And, as in its early years of transience, TBA has nested somewhere new. The Works, the fest's late-night social hub, is moving to a warehouse in inner Southeast Portland that last played home to Fashion Tech, a window blind-maker that closed in late 2012. The 30,000-square-foot space is similar in size to the Con-Way building that housed the Works last year, but Mattox says it won't feel quite so industrial. It will also be, she promises, "sweatier and sexier."
That will be a particularly welcome vibe on Saturday, Sept. 13, which brings the return of Pepper Pepper's wildly popular, no-holds-barred drag ball Critical Mascara (one of last year's winners was a genderfuck Jesus). Other nights at the Works feature standup comedy, cinematic deconstruction and plenty of musical experimentation.
Here are two top picks for TBA's first week, along with brief looks at five other main-stage shows. Read more on musician Tim Hecker here, or look for posts tagged as TBA. We'll be blogging regularly at wweek.com, and make sure to pick up next week's paper for preview coverage of, among other things, experimental film and elderly Portlanders' sex lives.
Eisa Jocson, Death of a Pole Dancer and Macho Dancer
For years, Filipina performer Eisa Jocson was defined as a pole dancer. Yes, one with ballet training who asked incisive questions about sexuality, stigma and the economics of desire, and one who toured contemporary-performance festivals in Europe rather than working the Manila nightclub circuit, but a pole dancer nevertheless.
"I fit the stereotype of a pole dancer: young and from an exotic country," she says. "But I fit so much into the stereotype that people had a hard time distinguishing me from the identity I'm performing."
Frustrated with these limitations, a few years ago Jocson dove into an entirely different form of movement: macho dancing. Characterized by snakelike undulations and set to power ballads by Mariah Carey and Celine Dion, it's a dance form unique to the Philippines—and performed exclusively by young men in nightclubs. Jocson began visiting these clubs, approaching the dancers she most admired. Though skeptical at first, they quickly recognized Jocson's dedication. She also started lifting weights, prompting a change in her physique that "made the macho dancing make more sense," she says.
The resulting work, Macho Dancer, is entrancing. Fog swirls as "Total Eclipse of the Heart" booms from the speakers. Dressed in black cowboy boots and tiny camo-print shorts—belt buckle undone—Jocson slithers her torso and shapes her hands into pistols. She pantomimes firing each one. She slides onto her knees and arches her back, splaying her arms to the side. Her gaze remains intent, her mouth unsmiling. At one point, she stops and lifts an arm to gaze admiringly at a flexed biceps.
What does it mean for Jocson, as a Filipina woman, to adopt a movement vocabulary that's simultaneously powerful—those flexed biceps and pistol pantomimes—and marginalized, relegated to the peripheral space of nighttime entertainment? The implications are dizzying, particularly when she performs Macho Dancer alongside the graceful and airy Death of a Pole Dancer, as she will at TBA. "There's a very fine line between performed femininity and performed masculinity," she says.
Jocson adds that she makes an effort to visit nightclubs when she travels. In Bangkok, for example, she sought out gay, strip and transgender clubs. Perhaps Portland, with its glut of strip clubs, will offer further education.
"I'm very interested in this margin of nightlife," Jocson says. "It's a very functional way of performing gender, and a very economic way of doing so. You can tell a lot about the social contract between people in terms of the performances."
Bodyvox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave. 8:30 pm Friday-Saturday, Sept. 12-13. $16-$20.
Luke George, Not About Face
Portlanders are pretty casual when it comes to getting dressed for the theater. Flannel? Ratty sweatshirt? Zip-off hiking pants? Whatever. But at Luke George's Not About Face, it really doesn't matter how you're attired—because you're going to be obscured beneath a bedsheet as soon as you enter.
George, an Australian dancer and performer, isn't just trying to get his audience to look like a gaggle of kids in homemade ghost costumes (or, more ominously, like a group of Klansmen). Not About Face began with questions about the relationship between performer and audience. "I started exploring the idea of a piece where everybody is in the action," George says.
That meant no stage or seats, but George wanted to push this investigation further. In his other work, he'd been experimenting with sensory deprivation: blindfolds, for example, or white noise piped through his headphones. "I became quite interested in taking away certain senses and seeing what arose through that," he says. "Already I knew I wanted to call the piece Not About Face, which wasn't directly about not having a face, but what happens if we don't name things. If we take away the things we immediately identify with. Sometimes it feels like a gift to have a face and to be able to relate to people, and sometimes it feels like a curse."
So what happens after audience members have been draped in household linens? There are musings from George (during TBA, his collaborator, Hilary Clark, will occasionally perform in his place) on everything from hunger and heat to telepathic experiences of love and his affinity for spooning. There's dancing, sometimes dervish-style whirling, sometimes feverish pulsations, sometimes downright awkward convulsions. And there are moments that, at least for George, verge on ritual—instances when he asks the audience to huddle, to cuddle, to sing and, of course, to spoon. But the choice ultimately comes down to the individual. "You can do whatever you want in the space," he says.
That's led to some surprises. One woman walked out of a performance—she later told George it was claustrophobic beneath the sheet, and that she felt undue pressure to follow his instructions. Another audience member spent most of one performance lying against a wall. "It was really beautiful, this shrouded figure, almost like a sarcophagus," George says. "But other people got really angry. They didn't pipe up in that moment, but they talked about it afterward."
Even so, George has found the piece typically prompts intimacy rather than animosity. The sheets, he says, increase self-awareness but decrease self-consciousness, providing a sense of anonymity that encourages impulsivity. And for as much as George speaks about invoking spirits or reading auras, he approaches the work with refreshing levity.
