Artist Profile: Olivia Louise

Olivia Louise (Portland, OR): the myth of Narcissus
poetry/movement/contemporary performance film 

Still from the myth of Narcissus film

Artist Olivia Louise and team bring a poignant and visually stunning look at how we see ourselves in a world surrounded by technology.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

A cyborg-feminist rediscovery of the Greek myth of Narcissus that explores the contemporary dance of selfhood within technology.

CREDITS

PRODUCER & DIRECTOR: Olivia Louise
CAMERA: Clamber (clamber.org)
NARCISSUS: Tiana Garoogian (tianagaroogian.com)
VIDEO EDITOR: Codec Ultra & Olivia Louise
SOUND DESIGN: Dustyn Astbury & Zak Nelson
SET INSTALLATION: Nijotz (process.life) & Olivia Louise

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Artist Profile: Kelly Nesbitt

Kelly Nesbitt (Portland, OR): PENNY – THE CONDUIT
performance art film 

Collage of images from Penny - The Conduit film

We are thrilled to bring Kelly Nesbitt’s humorous and touching film, Penny – The Conduit, to Portland audiences and beyond.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

PENNY expresses our collective grief and despair, yet exemplifies the unquenchable hope that lies deeper in the human heart. Death, mourning, and healing are overt themes of this piece, as exemplified by Penny’s awkward yet earnest commitment to meditation, nature worship, and conversations with a radically different kind of deity.

BIO

KELLY NESBITT is a multi-disciplinary performance artist, midlife warrior, and frontline healthcare worker who plays at the intersection of humor and healing. With extensive training in the field of humor, Nesbitt has been awarded grants for the creation of solo and interdisciplinary ensemble performances, toured internationally, and collaboratively produced numerous DIY community arts events since 1999. 

Inspired by nature, contemplative arts, practice and technique ~ Nesbitt is a body based storyteller who embodies the archetype of the fool, juxtaposes absurdities with sincerity, pathos with surreal-humor, and pratfalls with sincerity. Performance aesthetics employ recycled layered costuming, makeshift props, and superhero motifs. Video work experiments with raw facial close ups and lowbrow video editing techniques for comedic effect. Audience members have described their performances as transcendentalist hilarity, utterly inexplicable, and earnestly epic.

MAD COMPOSER LAB, aka Kennedy, is an innovative and versatile composer whose imaginative music captures beauty, bursts of melodic and rhythmic energy. His compositional vocabulary is sought after by many collaborators who seek authentic but familiar sonorities. Kennedy’s scores can be found in a number of studio and independent productions including At The End of The Tunnel, Sightings, and This Is Us. In addition to composing, Kennedy’s orchestrations and arrangements can be found in films such as Deliver Us From Evil (Screen Gems), The Monkey King, Priest (Screen Gems), and Drag Me to Hell (Universal). 

His concert repertoire includes String Adagio no. 6, Western Sketches for Orchestra, Songs of the Seasons, 5 is Prime : 4 is Magic, and numerous experimental works for combinations of traditional instruments and ones created by Kennedy at the Mad Composer Lab.

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Artist Profile: Wobbly Dance

Wobbly Dance (Portland, OR): TIDAL
film

 [Warm toned Black and white photo of 3 figures in surreal costumes. The central figure supports the two flanking figures. All are seated. The central figure wears a 19th century diving bell and a 20th century space suit. The flanking figures wear 19th century linen night shirts and strange breathing masks over their noses. Many spines protrude from each breathing mask, part medical device part undersea creature.]

In their Risk/Reward Festival debut, Wobbly Dance brings an exploration of oceans.
Photo by Kamala Kingsley.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

“TIDAL” is an exploration of the relationship between the rhythm of mechanized breath and the rhythm of the oceans. Breathing masks and ventilator tubing transform into diving gear and different creatures. An ancient diver, who calls the ocean home, draws us into his world. We fall, we dream, we dive.

BIO

Wobbly is a multi-disciplinary performance company in Portland, OR. Based on improvisation, authenticity, and a touch of Butoh, Wobbly is the unavoidable exploration of the body weathered by life. Wobbly is and is not dance depending on the day and which of us you ask, but we move. With relentless fascination, we still move. Sometimes small and caught on film. Sometimes bigger, outdoors and wild. Wobbly is a way of life, an expression of the belief that disability is a natural variation of the human form and in this variation there is art. With immersive environments, by engaging the senses, Wobbly invites the viewer to step into new worlds of possibility.

