Portland Institute for Contemporary Art's Time-Based Art Festival—that 11-day spree of theater, dance, music, visual art, film and various other uncategorizable, avant-garde and batshit things—turns 11 this year, and the now-tweenage fest has flown the coop. After four years at Southeast Portland's Washington High School, the fest's late-night, social hub moves to a former Con-Way warehouse in Northwest Portland (2170 NW Raleigh St.) In her second year, PICA artistic director Angela Mattox has again curated a globe-spanning program (get ready for some English-language supertitles!), but one that, unlike last year, mercifully leans more personal than political. Here are our top picks for the first week.
Campo (Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido), Still Standing You
It's not to be helped: If you tug on each other's penises in public, that's what people are going to talk about. And indeed, Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido are naked through much of this dance performance. The two tweak each other's genitalia in symbolic macho display, a bit like two giraffes necking in the wild. Maybe it looks tender from the outside, but it's also a battle for sexual primacy. In their own arty-Euro way, the pair are all about the bromance, the humorous posturing and intimacy and, yes, latent sexuality inherent in close male friendship. "It's a very selfish performance, a very self-centered performance," Garrido has said. In a review of their Belgian performance (this will be their U.S. debut), writer Sylvain Verstricht described the show as "what Jackass would look like if it were contemporary dance instead of performance art…the kind of work that can only come from a place of deep friendship and trust. How else could a couple of straight buds hold each other's sweaty cock?" Still Standing You is a sentimental buddy comedy taken to its furthest and most uncomfortable extreme in dance, a wild pas de dudes. But though it delights in spoofing both modern dance and the modern male, the performance is much less How High than high art, a truly intense examination of what we mean when we say, "I love you, man." MATTHEW KORFHAGE. Portland Center for the Performing Arts, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway. 6:30 pm Friday-Saturday, Sept. 13-14. $20-$25. All ages.
Trajal Harrell, Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (M2M) and Antigone Jr./Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (Jr.)
In the early 1960s, a group of New York artists gathered in Greenwich Village, at Judson Memorial Church, to make dance that didn't look like dance. This group—dancers and nondancers alike—aimed to do away with artifice, virtuosity, drama. Everyday movement was dance. Walking was dance. All of life, in fact, was dance.
At the same time, uptown in the ballrooms of Harlem, gay and transgender dancers were laying the roots for voguing. Inspired by fashion magazines as well as Egyptian hieroglyphs, African-Americans and Latinos dressed in drag, struck poses and formed de facto families that competed against one another.
For several years, Trajal Harrell has been driven by a question of historical impossibility: What would have happened if these two traditions—one that eschewed spectacle and another that thrived on it—had come together? Since 2009, Harrell, a dancer and choreographer, has created several pieces—all with tongue-twister names—that tackle this question. (He'll perform four of these at TBA, including one, Antigone Jr., that introduces voguing as a way to explore the essence of ancient Greek tragedy.) Are they plausible imaginings? That's unanswerable. What's certain, though, is that in Harrell's capable hands—and in his skillful moves—these creative collisions are ambitious and cerebral but determinedly fun. Juxtaposing the stripped-down Judson aesthetic with the audacious fashion of voguing, Harrell likes to pair athletic shorts with flamboyant leather boots, or move from an everyday gait into a slinky runway walk. He's as fabulous as he is funny, as subversive as he is seductive. REBECCA JACOBSON. Con-Way Blackbox, 2170 NW Raleigh St. Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (M2M) at 8:30 pm Friday-Saturday, Sept. 13-14. $20-$25. All ages. Antigone Jr./Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (Jr.) at 6 pm Sunday, Sept. 15. $10-$15. All ages.
The Blow, We Put It Together So We Could Take It Apart
Khaela Maricich writes songs in order to explode them. Under the moniker the Blow, the ex-Portlander (now of Brooklyn, natch) has produced six albums of bang-up electro pop, accessible enough to win over Pitchfork and The New York Times. But in truth, the Blow—which started out of Olympia, Wash., in the early 2000s—is more ongoing performance-art piece than true pop group. Integrating monologues and concept-driven visuals into its performances, the band's music is often just an excuse to put on a show, existing only to be mangled, contorted and reshaped live. Maricich and her creative partner, Melissa Dyne, just spent the last seven years crafting the self-titled follow up to 2006's Paper Television, an "odyssey of experimentation" slated for release Oct. 1. And now, before it even comes out, they're planning to destroy it. Little is known about what the Blow's performance at TBA will entail exactly, but judging from the title, We Put It Together So We Can Take It Apart, there might not even be an album left to release come October. MATTHEW SINGER. Portland Center for the Performing Arts, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway. 8:30 pm Sunday-Monday, Sept. 15-16. $15-$20. All ages.
Third Angle New Music Ensemble, In the Dark
The essence of chamber music is communication: Ideally, a few musicians lock in on each other, responding to one another and the score in real time with their body language, facial gestures and careful listening. So what happens when four string players play a long and unfamiliar piece—without being able to see each other, or even the score?
We'll find out when Portland's oldest new music ensemble, Third Angle, takes on Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas' String Quartet No. 3, whose subtitle, "In the Dark," describes the experience for audience and players alike. The four musicians will be scattered around a pitch-dark planetarium. The score—more a set of instructions, really—gives the players various options that can make a performance run anywhere from 35 minutes to much longer. Each performance, as a result, is fresh and unique. It's a rare and valuable opportunity to hear—if not see—the atmospheric microtonal music of the "spectralist" composer, who has long been preoccupied with themes of darkness and light. Says Third Angle's Ron Blessinger: "Everyone attending the performance is going to be seeing a lot in their mind's eye." BRETT CAMPBELL. OMSI Planetarium, 1945 SE Water Ave. 7:30 pm Tuesday-Wednesday and 11:59 pm Thursday, Sept. 17-19. $25-$30. All ages.
A.L. Steiner, Feelings and How to Destroy Them
"Transgressive" is a term too often bandied about vis-à-vis contemporary artists, but with A.L. Steiner, it's an appropriate adjective. While this self-professed "skeptical queer ecofeminist androgyne" delights in toying with conceptions about gender, sexuality and identity politics, she doesn't proffer shock value for its own sake. Yes, her photographs, films, performances and new-media projects feature plenty of nudity, polymorphous naughtiness and most transgressively of all, pubic hair (it's like the '70s never left).
But Steiner's work makes a point of clinging to the larger mission of what transgressive art is supposed to aspire to: self-examination. She's not just going for the outré to stir up a scene; she wants viewers to question uncomfortable issues. For TBA, she will exhibit five video works, photographs and photographic murals, along with her landmark 2010 collaborative film with A.K. Burns, Community Action Center. That terrifically sophisticated, brazenly erotic work (which, cheekily, runs precisely 69 minutes) blends misogynist pornographic tropes such as rape fantasy with scenes of female empowerment. It will be a highlight of this year's TBA, and it may leave you scratching your head as well as readjusting your shorts. RICHARD SPEER. PNCA Feldman Gallery and Project Space, 1241 NW Johnson St. 10 am-7 pm daily through Oct. 26. Free. All ages.
SEE IT: Tickets may be purchased at PICA's box office at 415 SW 10th Ave., by phone at 224-7422 or online at pica.org. Festival passes $48-$500.