Risk/Reward Festival – your thoughts?

What did you think of this years Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance?

We want to hear your thoughts, reviews, questions, comments and more! Your feedback will help shape future iterations of these artists works.

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5 thoughts on “Risk/Reward Festival – your thoughts?

  1. This year cements Risk/Reward as one of the events in Portland I brag about to people foolish enough to live in other cities. It’s my third year, and that allows me to make sweeping statements like I always leave having seen something that surprises me, something that exposes me to a new technique or style, something that makes me shake my head and laugh at the weirdo world of performance art, something that starts conversations afterwards at the bar where people have different opinions about the same performance and actually get into it rather than passively moving the conversation along, and most valuably, something that inspires me, no, challenges me to be a braver artist. Plus it’s just a good party (packed house on Saturday!) with hip folks.

    Laura Heit- Letting Go
    The festival opened with a ghost story, or more precisely, a succubus story. I’m totally enamored with Laura Heit’s tiny matchstick puppets, their spooky simplicity captured in spotlight with live video projected on the back scrim and then overlaid with original animation. The technique is turned inside out, and I enjoyed shifting my attention from the mechanics of the puppeteers moving from mini set to set, then to be taken in by the eerie live-looping violin by Jordan Dykstra, which led me back to the haunting live-animated scene. 20 minutes stretched a long time for the slowly-evolving piece, which built in layers and complexity of technique, if not in story or variation of feeling. But the sustaining mood was absorbing, like a dream you can’t quite remember or forget.

    The Neutral Fembot Project – Untitled #___
    One of the most exciting things about Risk/Reward is transitioning rapidly from one style of performance to a radically different one, and after a grey-shaded ghost story we leapt into the bright lights and hysterical (both meanings) energy of Grace Carter, Camille Cettina, Anne Sorce and Allison Rangel channeling the spirit and photographs of contemporary artist Cindy Sherman. I’m intrigued by this successful continuation of the Push Leg artists’ work with adapting a series of still images to live performance (see WORK TITLE). For reals, this show was badass.

    It was the perfect kick off to an unofficial theme of this year’s festival: confronting, disrupting and reclaiming representations of women in media, art and society. Cindy Sherman should be a patron saint of this subject. In her radical body of work, she models herself as all manner of women—flexibly embodying a huge range of stereotypes, popular icons of womanhood, which she disrupts and dismantles by her creative control of these characters. I have an idea that selfie-culture is actually empowering a generation of women by giving them the permission to represent themselves however they want to be perceived (even if sometimes that’s with a duck face). The Neutral Fembots thankfully have a much wider range of facial expressions and physicality, impressively so.

    The three main actors cycle through whiplash fast changes into terrible(ly good) wigs and costumes drawn from Sherman’s body of work: a blue silk dressing gown, a leopard bodysuit, vintage foundation undergarments, a puffy prom dress, a modest matriarchal gown, a tantalizing schoolgirl uniform…These characters gesticulate through manic repeated movements and expression. They don’t speak. They don’t need to. The perpetual subjects of the scrutinizing or fetishistic gaze, they are there to be looked at; we’ve seen them all before. All this to a live soundtrack by Ron Mason Gassaway, who stood inconspicuously in the downstage corner and totally slayed it.

    We are in this moment of feminist history when it is necessary to both confront and critique the false, limited representations of women we’ve inherited and accepted unchecked (see: Erin Pike’s That’swhatshesaid) and also offer up creative alternative representations of what it means to be woman (see: ilvs strauss’ Manifesto).

    ilvs strauss – Manifesto

    I’ve never thought much about sea cucumbers. I have thought a lot about what it means to be a woman who doesn’t want to procreate, but I don’t talk about it very often. It’s one of the most uncomfortable and unfriendly territories to navigate in conversation—with strangers, with friends, with family, even with myself. It can be very hard to understand, explain, or accept. And it’s a subject made more complex by wondering how the urge- the supposedly natural innate urge to create new life- might be similar to and different from the urge to create new art?