Wobbly’s mission starts with the belief that to present a disabled body onstage is a radical act capable of stitch by stitch transformation of the cultural fabric of our community. We believe that performance art cannot happen in isolation. Instead, it is something that must occur within the infrastructure of a larger community. By making our work largely within non-disabled contemporary dance contexts, we have promoted greater standards of accessibility in the theater community. Sometimes this access is architectural but more important than increasing physical access, we believe that by using our bodies in performance we coax audience members into a broader definition of art, beauty, and the lived human experience of people with and without disabilities. It seems to us that making a home for ourselves in the contemporary dance community has gone further towards promoting the full integration of people with disabilities in society than any political action on our part ever will.

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Photo of Princess Bouton, pixelated to look like a peacock tail

Artist Profile: Princess Bouton

Princess Bouton (Portland, OR): First Laugh
dance film

Princess Bouton previously graced the Risk/Reward stage in 2018 with her dance piece Planet Pink, bringing a mix of modern dance, vogue, and contemporary performance elements in a dreamlike landscape that we are still thinking about three years later. Welcome back to the festival, Princess!

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

On January 6, 2021, Princess Bouton got the keys to her own production space, Last Laugh Studios. These are a few of the first projects she produced in the space; Her first laughs at Last Laugh.

BIO

Princess Bouton (she/her) is a Black Transfeminine freelance filmmaker and performance artist based in Portland, Oregon. She graduated from the Portland State University Film Program in the spring of 2020. Her work often incorporates movement art and explores topics of intersectionality and pleasure activism.  She has a dance background that includes modern dance, ballet, and vogue and she creates from a place that draws from each form. Princess Bouton is also a community builder and organizer in the Portland Kiki ballroom scene and is the princess of the kiki House Of Flora. The QTPOC models seen in her work are often individuals from her local queer community, who she invites to be highlighted and celebrated.

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I love the performance community in Portland. It’s small enough that I hug at least 4 people I know at each show, but big enough that there are always 8 new people to meet and then hug at the next show. This community has a real intimacy to it. Tonight when I was attending the Risk/Reward Festival’s 10th Anniversary show at the Artists Repertory Theatre, I introduced myself to the person who sat down next to me and they responded, “I know who you are. We performed at Risk/Reward together 2 years ago when you pulled me up on stage as a participant.” Color me honored and blushing and excited, and now having a friend to talk with about the show — all made possible by Risk/Reward!

The 2017 Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance brings together a body of the strange, the blossoming, the poetic, the fabulous, the dying, the risky, and the cuttingly comedic in this year’s installment. Those are not listed in a particular order as every piece manifested each in it’s own glorious presentation. The show as a whole demonstrated both private battles and personal growths, as well as what we’ve all been feeling lately with this new regime and it’s centuries old father (patriarchy).

Linda Austin’s A world..a world opened the offering and had me meditating and feeling the way I do when I read the newspaper while intermittently checking my phone updates as the radio plays on in the background. I often get stuck in a brainwave about mortality, and Pam Tzeng’s darkly funny and horror-laden “A Meditation on the End” by Jo-Lee put me in that purgatory space from the scary movie where one possibly knows they are about to die horribly, but still takes the time to remember something dear and mundane from their childhood. Queen Shmooquan (Jeppa Hall) has more tiny penis large balls enormous hairy vagina than any of us mortals. Queen Shmooquan. Dark Wave. was acidic and funny and relatable in ways I never knew possible. If I had known the words to the songs, I would have sung them very loudly with the queen as she regaled us. Also, two words: tampon tassels. Pepper Pepper’s Diva Practice (Solo) was interactive, commanding, classic, and had me gasp as Pepper stripped off the pieces of their corporeal persona in an intimate portrait of a diva at work and play in a solo vignette. Ending the night in a poetic plea for space to speak, breathe, and be, Donal Mosher and Shannon Stewart’s Strange Gardens was an eloquently simplistic evolution of dreams and personal narrative of the inner and outer relationship to one’s body, HIV, and scientific symbolism.

And of course nothing I could write now could really paint you as great a word picture as seeing these pieces in person. As a performance artist myself, this amalgam of work put me in that space where you have ten brainstorms at once and want to write every feeling down and start performing yourself right there from your chair, as well as tell each and every performer what their pieces meant to you. I love the performance community in Portland. There are not enough festivals or platforms like this.

*author would like to note that they did not get a chance to see Kiana Harris’ piece DIVINE, although they are quite sure that it is divine and that you should arrive early to see it!

