News Column

TBA 2013: Top 10 picks for this year's Time-Based Art Festival

September 6, 2013


Sept. 06--In its first 10 years, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Arts' Time-Based Art Festival has shown that when it comes to experimental performance and visual art, almost anything goes.

In the festival's short history, audiences have experienced a mix of the bold, the fascinating and the bizarre. That's included a tap-dancing Mexican geisha, a Japanese dancer doing the unthinkable to a cooking pancake, a middle-aged gay man re-creating a Beyonce concert, even a verbatim staged reading of "The Great Gatsby" that lasted a whopping eight hours.

That all may sound strange, but TBA's mission is to challenge audiences to think beyond traditional performance standards to explore what it means to be alive and creative in this very moment -- hence the emphasis on time.

When it works -- and it often does -- there's the excitement of discovery mixed with laughter, anger, even tears.

So what's in store for TBA 2013? Like previous years, almost anything goes in this 11th go-round. But these 10 shows and events look promising:

The Works: The late-night performance venue The Works is the heart and soul of TBA. For the last four years it's been at long-closed Washington High School in Southeast Portland, but this year it moves to Portland's west side for the first time since 2005. The new home is a massive Northwest warehouse space that used to house part of Con-Way Freight and soon is scheduled to be converted into an upscale grocery store.

"For some people, TBA is the high school," says Kristan Kennedy, PICA's visual arts curator. "Having it on the west side may seem strange to them."

Unlike the high school, which used classroom space for visual arts displays and had a theater for staged performances, the Con-Way building is a big cavern, into which PICA is building an enclosed theater space for regular ticketed performances, plus a special stage for the late-night shows.

"The Works is going to feel different this year because the space is so different," says Erin Boberg Doughton, the performing art program director.

At The Works, performances range from opening night's The Julie Ruin, a rock band featuring Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, to a gender-bending drag ball called "Critical Mascara." Other performances include a pop-opera, a surreal live television show, and an audience-curated YouTube experience.

The Works will also feature video installations, a beer garden and a full kitchen with some of the city's most creative chefs making surprise dishes that will take late-night snacking to a whole new level.

PICA is keeping admission to The Works at $10 a night, a price that ensures big crowds, helping keep the festival fiscally sustainable.

"That social gathering spot has helped save us over the years," Boberg Doughton says.

Nightly Sept. 12-21, Con-Way, 2170 N.W. Raleigh St.

"Still Standing You": Portuguese artist and dancer Guilherme Garrido collaborates with Belgian dancer Pieter Ampe in an hourlong performance that explores themes of masculinity, friendship, rivalry and love.

"It's hard to put your finger on what their relationship is in this piece," Boberg Doughton says. "Are they lovers, brothers, enemies? There's a level of intricacy in it that's really intense."

Sept. 13-14, Winningtstad Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway

Trajal Harrell: What would have happened if the early post-modern choreographers from Judson Church had gone to uptown Manhattan to attend one of Harlem's drag balls? In "M2M," New York choreographer Trajal Harrell mixes voguing, gospel, jazz and funk, in a work that's been described as sweaty, ecstatic and beautiful. He also unveils a second work, "Antigone Jr.," that looks at Greek tragedy with a modern sensibility.

To deepen the experience, PICA has assembled related events including a lecture, a special screening of the landmark documentary "Paris Is Burning," and a behind-the-scenes conversation with Harrell.

Sept. 13-15, Con-Way

"This Is How We Disappear": PICA has always championed locally created art, and this collaboration between choreographer Suniti Dernovsek and visual artist David Stein uses dance, sound and visual projections to explore how human relationships change with the passage of time. As danced by the Portland-based dance company Bobbevy, the work has its world premiere at the festival.

Sept. 13-16, BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 N.W. 17th Ave.

Meow Meow and Thomas Lauderdale: If you can only catch one TBA performance, this may be the one to seek out. Meow Meow is a cabaret artist who returns to TBA for the first time since 2008. Her act is a chain-smoking hot-mess of a chanteuse who mixes sensuality with crazed satire.

Adding to the allure, she performs with Pink Martini's Thomas Lauderdale on the piano, with the full Oregon Symphony backing her up. A night at the symphony has never been quite like this.

Sept. 14, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 S.W. Broadway

"Three Trick Pony": Another world premiere for a Portland-based work. Linda Austin, the co-founder and director of Performance Works Northwest, is one of the true treasures of the city's dance scene, and has created site-specific dances for previous TBA festivals. This time, she's collaborating with visual artist and performer David Eckard, who has created a sculptural installation that she'll dance around and against, in a sort of choreographic war of wills.

Sept. 15, 16 and 18, Con-Way

Miguel Gutierrez: This New York dance and music artist is a TBA audience favorite. This year he's all over the festival, with workshops, public residencies and a performance called "And Lose the Name of Action" that anchors the performance schedule. The new work delves into how dance inhabits the mind and gives new meaning to mortality.

Sept. 16, 20 and 21, Hampton Opera Center, 211 S.E. Caruthers St.

Nacera Belaza: This Algerian-born choreographer offers two new works as part of the festival, including a show of solos, and another that's a one-night-only duet with her sister. Her dances have been described as mesmerizing and intense.

Sept. 19-21, Con-Way

"We Are Still Watching": Wish you could be a festival performer? Here's your chance with this theatrical work for Ivana Muller. Audience members grab scripts when they enter, and slowly everyone is assigned a role in a read-through that goes into unexpected territory. Seating is limited, so advanced tickets are recommended.

Sept. 21-22, Con-Way

TBA Visual Arts: Because they aren't under one roof this year, sampling TBA's visual art offerings will require a little more foot-work. But Kennedy has taken the need for various venues as an opportunity to examine the effectiveness -- and ineffectiveness -- of community and how dialogues are built around visual art. She's particularly excited about the display "Puzzles as Sculptures" by Portland artist Alex Mackin Dolan, which takes everyday objects and turns them into games. Kennedy describes it as a "sculpture show with a cyborg element." You had us at "cyborg."

Another interesting show comes from Portland artist Krystal South, who is creating a piece about how art plays out on the Internet. It questions whether the online world is a cold, isolated place for artists, or a place where community can be built.

Various venues, with some shows running through late October.

-- Grant Butler

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