    This solo show smoothly navigated this rocky subject with sincerity, humor and a few really excellent props. Clear, candid voice-over narrative was kept live by ilvs’s charming subtle reactions to their own storytelling. Subtle, stylized movement—the surprisingly moving dance of the sea cucumber. Brave comedic timing—abruptly exiting, leaving the stage empty for what felt like just almost too long, then re-emerging in the most perfect DIY costume of a sleeping bag turned California Red Sea Cucumber ever created and delivering a perfect punch line, both funny and poignant.) Vulnerable, funny, self-deprecating and shameless. ilvs strauss and sea cucumbers have both been added to my list of favorite creatures.

    Erin Pike – That’swhatshesaid

    Boom! More Seattle artists to follow from a (short) distance. Powerhouse Erin Pike challenged playwright Courtney Meaker to write a one-person performance using only female dialogue from the most-produced plays in America. As a geeky dramaturg, this is my open request for a list of the plays utilized for this piece. Inquiring minds want to know. Not that you need to be a theatre buff to totally get it, and it’s not a pretty picture, folks. This piece is ON POINT PAY ATTENTION with the hot topic conversation of the massive underrepresentation of female playwrights in the American theatre.

    I hope this piece continues to develop because there’s some really rich material here and Erin Pike is more than capable of taking it on single-handed. Three times, she offers up a ecstatic prayer to the names of the female characters she will channel, all at once, without clarity but with a great deal of chaos and conviction. This is a performance possessed. The one-sided dialogue is relentless, and most often vapid, shallow, stupid, manipulative or bitchy. A whole section is composed of all the negative things these female characters say about men, not surprising really, but overwhelming in this compressed form and delivery.

    More interesting is Pike rapidly reciting the stage directions attributed to these characters, and then flinging herself all over the stage, frantic to complete them. She’s prompted to cry so often that she makes liberal use of a very large bottle of Visine. The intense physicality is heightened by the absurdity of her costume change: from glamorous gown to rhinestone bra and bowtie panties and heels. She sexualizes and desexualizes herself with fierce intensity. It’s almost overwhelming and threatens to loose impact sometimes. The relentless tirade of words almost destroyed her voice by the end of 20 minutes, although I thought the grating sound of a woman’s voice, tired from screaming and raging against an unseen force, was a powerful effect, rather than a technical failure.

    It ends inconclusively, with only the hint of personal commentary in the line “That’s not me.” and an unanswered ringing telephone. Who is calling? In Fembot’s piece we saw the icon of anxious woman waiting for the telephone to ring, helpless until a man calls. This is a different kind of ringing, my guess is it’s from the future.

    Lucy Lee Yim – Devastation Melody
    I’m sorry to not have much to say about this piece. I don’t see much contemporary dance, so maybe I’m missing something, but I also think art should not require extensive special information to be experienced. Her movement was strong but did not evoke any feeling in me. In her performance description, Yim says she is attempting to “approach sadness and sorrow as if an object” along with the answer to some very esoteric questionings. Maybe the answer was inside the plastic bag filled with Cheerios she pushed around the floor with her head for the last few minutes while a prerecorded track of one-syllable word-sounds that evolved subtly like “AIDS. ATES. AGE. ACE. NEEDS….” played over, but I couldn’t make contextual sense of that either.

    PETE – (after thought)
    I’m a big fan of PETE’s work, Song of the Dodo remains one of my favorite shows I’ve seen in Portland. I was really looking forward to their piece in Risk/Reward but YOU GUYS. What was that? I’m reading the performance description and like “play without words” YES! “story for the image hungry” YES! “rigorous physicality and visceral sound-scape” YES YES! But no. Not yet at least; the piece is in development and this 20 minute excerpt didn’t have enough context or design to achieve it’s own goals.

    The only design element was white talcum power that didn’t communicate much, but did induce some asthma/allergy issues for the audience–should be a pre-show warning for the stuff. The sound was also unrelentingly loud (and I’ve got young ears) without much mood or variation. I know that the artists associated with this piece are capable of some really excellent stuff, and who knows how (or if?) this show will develop. I’m going to resist the obvious lesson about the risk inherent in the pursuit of reward here. Or am I?

