well, TBA, San Francisco art lovers should plan a jaunt up the coast next September - just a quick flight or ride-share away.