Guest Blogger: Mariel Sierra

I thought I knew what Risk/Reward was.

I had no idea.

I still have no idea. Even as I write “Risk/Reward” I realize, “Holy Shit. That’s it. That is literally it.”

For the past eight years that I’ve lived in Portland and known about Risk/Reward, I never really paid attention to the name of the festival and what it meant. The lens through which I examine the world, examined art, was already expanding. But I’m getting a head of myself.

Walking into the theatre, I was immediately struck with its vibrancy. It was as if the audience had brought the sun in with them.

Walking into the theatre, I realized that the vibrancy came from the transformation of the Alder Lobby into a safe, Queer space. My body was ready.

As I’m writing, I keep starting, stopping, and deleting, unable to come up with anything intelligent to say. Sure, I scribbled down a ton of notes in preparation for the thoughtful examination I was going to write, but then I thought, “Fuck it. That’s not my job. What was my experience?”

Last night’s performances were so radically different, but each one left me thinking “How did they do this?”

Like, how did they DO this. How did their brains and their bodies reach this conclusion? The extent in which each artist used, well, themselves, illuminated the limitlessness of our bodies and mind. The creativity and dedication of these artists reach levels I couldn’t even comprehend. The specificity, preparedness, and commitment was astounding. It was the best acting lesson I ever had.

During intermission, a friend of mine made the distinction between bravery and fear by saying, “Bravery implies the overcoming of fear, but that performance was a total absence of fear.” Obviously, my friend is pretty smart, because that epiphany shook me.

Dude, how did they do that?

Each show contained tenderness, pathos, discovery, love, anger, resignation, ugliness, beauty, hungry ghosts, and expansion of self.

Growing up in a theatre family, and then pursuing it as a career, I always thought of myself as a very cultured person, right? Wrong. I have no idea.

What I do know, is that last night I felt elated, sad, uncomfortable, curious, angry, soft, horny, safe, and by proxy, a little bit fearless.

-Mariel Sierra

Artist Profile: Kiana Harris

Kiana Harris (Seattle, WA): DIVINE
Dance Film

Photo by Kiana Harris.

In a Risk/Reward first, Seattle filmmaker Kiana Harris’s film series, DIVINE, will be installed in the Artists Rep lobby before and after the performances. We invite you to arrive early or stay late, but MAKE SURE to watch the 20-minute film piece about the reclamation of black female liberation.

BIO

Kiana Harris, a native of Anchorage, Alaska, received early dance training at Dance Spectrum School of Dance where she took her very first ballet class at the age of six. In 2003, she was invited to study and perform with Dance Contempo Company where she expanded her repetoire to include various multicultural styles of dance. In spring of 2008, Kiana moved to Seattle, WA to enhance her training as a student at Cornish College of The Arts. An active member of the Seattle dance community, she has danced at local shows such as DanceThis and Black Nativity, as well as being a member of the Afro-Peruvian performance ensemble, De Cajon Project, for the past seven years. In summer 2016, Kiana created and debuted her first dance film entitled “DIVINE” part l and ll available on Vimeo. Her mission as a film maker, is to reclaim images of femininity in a non-exploitative representation from a black women’s lens, and have it be one of many tools to drive black liberation.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

Reflections of body positivity and non-exploitative visuals provide a start to healing the inferiority complex. DIVINE is a trilogy of films that destroy the exploitation of black femme bodies on screen and conveys stories through a black woman’s lens. By sharing these films with other black-identifying women, DIVINE allows dialogue to occur, reclaiming the narrative of how black women’s bodies should and will be portrayed.

WATCH A PREVIEW OF DIVINE, PART I

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Artist Profile: Queen Shmooquan

Queen Shmooquan (Seattle, WA): Queen Shmooquan. Dark Wave.
Performance Art/Comedy/Music

Another Risk/Reward Festival favorite, Queen Shmooquan, is back in Portland — only this time, she’s in a fight for her mortal soul: Part performance art/musical/comedy, our Modern Day Oracle must face the internalized neo-fascist, patriarchal Weiner-ball Priesthood aspects within herself, in a desperate attempt to free her hopeful spirit from a dark wave of doom.