    Congratulations to all the artists involved in the festival this year, and thank you for doing your thing and sharing it with us. And thanks to big man Jerry for producing this fantastic festival. Onwards!

  2. As a recent graduate and hopeful young artist, it is always incredible and inspiring to see what people create when given the rubric of “experimental.” This year’s festival, as with last year, was fun and accessible (even my non-theatre friends enjoyed it!), yet totally new and perspective shifting. The night began with a star: Laura Heit’s puppet, light, installation performance about a ghost. Potentially my favorite performance of the night, Laura’s stage was an exhibition of production with paper cut outs, mini stages, puppeteers in black hoodies, cameras, and spot lights purposefully scattered around the stage. But even with such transparency, the product was still totally mysterious and magical. The etherial shapes, lights, looping violin, animations, haunting projections, and subtly dramatic narration lifted me into another world. Simply said, it was beautiful and moving.
    The second performance was entitled “Untitled #___” by The Neutral Fembot Project and was based on the work of Cindy Sherman, a seminal feminist artist whose portraits perform the “woman” (herself) through different costumes and postures. From what I gathered, this piece intended to bring those portraits to life. Both hilarious and stimulating, the “Fembots” moved throughout the stage–in various costumes and wigs– like stop-action figures. Jerking from on pose to the next, the women narrate the performance of femininity without words but rather with images we know too well: hips thrust, breasts out, shrinking bodies, hysteric expressions, etc. The overall performance sent the audience in peels of laughter while illustrating (though exaggerated) our daily battle with beauty and objectification within the status quo.
    The first act concluded with ilvs strauss’ “Manifesto.” This solo performance about sea cucumbers was another favorite. Raw, charmingly awkward, embarrassingly relatable, and funny in a slap-sticky way; ilvs strauss told us a beautiful story about what it means to be a woman who is not interested in procreation (or at least in the traditional sense.) By donning a sea cucumber costume (i.e. a sleeping bag with plush spikes sewed on), procreation took on a new meaning, one associated with self-sustainable creativity. What was really important for me during this piece was the way ilvs strauss moved her body. At first the dancing seemed slightly “unprofessional,” but by the end her body movement felt poignant and honest– while watching I was in constant dialogue with the movement, trying to figure out why it was so affective. I still can’t stop thinking about how much I loved it.
    The second act began with a very high intensity solo performance by Erin Pike, “That’swhatshesaid.” Flinging herself from character to character, left to right, sexy to not sexy, script to stage direction, back and forth at top speeds, Pike takes on clips of dialogue from many many (who knows how many…) famous plays in the US. Her volatility makes the performance feel unfocused (intentionally) but the message is very clear: this is how women are represented in theatre, isn’t this a little crazy? reductive? repetitive? At the end Pike is barely in underwear with a big bow and a sequence bra in a total frenzy. I was really impressed by her energy and sharpness. The performance felt very smart.
    Next was Lucy Lee Yim’s movement piece “Devastation Melody.” Slow and rhythmic with a heightened awareness breath and the body’s form, Yim’s piece was aesthetically appealing though a little lackluster. Or maybe just lacked an narratival arch that I could comfortably follow (which is commendable in it’s own right). The strongest part for me was when Yim put her head and long pigtails into a giant bag of Cherrios and did a downward dog crawl across the stage, stopping to take deep breaths from the bag. The slowness and absurdity of this action was really captivating. Speed and clear intentionality were themes that traveled over into the final piece, “(after thought)” by PETE. Again, there was little to hold onto in terms os narrative, but the lights, shadows, and bellowing smoke from white talcum powder made for a very beautiful image. The strength of each movement was totally entrancing. Maybe this would be better as a longer piece with more of a story but I can say that they created a really beautiful image. Maybe the piece was more of a live action painting than a play without words.
    Overall, I was really inspired by the specificity and strength of movement throughout the show and the collaging aesthetic. I don’t think anyone told a conventional story– there were endless layers to unpack. Last year I happened to see the whole show 5 times (wow, I know) and I almost wish I could have done that again. A lot of these performances could use a second watch. The whole festival was awesome and I hope I am around next year to see the next one! (And maybe apply for my own piece!)

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