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Four Performances

It’s been three weeks without a post and I’m just back from a trip so I’m anxious to post something without further delay.  My recent travels included a few days in Portland, Oregon, where I was able to partake of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art festival.  TBA10, as they labeled it, included some stellar performances and several that I caught really stood out.

One night I saw the Nature Theater of Oklahoma (they’re a New York City-based ensemble; the reference is to Kafka’s Amerika) perform their two-person play Romeo and Juliet.

The result of a series of phone calls to people who were asked to tell, in their own words, the story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. When no one seems to exactly remember the plot, versions of the story begin to compound in an array of competing scenarios as the participants try to invent themselves out of their own narrative blind alleys. As memory fails, a necessary creativity steps in to fill the void and we are left with a highly personal and original series of Romeos, pervaded with feeling and rife with thoughts about love, need and the complex nature of self-sacrifice.

The initial realization that two actors were going to recite faulty remembrances of Romeo and Juliet for 90 uninterrupted minutes seemed an unlikely prospect for a real thought-provoking evening of theater, but I came away thinking they had pulled off a fairly complex narrative about memory and the very nature of theater itself. I can relate to the mission statement that the company uses on its own website: “Nature Theater of Oklahoma has been devoted to making the work they don’t know how to make, putting themselves in impossible situations, and working from out of their own ignorance and unease.”

The following night I saw a pair of short works by two contemporary Japanese choreographers, both with roots in Butoh – Zan Yamashita and Yukio Suzuki.  Yamashita read aloud a set of movement instructions for Portland dancer Ezra Dickinson to follow, constructing a wonderful mind/body dichotomy.  Following his performance, the audience moved outdoors to an industrial parking lot where Suzuki did a very emotional, athletic piece called un / formed ↔ formed, which was closer to traditional Butoh and seemed largely about hope and despair.  It seemed fitting that Suzuki performed his piece in a steady downpour of rain.

Returning to Cedar Rapids, I was able to catch the third annual Landfall Music Festival.  Tonight’s stellar performance was by East London-based Portico Quartet, who have been tops on my iPod rotation for the past few weeks.  They make a complexly layered, very modern jazz/world music sound that is tense, meditative, and meandering.  I found their music very Sebaldian (and their first CD is appropriately titled Knee Deep In The North Sea).

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