Dani Tirrel’s The Beautiful pictured above.
Tonight marks the final presentation of Portland’s Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance. Running for two weekends at the Artist Repertory Theatre, the festival features works that encompass originality and thoughtfulness, casting a handful of themes into one multidimensional, collective backdrop. Here is a run-down of this week’s four debut performances.
Dani Tirrell’s The Beautiful begins upon two blank canvases. The American flag is dual-projected onto a white screen opposing a second version on a black backdrop. Dani first appears to us, shy and modestly wrapped in a sweatshirt and gym shorts, hood on alert. The background streams patriotic musings, important textural messages and mash-ups of sporadic video clips that live together with meaningful audio. We see images of who I imagine is Dani dancing on a black and white checkered floor, thuggy fashion shows and other pieces with origins I am unable to decipher. Our eyes are naturally drawn to watch the white screen as it is more noticeable and clear and I’m guessing this isn’t an accident.
We watch Dani begin to transform. He removes his second skin, not with overzealous pride but with relief. The dance is personal and an expression of the different masks I’m guessing he has both absorbed and portrayed at some point in his life — and I wonder what my dance might look like. Throughout the performance Dani appears purposefully genderless. The audio points to the definition of “masculinity” and redirects us to the definition of being. A dark shadow layering on the white backdrop is no more helpful in categorizing Dani as anything other than a free-floating organism much like ourselves.
Katie Piatt’s Springfield Today (Live) reroutes us to the foreign galaxy that is Springfield, Missouri. Some may call it “The Bluebird State,” “The Cave State” and even, “The Show Me State,” but it is understood more naturally as the state where organic comedy is meant to be harvested and where imagination flourishes, untouched by the knowledge of alter-existences.
Springfield Today Live features interviews with three different “locals” hand-picked from the audience. They are encouraged to assume their natural form from the outfits provided, setting off a chain reaction in the comedy’s content. Our host, George Warshington (Katie Piatt herself), mad-libs with the owner of The Step Child Bar & Lounge, a local woman utilizing a new form of cremation, and an experienced spelunker. The responses are surprising and at times seemingly too perfect. All of the stories Katie created are based on memories, experiences and stereotypes she became familiar with here, her hometown. This interactive portion of the festival lightens our minds and opens our hearts to the creative and childlike nature that is ignorant bliss.
Tim-Smith Stewart’s Awaiting Oblivion or How to be ok when everything is not ok – Temporary Solutions for surviving the dystopian future we find ourselves within at present is certainly a mouthful. However, it is clearly the emblem of the performance. There is no mistaking the message here.
The show begins through the reading and acting of a letter to Tim from an anonymous street artist known as AO (Awaiting Oblivion) regarding the creation of this performance. We begin to understand the circle of thought as Skylar Tatro reads,
The projection of our apocalyptic future through fiction is in the same moment terrifying and tranquilizing for me, because the dystopian future I’m most terrified of is happening now. Our dystopian future at present is sadder, and more complex than the fictions of apocalypse constructed to manage our denial of the dystopian future we find ourselves within at present.
As the stage is set and reset with the manifestation of the human condition, we are called out as a species. AO’s letter references The Hunger Games and the the tyrannical dictatorship (The Capitol) that forms the spine of this story. Tim is the formal recipient of the criticism, but the accusation is all inclusive. The description of our own self-capitalism is incredibly heavy to bear but made comedic by the use of nearly flawless, synchronized cheer routines and softened by elegant contemporary dance motions.
“Reasons to Die” vs “Reasons to Not Die” is a debate told by two voices. Through this, two actresses continue this important conversation by alluding to actual events and places in Portland. Although it is appropriately the two bodies delivering, I sense that this is purely an image plucked from the struggling mind of AO. The argument continues the theme, and is a relative depiction of forces we constantly grapple with as evolving stardust.
Jessica Jobaris & General Magic’s A Great Hunger was the literal climax to the festival’s building foreplay of ideals, themes, angst and lush imagery. It begins with a looping-wave translated on one long, white backdrop. Our vision fixed, we are moving with it. Together we wade into the sea — lured by the visual, lulled by our ears.
The landscape keeps changing though. Just as soon as we seem to settle into a movement our focus is redirected. Now stark naked, bodies appear like ants flooding the stage. They move about manically, but my sight becomes re-centered again and my mind perplexed in the pinning and thrusting of a coupled body in the background. The scene changes again and I can barely keep up. With the swell of each scene I considered descending the bleachers to join this group in whatever they were doing. Whether it was seizing about in red light to Joy Division, trying on alter-egos, or indulging in synchronized self-pleasure, I was with them.
Risk/Reward will continue running these performances tonight at 7:30pm before retiring the festival for the year.