-Katie Piatt

Risk/Reward – A “Theatre Person” on an Evening of Performance Art

Has it started yet?
Is it over?
Did they mean for that to happen?
Was that supposed to be funny?

As primarily a practitioner of “theatre” (put in quotes because a single evening of performance art seems to have left me shaky on what that term really means), but as primarily a practitioner and purveyor of pretty predictably text-driven, “traditional” theatre, if our audience was asking these questions, we would worry we had not done our job well. We would worry our play lacked clarity, specificity, accessibility. It’s fairly rare (though not unheard of) that we seek to confuse or confound our audience. We want to “tell a story,” (does “story” necessarily imply narrative? Suddenly not so sure) for which we expect our audience to be decidedly passive receivers.

Performance art seems to be completely intentional about audience experience, with the audience being a vital and essential ingredient in the artistic moment, while simultaneously not caring in the slightest if the audience understands what the eff is happening. This was a challenge for me, and some of my more traditional theatre-going companions. In the theatre, everything on stage is information, but these performances offered endless streams of information I had no way to decode. Five minutes into the first piece, a music-less modern dance piece scored by an ever-increasingly cacophonic sound collage, I started to panic. “How am I going to write anything intelligent or useful about this? I have no context or appropriate aesthetic criteria from which to form an opinion on this art! Deep shame will befall me if I try to discuss this!” I got into more of a groove with the second piece, and at intermission I proudly shared with my companions that I had totally understood it, only to be told that if I was trying to “figure it out,” I was missing the point. Drat.

My deepest engagement with performance art before last night was when an organization I worked with brought in a guest artist to lead a workshop with incarcerated youth and we required them to demo the workshop before taking it to the youth. The workshop consisted of her having a room full of graduate students and professors clap for 30 minutes straight. No talking. No stopping. No rules. No objective. Just clapping. For 30. Minutes. Straight.

It was actually amazing.

Those 30 minutes contained multitudes in ways I could never have imagined. I went through the full range of human emotion. I decided I would stop about forty times, and didn’t stop, and didn’t know why I didn’t stop, and wondered what that meant about me as a person, and whether I was angry or enjoying myself, and what was happening for everyone else, etc, and that was only the first five minutes.

The Risk/Reward Festival took me on a similar ride of varied emotions and freely associated responses. Presented with the unexpected, the grotesque, the beautiful, the spectacle, the obtuse, without any story to follow, any characters to relate to, any recognizable concrete human experience to relax safely into, my mind went everywhere and asked so many questions. I was leaning forward. A small smattering of people would laugh and I didn’t know why. Occasionally I would laugh and not know why.

Despite having never attended a festival of performance art, it had everything I never knew I expected a performance art festival would have. Live multimedia/performer interaction, varying degrees of nudity, assaultive noise and frenetic movement followed by prolonged moments of stillness and silence, durational tests of endurance, genitals in hats, and of course, Trump masks.

For this traditional, narrative-driven frequent theatre-goer, the risk of unknown was well worth the reward of the unexpected, unexplained, uncategorizable experience. Thanks, Risk/Reward, for another year of making this festival happen!

-Tamara Carroll

Twenty minutes is nothing, and forever.

At Risk/Reward, twenty minutes is an entire ecosystem. A planet that unfolds itself, envelops you in its particular air and quality of light, and then—with varying degrees of gentleness—spits you back out into the stars for the next planet to appear out of the darkness and pull you in. Two hours later, walking out after the last piece, I felt like examining myself for passport stamps, skinned knees, seasickness: any lingering sign that my heart and mind had just been whirled into and out of six stunning and gut-busting and gloriously difficult worlds.

Thrillingly, woven into and out of every piece of this year’s festival are women, and with them the many bodies and possibilities of femininity. And they are strong: naked, and strong. Superficial, and strong. Repurposing the the detritus of a world bleached of meaning, seizing the means of objectification to make their own provocations, weightless and powerful against an endless sky. Singing, shrieking, tearing out the eyes of tyrants, sweating off their armor, cradling youth and death with equal tenderness. Strong, ridiculous, defiant, enduring. In the rapid-fire onslaught, I grasped desperately after these images, repeating them frantically to myself in the hopes that I could somehow keep them from fading.

From here, the morning after, some burn brighter than others, but I remain profoundly moved: amazed by the strengths of women, empowered by their emphatic and unstoppable contradictions, and emboldened by the space that they take up in this unpredictable and bruising world.

-Devan Wardrop-Saxton

CHECK OUT DEVAN’S BLOG

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

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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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

CHECK OUT QUEEN SHMOOQUAN’S WEBSITE

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