Guest Blog: Sharon Norman

Response by Sharon Norman 

Intro:  I am an older white lady who is a theater junkie. My dance experience is Risk-Reward, Fertile Ground and Nutcracker. I have seen several Risk Reward Festivals.

Risk Reward 2018
Wonder Full
Solo dance full of verbal rhythm as well as Dance. Collapse and rebuild. Confetti celebration.

Planet Pink
Solo Dance. Fun Funky fabulous moves, and I was a tad uncomfortable about Transgender. What pronouns do you use if you don’t know? Or didn’t read the program.

In the White Frame
Family Dance. Mixed race. Heritage of culture shown. Multiple generations.

Air Objects #3 – Music in lobby
Haunting and primal.

War
War Card game of questions. And emphasis on I don’t cheat!  Questions asked of the performer growing up.

Au Collective of Physical Tales
A personal journal shown thru Dance.
Powerful moves. Diversity and same. Or as I been told Same Same but Different.
Wings depicted flying. Soaring. My favorite part.
Water showed swimming fluid.

Guest Blog: Jess Drake

Response by Jess Drake (check out more on dramatoogie.com)
An excerpt from Dramatoogie’s inaugural #NoShowSunday post:

Friday: “Risk Reward Festival” at Artists Rep #ArtsHub
Hands down favorite performance event of the year, for the tight form of 20 minutes for each new artist to present work so we are transported rapidly but completely through totally unique work that always syncs in some zeitgeisty thematic realm of our collective-imagination, with the true potential to launch a new phase of career for non-traditional contemporary artists with sound or movement based practices, especially queer non-gender binary radicals ! and that includes most everyone in the audience any given night !

Guest Blog: Jessica Green

Response by Jessica Green (find out more about her work at https://fusedcreativepdx.com/

I went into the Risk/Reward Festival not knowing what to except. What I got was two hours of brave artists ripping themselves at the seams to show what was going on inside of them and the world they live in.  Britt Karhoff started by showing us the inside of a woman’s brain going through grief and the burden of womanhood. She uses her limited props to show the emotional labor women in our society are set up to go through. Having a wooden table break apart in her hands while she, through rhythmic movements, reassembles it and goes on to use it as her personal stage. Raw and at times uncomfortably funny, she comes undone on stage and then puts herself back together again. A journey every woman can connect with.

Bouton Volonté took the stage and the room in one quick grab of their hands. Prancing to the microphone like they not only owned the place, but all of us too. Bouton made it clear from the beginning that this was their show, and we should be honored they let us witness it. Interweaving their jaw dropping dance moves, body drops and all, with stopping the music to give us a snippet of what it’s like to be a trans person in the world; They managed to create my favorite moment of the night by asking the audience what we thought their gender was, expecting and waiting for an answer.  After a couple sheepish attempts from two women in the crowd calling them gender fluid, a bold man raised his hand. “You’re male.” Bouton looks at him with a perfectly placed head tilt and asked him why he thinks that. “Because I’m a man and you look like me.” After a long pause where I’m pretty sure not a single person took a breath, Bouton asks the man to join them on stage. Keeping with the narrative of their show, Bouton bravely asks the man to please leave the auditorium, stating they don’t feel comfortable performing their next piece with him in the room.  The misinformed man begrudgingly walks out. Bouton then asks if anyone in the room would like to try again to gender them “Maybe one of my friends that are here or someone that read the program.” A person raises their hand and says “Trans-femme?” It was that easy. To me it was a symbol of how simple it is to know someone’s preferred pronouns. All you have to do is ask, all you have to do is take the time and care to know someone and respect who they are.  Once Bouton feels safe they tell us of a child who dreamed of being Maria from The Sound of Music, but unfortunately, they weren’t born white or female enough for that. They place a sheer white dress over their body and take us on a journey through dance and body movements.