BIO

The hybridized practice of performance artist/comedian, vocalist, and musician, Jeppa K Hall is difficult to describe or even categorize. Subsequently, she has developed a cult-like following and her performances have lent themselves to be featured in just about every type of performance venue imaginable. Through her alter ego QUEEN SHMOOQUAN (the super-real modern day oracle), Jeppa generates solo psychedelic theater performances that merge pop-art clowning with multi-media performance art, music, and non-linear storytelling to create thought provoking, hilarious music and theater that push the boundaries of contemporary and traditional performance mediums.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

In Queen Shmooquan. Dark Wave., The Queen will shape-shift from her lucid plain-talking self into characterizations of the bizarre and dissonant, yet normalized imagery of our current American political and social landscape. Utilizing non-linear storytelling, faux stand-up comedy, movement, and song, along with layered DIY costuming and props, the Queen will seamlessly transition from one costume, performance medium, to the next, resulting in hilarious, fast paced, absurd and surrealistic music and theater. Queen Shmooquan is a trailer park cultural anthropologist, an explorer of subconscious manifestations of fear, self-loathing, violence and hatred that are the dominant features of American mass culture. Her world is one that critiques, celebrates and lampoons American “independence” and its fetish for freedom.

WATCH VIDEO EXCERPTS OF QUEEN SHMOOQUAN’S PREVIOUS WORK

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Artist Profile: Pam Tzeng

Pam Tzeng (Calgary, AB): “A Meditation on the End” by Jo-Lee
Dance/Physical Storytelling/Clown

© Marc J Chalifoux Photography 2017

In her first performance with the Risk/Reward Festival, Calgary performance artist and choreographer Pam Tzeng introduces us to her alter-ego Jo Lee as she uses the process of grief to explore the interplay of abstract and literal.

BIO

Pam Tzeng is a Calgary-based dance artist, performer, choreographer and teacher. Her artistic journey has taken her across Canada, Europe, Taiwan and Brazil. After graduating from the University of Calgary with a B.Sc. in Biology, she went on to nurture her artistic development though freelance education and direct work experience. Tzeng’s interests lie in both solo creation and experimental collaborative projects. Abstract, non-linear narratives often become the frame for her investigations. She is drawn to illusion and discovering new ways of animating object and the body. Coloured by her identity as a Canadian-born Taiwanese woman, Tzeng’s work explores the negotiation between cultural borders and social identities, as well as the tensions between traditional and contemporary mores within the Canadian mosaic.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

With death in arms, then at her feet, Jo-Lee muses on what has given her unconventionally conventional life meaning. With this new work, Tzeng leaps into fragmented memories of an imagined “other”, crafting a poetic and playful theatrical dance that embraces existential longing and mortality. It is an attempt to engage with notions of death and spirituality and to artistically mine the emotional landscape of grief. In the development of the work Tzeng has found inspiration in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, researching the Buddhist concept of ‘bardos’ – the state of existence between two lives, after death and before one’s next birth. The work also draws from a fascination with the phenomenon of life flashing before ones eyes in near death experiences. Enter into the bardos with Jo-Lee as she comes to grips with mortality, finding solace in the face of the “beckoning silence.”

CLICK HERE TO SEE REHEARSAL FOOTAGE OF THIS WORK

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Artist Profile: Pepper Pepper

Pepper Pepper (Portland, OR): Diva Practice (solo)
Dance

Risk/Reward welcomes back Pepper Pepper’s particular brand of irreverent self-reflection which has graced many a Portland stage (and beyond!), including hosting the wildly successful annual event Critical Mascara: A Post-Realness Drag Extravaganza at PICA’s TBA Festival. Diva Practice (Solo) shows drag queens dancing in the face of uncertainty because being fabulous takes practice, focusing on the body as a site of history and somatic storytelling mapping how “specialness” constructs identities of privilege, queerness, gender and trauma.

BIO

Kaj-anne Pepper (Pepper Pepper) is a multidisciplinary artist working in performance, drag, theatre and dance. Kaj-anne’s fabulous drag persona “Ms. Pepper Pepper” is a humorous yet thoughtful gender-bending MC and entertainer. Together, they explore vulnerability, artifice and identity while turning tragic into magic and trauma into drama. Pepper has premiered new work at festivals, nightclubs, and alternative venues nationally at Pica’s T:BA Festival, Risk/Reward, Dance +, Austin International Drag Festival, NYC’s Hot!fest of Queer Performance and internationally at OFF! Biennale Budapest.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

Could you imagine a drag queen’s birthday/marriage/graduation/coronation/ funeral/celebration all wrapped in one? How about listening to conflicting stories about unique/fake/historical/real/joyful exchanges with imaginary friends at said celebration? Will you watch her as she stutters and shakes, prances and preens between syrupy stillness and pauses filled with somatic touch? Imagine the deliberation and articulation of Alexander technique dancing with the grotesque determination of Butoh. Rhythms of pop music while lip-synching and warbling to music that may or may not be audible. Soft subtle self-indulgences and articulations of spine and face. Eyes closed. The invitation to know something is being felt. A welcoming stillness followed by fingers mapping the muscles of lip and jaw. Hands on heart. Back of hand on pelvis. A soft mutter “I am here”. Pop music fades in, a drag lip-synch from the inside out.

