15-20% of the audience walked out of a dance performance I was at recently. We were in a theatre with no back exit and a stage that ran level with the front row – like Portland’s Imago Theatre. Each person that left had to walk past everyone else in the audience and cross a couple feet downstage of the performers.

I gave the show a standing ovation, feeling like I was the hero of some fantasy Norman Rockwell painting.

I was part of an audience full of artists deeply invested in performance making – opinionated as all hell. Or, at least I was in the audience with them early on in the performance.

Afterwards, we fought about the piece as if daily economic calamity, war, poverty or any number of other crises ceased to exist. Fighting over this one performance was of central importance. And the best/only way we could make any difference in the word was wrapped up in that immediate battle over art.

I knew we would argue like this, so wrote down all the things I admired about the performance. I anticipated how the haters would hate so as to readily refute their bogus claims. It got heated. It forced us to show what cards we were holding, where our values and allegiances aligned and where they recoiled.

Their critiques revealed that they weren’t seeing the same performance I was seeing. It offended me that they would see simplicity where I saw intricacy. It was like they said all __(insert ethnicity)__people looked alike. And it made me fear for a future blunt of perception.

Whenever I hate a performance, I love to hear others explain what they appreciated about it.

No one worth talking to will begrudge you your values; even though they may test them with flabbergasting insistence.

Krystal South wrote a thoughtful and smart post well worth reading entitledPotential Risk of Failure. I appreciate her points even if the potential risk of failure didn’t feel so palpable to me during the majority of TBA:11′s performances.

Part of this boils down to the fact that most performances that are presented in TBA are already dialed in by national and international tours prior to their presentation in Portland. Consider how the human factor differentiates visual and live time-based arts. Imagine crafting a performance for a period of time (several piece at TBA:11 took years to develop) and then premiering the piece, and then performing the piece in a number of cities over the course of a year or longer, and then coming to Portland, Oregon.

How is the premier different from the performance that occurs a year later? How does a performance differ in the second city it tours to compared to the third? Can work fail if it’s already been deemed laudable by other cities’ critics, festivals and audiences?

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion premiered Radio Show in Pittsburgh in January of 2010 before performing in NYC and making their West Coast premier here in Portland.

Rude Mech‘s The Method Gun also premiered in the first half of 2010 and had been staged in at least six different venues before arriving at Portland’s Imago Theatre.

Rachid Ouramdane‘s World Fair is quite new, having premiered in May and touring France through July. Portland audience’s were the first outside France to see World Fair before it travels to a couple other cities in the USA and Canada and continues to tour Europe.

tEEth premiered Home Made here in Portland last November and received a killer cash prize presenting an excerpt of the work at Seattle’s On the Boards Theatre in January.

zoe | juniper‘s A Crack in Everything is even newer, having been performed only at its premier this past July at Jacob’s Pillow in Massachusetts.

I love that Mike Daisy was able to premier his audacious 24-hour monologue in Portland. I love how Kyle Abraham could hop on the mic after presenting his work-in-progress solo and invite audience feedback. I love that zoe | juniper were able to make their first foray into dance installation because PICA facilitated a residency at Washington High School over the summer leading up to TBA. Zoe said she couldn’t imagine it happening anywhere else.

PICA and Portland (because it always feels like half the town volunteers during the festival) have achieved so much to be proud of, and we all owe them much gratitude for their devotion, but the nights I was in attendance, the main-stage performances didn’t induce anyone to stomp/sneak out mid-show.

“Why not?” is a question worth considering.

Now for a fat copy and paste from Claudia La Rocco’s report on TBA:11 for the New York Times.

Still, Portland’s festival remains an outpost within the largely conservative landscape of performing arts presenters. Often what audiences see on these stages — especially the bigger ones — is more reflective of art from the past, with little attention paid to how artists currently approach and consider their traditions.

“That’s one of the biggest disappointments I have around the culture we live in, in the States,” said Philip Bither, senior curator for performing arts at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, one of the few major American institutions to throw its weight behind contemporary, interdisciplinary artistic practice. “That which is, to my mind, the norm of what our culture is producing now, that which is most relevant to our times, is viewed as fringe or oddball or just out of the mainstream. Internationally the keys to the big opera houses and major cultural institutions have been handed over years if not decades ago to contemporary artists. That’s not happened in the States, so it relegates those who are trying to support the work of our times to this odd, hard-to-describe, hard-to-understand, ghettoized thing.”

Originally published on PICA’s TBA:11 Blog


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