TBA Festival opening weekend

Last Thursday, I hitched a ride to Portland for PICA’s annual TBA (Time-Based Art) Festival. Close to midnight, I wandered through the free opening night party at Washington High School (built in 1909/closed in 1981). The ominous brick venue was renamed THE WORKS (yes, all caps, dunno why). TBA Fest volunteers were a harried bunch like chaperones at a party where they’d rather be drinking.

Some volunteers abused their black PICA t-shirts telling visitors to clear out of art installation rooms. Other folks were too polite, leading me down hallways searching for a coat check that didn’t exist. Eventually, I found myself outside the main auditorium where punksters Japanther and Nightshade shadow puppeteers tried to out-rock the crowd.

The audience won. Halfway through Japanther’s set, auditorium lights went on and the crowd stormed the stage and tore the shadow puppet sheet down. The flimsy separation between art and life was revealed.

I was in the beer garden where the concert was projected through a cyclone fence. Watching from this vantage point with the ambient audio of drunken conversations plus aroma of the nearby taco truck was an auspicious start to this year’s festival.

I didn’t intend to write so much about the opening, yet this encapsulated the first weekend of performances for me. With an empty high school as festival headquarters, an adolescent awkwardness and curiosity whetted my apetite for what was to come.

Artistic director Cathy Edwards describes the theme of TBA 2010 as “storytelling.” This is an apt description. (Read more in Portland Monthly, where writers Claudia La Rocco and Anne Adams have been posting insightful entries about the festival.)

Performances I attended ranged from the highly-saturated, multiple narrative threads of The Wooster Group’s interactive 360-degree film collage There is Still Time... Brother and Dana Hanson’s work-in-progress absurdist-rock-dance-theater-elegy Gloria’s Cause to the singular narratives of Jérôme Bel’s direction of dancer Cédric Andrieux in a work about Cédric Andrieux dancing and Mike Daisey’s heart-opening tirade The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.

Daisey and Bel’s work touched me with their no-nonsense staging and direct deliveries. Andrieux performed on a bare stage with a bottle of water and gym bag, Daisey performed seated at a table with a few sheets of paper.

One more note from my experience last weekend - for those of you at Mike Barber’s Ten Tiny Dances 22, you’ll remember the orange. For those of you not there, Ten Tiny ended with Daisey spitting an orange into the sold-out crowd. Need I say more? GO. The TBA Festival runs through September 19th in Portland.