Guest Blog: Beth Thompson

Risk and You Shall Receive 

Response by Beth Thompson (Find more info about her and her work at www.bethjthompson.com)

The truth of the matter is I feel safe walking into Risk/Reward. This is a style of performance I identify with; new work made by the performers and using a variety of traditional and post-modern techniques of idea crafting. In the midst of that sense of belonging, I’m so appreciative that these artists did not shrink from pushing me against that comfort.  At times they told us less than we might want to know, they made us reflect on our most liberal and “educated” assumptions and sometimes pushed against our expectations of what a performance piece should require or restrict.
From my totally biased perspective, the Creation and External Reflection of Identity was a running theme. Several performers gracefully and fully let us experience them intimately, inviting us past/through/beyond the storytelling of histories and into simply being with one another’s bodies. From that intimacy, creators crafted reflections of the way they have been formed and boxed by external creations of gender and race.
Crafted by Producing Artistic Director Jerry Tischleder and the Festival Director, Spicy With Katie Watkins, this year’s Risk/Reward is a full and cohesive night of art and expiration. I’m grateful to them for organizing this weekend and for inviting me to respond with these short thoughts. And, I’m grateful to the artists for continuing to push themselves and the audience against the boundaries of The Known, even in a venue where we might be comfortable.
Wonder Full by Britt Karhoff 
A powerful performer with a clown’s instincts and a dancer’s gravity, clinging to a heavy table, trying to keep everything together. I was struck by the intimacy of simple acts; building a table, arranging her space. I felt invited into her work (which is to say, her being). And, as she stopped, breathing hard, dropping her head on the table….I was struck by how hard, how athletic it is to set up a life people want to see. A comedic chorus of “Yes. Yep. Uh-huh.” reflecting the language that women are set up to perform. The struggle to stay sane when the echo chamber of external expectations and stories ensues advancing into hysterical and exhausting. Invited back into the intimacy of this performer’s being as she lies on the floor, breathing hard, when the lights eventually come down.
Planet Pink by Bouton Volonté
I had been looking forward to Volonté’s work and they did not disappoint. A mesmerizing mover. A brilliant eye for beauty. A confident and compassionate Leader of Audience. A lover of Maria from The Sound of Music. Volonté kept their majority white audience on the hook for their privilege while also compassionately and generously inviting us to appreciate their experience of exclusion and then the embodiment of magnificent femme.  A stage littered with luggage and a mirror center stage which, from my seat, had a reflection of the exit sign. All of which felt like an invitation to exit our assumptions about how gender might play as we let the binary slip away.
In The White Frame by Angel “Moonyeka” Alviar-Langley
Early movement drawing with Boxes/Bodies. The impossibility of Balance and hard edges of Identity reflected as bodies move in and out of shadow, balancing themselves on the lines of the box of who they are/would be/can be seen as. The power of the very young bodies on stage; confident, communicative, naturally carrying the ability to impress and discomfort the audience. And, finally, the pain of an Alphabet Book describing limitation, judgement and racism being read aloud…the building blocks through which the world is understood are the accompaniment to which our young, confident dancer moves forward.
War by Eli Steffan
A Dress, A Tarp, A box of Glue and a Deck of Toxic Masculinity. A sense of tension between the desire to play and a reality that no one wants to be seen winning. A ritual act that is never explained, a gross mystery. An act of submission by the performer to the audience. The holders of the keys of masculinity never knowing what the rules are.
Bayanihan: A Collection of Physical Tales Created by the Captivating Cheryl Delostrinos

Simplicity, Something Known and Exquisitely Personal. The Vulnerability and Intimacy of Cheryl’s body as it bounces between something akin to violence and expanse. Too much to recognize in the dance between two lovers as they direct their bodies through their need for and dependency on the other. Foot dances. Seeing a group of woman dancing simply; a quieter, more reserved “party style” movement that allowed each dancer to both self express and to stay singular. I loved seeing these female identifying bodies on stage claiming space in an act that embodied both joy and simple independence; they dance for themselves.

Guest Blog: Katie Piatt

Response by Katie Piatt: Accidental storyteller,
seasoned performance artist
and comedian (stay up to date on their work at http://katiepiatt.com/)

I love the performance community in Portland. It’s small enough that at this year’s Risk/Reward, I was hugging performers from Seattle who I met when I was part of the NWNW festival last summer, but big enough that my friend and fellow comedy troupe member, Shannon, who was sitting next to me, hadn’t heard of the festival but was delighted I invited them.

Risk/Reward #11 this year was full of comedy, melancholy, courage, salt, movement, storytelling, and confetti. These among so many other tiny and large emotions that popped up for me as the pieces played on and as always when attending this festival, I felt the itch of inspiration to start writing down ideas, and I couldn’t fully stay still in my seat. The air was electric.

