Tagged: portland institute for contemporary art

“Of Course it Was Intentional”: Reflections on Trajel Harrell at PICA’s 2013 TBA Festival

Originally published with the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

After the show, my friend walked up to him and asked about the tag still connected to the shirt he’d worn on stage. “Was that intentional? Did you mean to leave that on?” Trajal laughed as he looked at her and said “of course,” of course it was intentional. It was part of the show. Then she told him: “That thing at the beginning was no big deal,” attempting to offer comfort for what seemed a monumental mistake in the performance. He smiled at her and laughed. That was intentional too. “It was?!” she laughed in surprise (and she’s no amateur in the world of experimental performance). ”Of course!” Trajal replied.

It was all intentional. The minutes of discomfort as we watched Trajal’s partner, Thibault Lac, dig through his bag looking for a prop, halting the show shortly after it had begun. Then the interaction between Thibault and Trajal in the front row and the tiny wrinkle of concern on Trajal’s otherwise stoic face, as if he were hiding anger at his partner’s ineptitude. Then Thibault’s quick departure from the room to look for the missing element, and his small smile that I interpreted as boyish humiliation. And Trajal’s speech to the audience, an audience that waited in line outside, behind closed gates for the sold-out show. Trajal apologized for the fact that they would have to begin the show over.

Photo by Whitney Browne

Photo by Whitney Browne

I was sitting next to Trajal as all this was occurring, an un-intentional move on my part when I chose my seat next to two empty ones reserved by a hand towel. I was next to Trajal when he sat down after his apology, and as he waited for Thibault to return. Trajal’s body folded at moments, his eyes sometimes looking in anguish at where Thibault had run off stage. At first, the audience was silent. But the initial feelings of respect and compassion, and perhaps thoughts that this was an intentional interruption, soon gave way to chatter and then palpable discomfort. As Trajal sat next to me, alone in embarrassed silence, the whispering in the audience grew increasingly loud.

A young woman seated on the floor in front of us, her head half shaved and dyed blue, whispered with friends. I looked over at her as she laughed and rolled her eyes in what seemed a moment of mocking disbelief. Trajal saw her too. He sighed next to me, as if the humiliation has just reached its peak, and turned his head away in sadness. Should I offer him a word of comfort?

Every moment is an opportunity to assess our own reactions, and TBA’s performances have a knack for bringing those moments into stark relief. If nothing else, this was a social experiment, I figured. Was I, as the woman next to the performer, expected to offer condolences and reassurance? Should I, at least, be careful not to turn my back on him as I too defaulted into mid-performance conversation with friends? What was my role to play in this performance?

Trajal stands and walks to the wall to continue waiting. Then, after a time, he decides to simply begin the show again. He announces to us that this search for the prop has taken longer than expected and that he’s just going to go ahead and start. Thibault is still not here. Trajal returns to the black open stage and, without much cue to anyone, the music begins. But this is not the music where things left off. This is a new act altogether. And after a couple of minutes, Thibault joins him on stage seamlessly. I wonder for a moment again if this hadn’t all been planned after all. But why?

The show Antigone Jr. (not to be confused with the “Made-to-Measure” version performed on Friday and Saturday) was an exploration into a hypothetical cross-breed of cultures. In Trajal Harrell’s words, all of the Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church performances explore the same question: ”What would have happened in 1963 if someone from the voguing dance tradition in Harlem had come downtown to the Judson Church in Greenwich Village to perform alongside the early postmoderns?”

And it was, in the end, a pleasing performance. A combination of voguing interspersed with an occasional beat generation musing from Trajal, a reading of Antigone by Thibault, and singing from them both. But it was also, always, this highbrow, intellectual work and high-skilled dance on a foundation of seeming disarray. It was not unlike what you might find if walking in on two smart, trained dancers high on something and joking around in a bedroom at 3am. Certainly, this impression was influenced by the costuming: boxer shorts and socks, a gray bathrobe, t-shirts, and an inside-out white something (with the tag still on). What would it have felt like with different clothing? And was that the impression Trajal intended to convey?

Satya Byock is a Portland psychotherapist specializing in dream work and Jungian psychology for individuals in the first half of adulthood. She recently delivered a workshop at PICA on the Language of the Unconscious Mind with Anna Craycroft as part of the C’mon Language series.

Originally published with the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

“Dancing the Mind” Reflections on Nacera Beleza at PICA’s 2013 TBA Festival

Originally published with Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

If Peace could dance, it took the stage in act one of Nacera Belaza’s Le Trait Solos & Le Temps Scellé. It was the highest mind, the wisest part of us all, spinning around and around in even, rhythmic turns. It began with no suggestion that it might remain exactly as it was: a single gesture, a solo movement, for minutes on end.When Nacera started turning, her arms out-stretched in a firm line, we may have all expected something more. More variation. But this was not meant for quick pleasure. This was a meditation, as if Thich Nhat Hanh had transformed his walking meditations into circular movements; turning and turning in reverence like a Buddhist whirling dervish. The very act of watching Nacera turn, her hair, hands, and dark robes caressed by a silver, moon-like light, nudged each mind in the audience into a state of meditative repose.

It was a nudge, not forced. The boredom and anxious restlessness of some audience members certainly lasted throughout the full dance, but for others, it gave way to quiet, and then even joy. Amusement, like watching the better person win an argument when it wasn’t expected. If she succeeded, we would all be the better for it. It took patience at first, but watching her became like sitting by the ocean on a temperate day, observing single waves come to shore in regular, expected iterations. It is not fast paced or exciting, not a spectacle from which to gain quick thrills, but it will alter you if you let it, and you will be glad you stayed.

NacŽra Belaza / Le Trait, 2012

photo by David Balicki

In act two, Nacera and her sister, Dalila, perform with remarkable precision not the wholeness of human consciousness, but its fragmented nature. They take the stage separately, then come together to reflect what seems the split mind, the plurality of consciousness, and the madness that lingers within. Their clothing is no longer the dark, Zen-like coverings from act one. Now, they wear oversized, gray sweatshirts and pants. I find myself imagining lost, lonely prisoners, and homeless people muttering to themselves on the street. But their depictions are no less beautiful than in the first dance. Their portrayal remains utterly reverential, still seeing the peace in it all: a crack addict at the height of bliss, or a person lost to psychosis but deeply engaged with her world of gods. It is suffering, but it is also the inner life in its riches, not to be judged entirely by what we can see from the outside.

The movements in this act remain un-hurried and centralized, and still lit as if by the night’s full harvest moon. This is not the modern neurotic mind being portrayed, as is common, for better or worse, in much contemporary art. It is still ancient. A timeless kind of madness. Nacera and Dalila’s heads move as if they are denser, filled with competing thoughts. Their necks sweep close to the shoulder in stiff postures, remaining rigidly extended backwards, like another arm pulling away from the body. These are the movements of people who have whole villages in dialogue inside their minds. The physical rhythm is no longer consistent and silent. Movements are interrupted, unexpected and inconsistent but transfixing and delicate just the same.

Nacera and Dalila’s dedication to their craft is awe inspiring, as is their precision and endurance. This is not a show that will leave you ready to party, but its power to transform you may rival any other.

Photo by GK Wilson

Satya Byock is a Portland psychotherapist specializing in dream work and Jungian psychology for individuals in the first half of adulthood. She recently delivered a workshop at PICA on the Language of the Unconscious Mind as part of the C’mon Language series.

Originally published with Portland Institute for Contemporary Art