"At first the shrouds seemed fun and gimmicky, but they actually became quite poetic and vital," he says. "At the beginning especially, it's a fun and childlike thing. People giggle and twirl and get their phones out and post to Instagram. It gets people together for a kind of playtime."
Conduit Dance, 918 SW Yamhill St., Suite 401. 4:30 pm Sunday, 8:30 pm Monday-Thursday, Sept. 14-18. $16-$20.
Also Showing At TBA
Samita Sinha, Cipher
Anyone who's seen a live performance of Indian classical music knows the sound alone is intoxicating enough. Not, it would seem, for Samita Sinha, the vocalist and performance artist whose Cipher takes the form to ecstatic, active heights. Kneeling on a triangular stage, an oblong piece of plastic strapped to her upper arm, Sinha praises, protests and proselytizes. Her only tools are her voice, a rhythmically erratic backing track and her body, which seems more at the mercy of her soaring melodies than her mind. Like Voices and her other previous work, Cipher examines obtuse themes—self, the global village and appropriation—in a complex style. But Sinha's performance is so intoxicating it's as if she has stepped off the stage, taken you by the arm and told you a story in your own native tongue. This is the power of Cipher: It's less a cryptography of political meaning than a Rosetta Stone for the soul. MITCH LILLIE. Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway. 6:30 pm Friday-Saturday, Sept. 12-13.
Tanya Tagaq, Nanook of the North
Throat singing has become something of a buzz genre among world music fans, mostly thanks to Huun-Huur-Tuu and similarly jaunty folk groups from Central Asia. Tanya Tagaq is nothing like these throat singers. She practices a modernized form of katajjaq, a form of Inuit throat singing from Nunavut in the Canadian Arctic. The name "katajjaq" hints at the harsh atonal sounds, traditionally sung as tit-for-tat duets between women. Tagaq's only partners are her electronic and live backing, which for this performance includes three fellow Canadian artists: a violinist, drummer and composer. Together, they reclaim Nanook of the North, a 1922 film noted as much for its seminal documentary elements as its racist overtones. The film elicits a strong reaction from Tagaq, whose animalistic grunts and calls come from a place far deeper than her throat. Her style is intense and political, but never without a humorous look at the bigger picture. "'Look at these savage people that have no idea what this is, oh isn't that funny, they don't know,'" she said of Nanook's prejudices to the CBC. "And it's like, yeah, why don't we take someone living in England and put them on the land and laugh at them for dying in the cold?" MITCH LILLIE. Portland State University, Lincoln Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave. 8:30 pm Friday-Saturday, Sept. 12-13. $24-$30.
BodyCartography Project, Super Nature
At many shows, there's a firm line between audience and performers. That's not the case in BodyCartography Project's Super Nature, an installation piece that aims to erase such lines and "choreograph empathy" between dancers and audience. The piece, created by BodyCartography co-founders Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad, takes place in a spare, dimly lit room, in which one audience member and one dancer interact for about 15 minutes. The dancers don't work with set choreography, and instead move based on how the other person is responding. One video of the performance shows an audience member standing with his arms crossed stiffly as the dancer jumps and twirls around him. In another, a woman shies away from a dancer as she falls to the floor, before joining in with her own hesitant spins and sways, to which the dancer then adjusts. As you might imagine, there's a lot of opportunity for awkwardness—can't I just hide out in a corner? How would the dancer react to a halfhearted disco move? What if I breathe too loud?—but for the folks at Minneapolis' BodyCartography, that's sort of the point. Without a narrative, Super Nature is all about the intimacy of emotion. And cheapskates, take note: This one is free. KAITIE TODD. The Works at Fashion Tech, 2010 SE 8th Ave. Noon-6 pm Friday-Sunday, Sept. 12-14. Free.
Tahni Holt, Duet Love
For the past 18 years, Portland choreographer Tahni Holt has created experimental dances that urge audiences to question something—whether that's the overall narrative of the piece, the meaning of "normal," or the relationship between audience and performers. Her latest piece, Duet Love, should be no exception. Drawing from iconic photos of famous couples, the piece sets out to explore how closely gender is tied up in movement. Split into three parts and performed by Northwest dancers Ezra Dickinson, Keyon Gaskin, Allie Hankins and Lucy Yin, Duet Love explores how our heteronormative assumptions are upended when we're met with unexpected movements and emotions. "Several times, it feels like watching foreplay," wrote The Stranger earlier this month. As in Holt's previous works, expect sparse lighting, minimal costumes (including a middle section performed almost entirely in the nude) and surprising movement alternating between tightly calculated and loosely sweeping—all meant to toy with your notions of gender, romance and relationships. KAITIE TODD. Imago Theatre, 17 SE 8th Ave. 6:30 pm Saturday-Tuesday, Sept. 13-16. $16-$20.
Cynthia Hopkins, A Living Documentary
It will be news to no one at TBA that supporting yourself as a working artist is rarely easy. A Living Documentary, Cynthia Hopkins' one-woman piece that blurs the line between autobiography and fiction to explore the challenges of making a living as a performer, should meet a welcoming audience. Hopkins' previous works have addressed climate change, her father's battle with Parkinson's disease and her mother's death from cancer, but this one is stripped down and smaller in scale (read: cheap and easy to take on the road). In it, Hopkins adopts various roles—including a wistful but no-nonsense older man and a Southern-accented motivational speaker who evangelizes the importance of growing "spiritual testicles." And, as is her style, she drops in plenty of songs and accordion interludes. It's part confessional and part career seminar, grounded by a storytelling style The New York Times called "folksy and sincere." REBECCA JACOBSON. Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway. 6:30 pm Monday-Tuesday, Sept. 15-16. $20-$25.
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.