Britt Karhoff’s piece WONDER FULL at first glance made me feel as though I was seeing perhaps what a stock photograph of a woman would go through if she were to come alive before me: always sort of smiling, always answering “yes” and “uh huh” while describing her rich inner life to me in a way that made me feel as though she was trying to convince herself just as much as she was trying to convince me. The piece moves deeper and becomes emotionally charged when, standing on a table that she built at the beginning, the performer starts talking about loss and trying to make sense of it all. My favorite part was when Britt began dancing to “I’m Every Woman” and throwing up confetti in a bit of aggressive celebration or an act to keep strong, only then to be the one to clean up the confetti after the dance was over. As a newly out nonbinary person, who has lived a life being clocked as a woman for 30 years, it really touched me in feeling that unspoken strength women/nonmen are often forced into by themselves or patriarchy where we’d literally have to clean up the confetti from our own triumph dances because no one else will do it.   

Planet Pink by Bouton Volonte is the bold bit of realness and transfemme self-love we all needed for the night. Actually I won’t speak for anyone else here, my baby nonbinary feels NEEDED this piece. Putting on different pieces of soft feminine props — a dress, a wig, using flower petals — and dancing for us while simultaneously looking at a mirror and dancing for themself, I found my nonbinary genderqueer self inspired and empowered to be exactly who I am. My favorite part of this piece and possibly this year’s festival was when, after stripping down to a pair of tiny shorts and dancing for a song, Bouton — a QTPoC performer, asked the audience for someone to shout out what they thought their [Bouton’s] gender was. Silence grasped the audience. I definitely didn’t even try to say anything — gender is but a construct and not to be defined for someone except by themself. Someone said “femme” but not loud enough for the performer to hear. An older cis man finally said, “you’re a man.” Bouton responded by saying, “Oh. I’m a man? What makes you say that?” The audience member replied with a, “because you’ve got a great man’s body!” At this point, Bouton asked the man’s name and to be escorted from the room. “I’m not mad at you. You can say hi if you see me at the grocery store, but this next part of the performance is not for you,” Bouton said to them. I do a show about educating men on how to get over their own male fragility and often it takes a lot of emotional labor on my part. The idea of asking a man to leave the room — what a dream! How powerful! Bouton’s dance felt all the more freeing and triumphant after this moment. The piece ended with them dancing, the lights going down, and eventually them dancing in the dark holding onto a softly-lit lantern. They left the room being lit only by the lantern, and I felt as though this was most symbolic of the beacon they had been for us all that night.

Angel Alviar-Langley (aka Moonyeka)’s piece In the White Frame is one of the first performance art pieces I’ve ever seen live that involved children participating. Through a series of dances and a reading of the ABC’s, the performers — aged 3 through middle 30s — describe for us a life lived as a mixed race person and all the violent micro-aggressions/white racial framing faced on the daily via white people and their “No, but really, where are you from? Can I touch your hair?” questions. The sharpest part of the performance, for me, was the usage of light during the different dances: a mix of stark white light squares on the floor as well as the flashing red-blue purple lights that remind us of the police. The dances involved performers being in the light as a focus of the piece but also avoiding the light and the very real violence it represents. In an American society where literally just this last week, armed Portland State University security guards murdered a man of color in the street while he was trying to break up a fight outside of a bar, In the White Frame is a stark, blunt illustration — or possibly new information for some white Portlanders/citizens — of the violence people of color are facing every day and a question of the possible erasure or exploitation of mixed race people in these black and white conversations.

Air Objects #3 by John Berendzen happened during the intermission and as an artist who loves to blur the line between audience and performer — I was delighted. The loops of sound created by John’s ElectroHorn — an “original hybrid instrument” — were brassy but meditative, sharp but soothing. My emotions went from harmony to anxiety back to harmony. John walked around the intermission space, creating a wave of sound amongst people mingling with their drinks and their snacks and I can only wonder what he was thinking as he was performing for us all.

Eli Steffen’s WAR is an audience participatory-based (yay!) piece. Choosing an audience member named Clifton to play, the rules were as such: using the general rules of the card game WAR, and a deck of cards that Eli had written different sayings both said by them and that were said at them, the audience member is put in a position of picking who “wins” each round. To me it became a game of “which remark is less damaging?” The statements come from a place that questions how society socializes men and could be as general as “potty training with G.I. Joe” to the very harsh, very violent “only faggots do ballet” and “we need a space for white people to feel safe.” The statements were read aloud constantly every single round, the audience caught in a bit of uncomfortable laughter when the two would finally get the same statement and yell, “WAR!” All the while Eli has covered their arms with Elmer’s glue and with each reading has begun slapping their arms until red and flaky with dry pieces of glue hair flying over the audience like pain lanterns. For me this piece was at first hard to swallow, but then easy to digest over time — fitting into my own recent work and research. The performance contained violent statements that I have heard before by white men often growing up around me or in places of power. Eli’s visible slow burning self-inflicted pain represents being raised in a society where patriarchy socializes men to literally dominate things instead of have feelings (other than anger and aggression) and the invisibility white supremacist patriarchy maintains to be able to exist. Only in the slapping of arms with each damaging phrase, do we start to see the real violence and pain that is being caused.

