Tart and Sweet
Portland’s Time-Based Arts Festival breaks artistic boundaries
BY BRETT CAMPBELL
|Donna Uchizono Company. MARIA ANGUERA DE SOJO|
|Haircuts by Children. JOHN LAUENDAR|
|Rinde Eckert. SIBILA SAVAGE|
Every summer, Oregon breaks out in berries and arts festivals. From Chamber Music Northwest to Country Fair to various festivals on the coast, it’s hard to find a weekend without several choices of attractive performances. But among all of them, three seem to garner the most national attention: the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (we’ll be covering that on 9/13), the Oregon Bach Festival and Portland’s Time-Based Arts Festival — the upstart of the bunch and the most exciting of them all. Embracing dance, theater, music, film, visual arts and combinations of all of the above and more, PICA is directed again this year by Mark Russell, who won so much acclaim for turning New York City’s P.S. 122 into one of the world’s hotbeds of avant garde performance. So if you want your art, like your berries, to be tart as well as sweet, provocative as well as enjoyable, TBA is the Northwest arts event of the year. And yet, for all its excitement, TBA does pose some challenges for potential audiences.
Who? Now in its fifth year, TBA has established its own international reputation separate from the artists it brings. And that’s critical, because being on the bleeding edge of performing arts means that, by definition, a good number of the artists who appear (with past exceptions like DJ Spooky and Laurie Anderson and, this year, some guy named Baryshnikov) will be unknown to most of the audience. Over the years, TBA and its sponsor, Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, have earned the trust of audiences who know that taking a chance on an act they’ve never heard of is highly likely to result in a thought provoking, emotionally moving and/or humorous (though not necessarily ha-ha funny) experience. And one of the best parts of TBA is, you can chat about what you’ve just seen with other arts lovers at the after-show cabaret/hideout/cafe/all-around-gathering-spot called The Works, created by local architects from scratch each year in a different place. Also remember that all the visual art and installations are free (= low risk).
Where. For Eugeneans and other out of town visitors, the travel issue can be offputting. That’s why this year, recognizing that one in six of the more than 20,000 adventurous arts lovers who attended last year’s fest came from outside Portland metro area, TBA has organized what it calls the Future Aesthetics package. Audience members can experience performances, chats, workshops and lectures on the theme of new elements in American hip hop (including theatre and poetry) all in one weekend — and at a steep discount. Mention it when you call for tix.
How much. With more than 300 artists (some traveling from Brazil, Belgium, Mexico and around the U.S., plus many superior regional performers), the sheer quantity can be intimidating, especially when the names are unfamiliar. The list below hits just a few of the highlights, but experience has taught me that often the most mind-blowing TBA performances have come from those you least expect. Last year, it was Nature Theatre of Oklahoma (actually New Yorkers who return this year) and Japan’s Yubiwa Hotel; the year before, Kita Yamazaki’s Fluid Hug Hug (a PICA commission) and Seattle’s Locust. So the best thing to do is check out the festival website, www.pica.org/tba, pick a half dozen or shows that look intriguing — and then take a chance on a wild card (maybe Portland’s tEEth, Mexico’s Las Chicas del 3.5 Floppies, Belgium’s Charlotte Vanden Eynde or Holland’s multimedia Kassys, or the mylar cowboy, invisible mural, whirling kinetic sculpture or Haircuts by Children), something so weird you’d never try it otherwise. The TBA artists made their reputations by taking artistic risks, so it’s only fitting that audiences do, too.
• Rinde Eckert (Sept. 6). As I drove up to Portland for Eckert’s last PICA-sponsored performance five years ago, I wondered if it’d be worth the trip up and back the same night. It was. The shiny pated, charismatic singer/actor/theater artist (an Obie winner and Pulitzer finalist in drama) has been electrifying audiences for years, and he kicks off this year’s TBA with a new work featuring 500 singing Portlanders, free in Pioneer Courthouse Square.
• Donna Uchizono Company featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov (Sept. 7-8). The award-winning Uchizono has been pushing boundaries in N.Y. dance circles for two decades, and brings two recent works specially commissioned by the world’s best known dancer.
• Fred Frith / Zeena Parkins / Ikue Mori. One of the coolest of the pure music shows, featuring the renowned improvising guitarist Frith, electric harpist Parklins and Mori’s electronics.
• Elevator Repair Service: Gatz (N.Y.) (Sept. 14-16).
This six(!)-hour verbatim theatrical reading of The Great Gatsby is set in a small office harboring strange business operations.
TBA runs Sept. 6-16 all over Portland. The schedule and a bewildering variety of tix and packages are available at www.pica.org/tba