This year’s Fertile Ground comes at a weird time. The citywide festival of all-new works kicked off the day before the inauguration, forcing just about every piece into an apocalyptic context. Plus, ripping yourself away from a protest to go to the theater can feel frivolous. But if there’s one thing the Portland performance scene is intent on, it’s making sure its work isn’t frivolous. From abstract narratives to agitprop, Fertile Ground so far has been a whirl of artistic fervor given sharper meaning and purpose because of a situation most of us weren’t bargaining for. Willamette Week writers picked their favorite things they’ve seen so far, and what they’re most looking forward to in the final days of the festival.
Being a human is tough. When an angel tries out a human body for thef there’s one thing the Portland performance scene is intent on, it’s making sure its work isn’t frivolous first time, the limits and joys of skin and bone are explored in a way that we humans may often feel, deep within our vessels of humanness, but don’t know how to express. Part dance, part theater, Sky Yeager’s Last Dance is about an angel named Zephon occupying the body of a woman named Anne (Jaime Lee Christiana). Zephon expresses these joys and limitations of her new human form in a mash-up of human emotion as she writhes and air punches and caresses her womanly figure, inspiring the audience to feel that range of emotion within themselves.
Go see: The Baby Project, a solo show by Sarah E. Shively, will tackle the experience of wanting a baby. I look forward to witnessing how Shively will portray the anxiety of a ticking biological clock. BRITANY ROBINSON.
Based on the Pacific Northwest’s most famous robber and the only unsolved skyjacking in American history, Tommy Smith’s script is a rapid-fire exploration of who the mysterious D. B. Cooper might be. Directed by Isaac Lamb, the show flashes by in a series of vignettes exploring the potential identities of Cooper (played by various members of the ensemble), intercut with the story of the hijacking itself from the perspective of stewardess Tina Mucklow (Rebecca Lingafelter). Strap in and pay attention, or you may get lost in the flurry of people, places and motives, but the result is well worth it.
Go see: Iphigenia 3.0 is presented by Orphic, which promises a bloody update on one of the lesser-known versions of the ancient Greek siblings, Orestes and Iphigenia. HAILEY BACHRACH.
At last Saturday’s performance, Robert Guitron, the artistic director of contemporary dance company Polaris, got teary-eyed as he quoted Winston Churchill: “When they wanted to cut arts funding during the war, he said, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’” Just one of many works from several companies in Polaris’ Groovin’ Greenhouse, Guitron’s Divisive-Divide creates a series of scenes that are often Boschian in their tension and chaos: Dancers ominously square off, others intensely drag their fingers across their foreheads and chests as if they’re offering some kind of strange prayer. But amid all that, there’s tender moments of human connection: In warm circles of spotlight, pairs of dancers hold one another tightly and trace the lines of each other’s bodies. It’s not quite clear whether intimacy or cold aggression emerges victorious, but it’s a gripping fight.
Go see: The experimental Hand2Mouth is workshopping a bizarre-sounding piece of devised theater, Psychic Utopia, about the human desire for a perfect society and the side effects of chasing that dream. SHANNON GORMLEY.
Fertile Ground runs through Jan. 29. See fertilegroundpdx.org for the full schedule. Passes $50, individual tickets available.