VIEW VIDEO SAMPLES OF PEPPER’S PREVIOUS WORK

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Artist Profile: Donal Mosher & Shannon Stewart

Donal Mosher & Shannon Stewart (Portland, OR
& New Orleans, LA): 
Strange Gardens
Dance

Photo by Donal Mosher.

Strange Gardens is a collaborative performance work by filmmaker/writer/musician Donal Mosher and choreographer Shannon Stewart. The project proposes using HIV as a frame that allows a broader look at the poetics of the interaction between our interior concepts of the body, the science imagery that shape those concepts.

BIO

Shannon Stewart is a choreographic artist, dance filmmaker and writer from the Pacific Northwest, living in New Orleans. As a performer and choreographer she has toured internationally, including interpreting the works of Tino Seghal, Deborah Hay, Joan Jonas, zoe | juniper, tEEth, and many others.

Donal Mosher is a filmmaker, photographer, writer, and musician. He is the collaborative director (with Michael Palmieri) of the award wining documentary features October Country, Off Label and the shorts Rougarouing, Marseilles, and Peace in the Valley. Alongside filmmaking he has published fiction, non-fiction, and reviews including a contribution to the LAMBDA Award winning anthology Portland Queer. His recent photographic work The Vibrancy Is Killing Me was on exhibition in Munich, Germany in 2015.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

Using the vivid side-effect dreams caused by HIV medication as a starting point, Strange Gardens examines the ways we physically see and imaginatively conceptualize the body and illness. The project places photographic images, texts, audio, and video material drawn from personal and public HIV dream experiences alongside an archival history of the micro-visual technologies that have shaped our cultural ideas of the body, disease, and viruses since the19th century. The project also contains film and audio commentary by artist, doctors, and cultural theorists. Strange Gardens is designed to be a lecture-style performance that brings all these elements together with a live narration and accompanying onscreen video.

VIEW VIDEO SAMPLES OF DONAL’S PREVIOUS WORK

VIEW VIDEO SAMPLES OF SHANNON’S PREVIOUS WORK

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Artist Profile: Linda Austin Dance

Linda Austin Dance (Portland, OR): A world, a world
Dance

Photo by Jeff Forbes.

Risk/Reward Festival welcomes back one of Portland’s most cherished choreographers, Linda Austin, with a work-in-progress excerpt of A world, a world, a dance comprising the 3rd chapter of a three-year arc of work collectively titled (Un)Made. This final chapter is structured around the performers’ relationships to two interrelated worlds: one, saturated, fractured, information-heavy; and the other, more spacious, minimal, and meditative.

BIO

Linda Austin, whose career spans nearly 35 years, is a choreographer and performer who creates both improvisational and highly choreographed works that are non-linear, poetic, and often laced with humor, deploying movement that often disrupts the “dancerly.” Her working process brings each performer’s vulnerabilities, strengths, accidental awkwardness, and elegance into a web of relationships with other bodies, objects, environments, sounds, and media.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

This excerpt of of A world, a world will reference the first “world”, in which a patterned mural matches performers in similarly patterned costumes. Body blends with body, body is camouflaged against setting, borders between one being and others are blurred. The dancers produce a constant low-level, barely or sporadically decipherable humming, mumbling, and singing of a textual collage from news headlines, songs & poetry, periodically going to headphones mounted on a movable step unit, to receive and channel sound bites referencing the worlds of politics, pop culture, “high” culture, science and philosophy, riffing on these sound bites until they need another “hit.” The dancing references sports scrums, folk dance-like patterns, trance and other motifs in which the individual “disappears” into group, setting, or inwardly into self, inspired by social, cultural, and natural spheres. Throughout, borders of the self are interrogated through the push-pull between autonomy and “groupness.”

VIEW VIDEO SAMPLES OF LINDA’S PREVIOUS WORK

CHECK OUT LINDA’S WEBSITE

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