The buzz you're hearing about TBA is all true. Portland's Institute for Contemporary Art has continued to build on its success by attracting world class talent and creating an artistic epicenter that should not be missed.
This Saturday night I caught two TBA simply amazing TBA performances:
Geisha opens with dancer Jye-Hwei Lin, dressed only in a pair of blue jeans, who dances and moves around the bare stage to no music. This opening piece sets the stage for what it to follow. Lin's bare chest creates a musical canvas with which she uses every inch. Each breath, tilt, movement is carefully cherished in this dance.
Lin's dance is beyond captivating. As she holds a pose, arms stretched out, body nearly frozen, she waves her fingers as if they're caught in the breeze. This tiny movement on a huge stage is as loud as the leaps and twists which later follow in the piece.
Lin's stark opening dance is followed by Lee Sher, wrapped in a silk robe, she serenades the audience with Israeli pop music (lip synchs to a concert track which includes audience cheering). This interplay between the dance and Sher's pop serenade gives the piece a fascinating contrast and breaks up the quiet and tiny universe which opens the piece.
After several scenes Lin is joined in her dance by Saar Harari who mirrors Lin's dance and sexual energy while transforming the moves and energy from female to male. What follows is an electrifying dance between Lin and Harari which each dancer wrestles with whose dance it is. Lin pulls back in elements of her solo dance and Harari transforms those elements.
The two dancers drift between synchronization, responsive dancing and stillness. As the piece build the two dancer's orbit draw closer and closer. As an audience member you're pulled into this dance, waiting, hoping, wishing that the two worlds will collide. But just as this anticipation comes to a crescendo it's interrupted by another song from Lee Sher.
I won't spoil the ending of this piece, the 'will they, won't they' drama is part of the whole excitement and I think it would be a disservice to clue you in on the ending. But I was amazed at the end of the piece just how sucked in to the drama I had become. I've seen a good amount of modern dance but never anything so deliberate, passionate and amazing as Leesarr's Geisha. This is the kind of work that could awaken a love for modern dance. Leesaar performs Geisha one more time (Sun Sept 7 8:30pm at Lincoln Hall/PSU) be sure not to miss it.
I saw Mike Daisey perform his monologue "21 Dog Years, Doing Time @ Amazon.com" when he brought it to Portland in 2005. I found 21 Dog Years to be a funny, amusing and entertaining monologue, worth every penny of admission. It was enough make me want to see Daisey again when I heard he was returning with TBA.
Something has obviously happened to Daisey over the past three years, because what he did at Portland Center Stage's Gerding Theater was nothing short of landmark. As guest festival director Mark Russel introduced Daisey he mentioned that the desk and chair on stage belonged to Spalding Gray. As he said this I gasped. To me it's almost unthinkable that another performer, outside of a Spalding Gray tribute show, would be permitted to use Gray's trademark desk and chair. Russel commented that he and Eric Bogosian felt that there was no one better than Daisey to be permitted to sit behind that desk… and they're right.
When Spalding Gray died I thought it was simply the end of an art form. Great monologists are few and far between and I doubted that anyone would ever really be able to follow in Gray's footsteps. I was wrong. Mike Daisey is Gray's heir apparent. His monologue MONOPOLY! is one of the smartest, funniest and well crafted piece I've seen on stage. Daisey's mastery of which story to tell when and his deep understanding of metaphor as commentary echoes some of the very best work of Gray. But Daisey isn't doing a Grey impersonation. His style, cadence and narrative are uniquely his own.
MONOPOLY! weaves several stories together including the history of Nikola Tesla, Daisey's attempt to mount an avant-garde theater piece featuring a Tessla coil, the history of the Monopoly board game, his experience with a Microsoft industrial video shoot, his family in Maine and the impact of the local Walmart on the town. Daisey's weaving of the stories is pitch perfect and he uses the interconnections of them to express the core themes of the piece.
MONOPOLY! is extremely entertaining and laugh out loud funny. It plays one more time at the festival (Sun Sept 7 8:30pm at Gerding Theater at the Armory) and then later in the festival he performs a new monologue If you See Something, Say Something that I will absolutely be seeing.