Cheryl Delostrinos/Au Collective’s piece Bayanihan: A Collection of Physical Tales is an ethereal, empowering dance piece of multiple pieces that created a storytelling atmosphere. Simultaneously modern as well as with a hint of some Midsummer’s witch folktale, Bayanihan captures feelings and movements of self-love, empowerment, fight, emotion, and beautiful Black joy as well as Queer joy. Coming out in costumes that create a literal deep-toned rainbow, the dancers command their space and ended this year’s Risk/Reward festival with a glorious shout of identity/corporeal-based jubilation. 

I wrote this last year and I’ll say it forever until it happens — there are not enough festivals or platforms for performance artists like this. We are so fortunate to have a festival that connects performers across a region and also across individual worlds. 

Love,
Katie

Guest Blog: Meg Nanna

Risk & Reward 2018 – Thoughts During Performances

 

Response by Meg Nanna (Find her photography work at:  http://www.mnannafoto.com/) 

 Britt Karhoff –

  • Pulls you in from the beginning; her struggle with the table feels very visceral to me. Constantly trying to hold everything in life together while the world still continues around you. I feel like I’m watching a representation of my inner battles and personal struggle with anxiety and depression.
  • I love her slow & gradual set formation.
  • Passive, acquiescent words being used. Interesting presentation of a common narrative in day-to-day life.
  • People around me are laughing at things that I find very sad; her body movement is not funny, it is intentional. To me, it represents the constant need to accommodate those around us by “keeping our shit together”. There’s always an internal battle to be perfect and “normal”, whatever that means.
  • I can feel her pain envelop the room.
  • I want her to smash things.
  • I love that she cleaned up after herself. It really drives the point home that no matter what, we have to be perfect.

Bouton Volonté-

  • JESUS FUCK HOW ARE THEY DOING THAT WITH THEIR BODY
  • I am completely covered in goosebumps and tears.
  • This is starting such an important conversation about gender and all of the bullshit that surrounds it. SELF is more important than any label slapped on us.
  • This is so
  • The fact that a white, older, entitled male was the one that said, “ I’m a male, and you look like me.” really drove Bouton’s point home. This man, even after being asked to leave, thought that he was asked to do so so that he could be a “martyr”. That was so perfectly timed that it could have been staged.
  • People need to open their god damn eyes!!

Angel Alviar-Langley-

  • Two beautiful bodies in unison. Gender and race do not exist.
  • Stunning, heartbreaking dialog about race.
  • Engaging to the point where I cannot form a sentence.
  • I hate that privilege exists.

Eli Steffen-

  • Repetitive, disturbing things that some people hear every single day of their lives. Anyone who is outside of the “social norm” is an outcast. They are not a threat. They are not trying to make a scene. They are trying to live their lives and why can’t civilization let them do that?
  • You hear the same disgusting thing over and over and over again that eventually you become completely numb to it.
  • This is forcing the audience to feel uncomfortable, and putting them through the same, monotonous bullshit that they hear every day.
  • One audience member became so upset that they yelled, “Enough!” which again, really drove the point home. Congrats on two wins tonight, Portland. Did I mention it was another privileged white person? Jesus.

Cheryl Delostrinos/Au Collective-

  • Wow wow wow wow wow
  • They are all so extremely different from each other and completely transfixing in their own unique way
  • Women are fucking amazing.
  • SUPPORT AND LOVE EACH OTHER LIKE THESE INCREDIBLE WOMEN DO.

Overall, this is one of the most thought out, poignant, crucially important and impactful things I have ever witnessed. Each performance mesmerized and touched me, to the point where I found my jaw hanging and tears flowing. They each touched on such large issues separately, and somehow they all melded together into one. This backs up my belief that art can be used as a huge weapon of change, and I want to personally thank every person involved with this festival, on the stage and behind it. I am so, so lucky to have attended such a beautiful production.