I find this very interesting—that what one person thinks is the best performance in the festival, someone else finds amateur and clumsy. What to one person is genuine and multi-dimensional is to someone else an empty academic exercise. This is one of my favorite things about PICA, the passion for debate that it inspires. Last year, everyone was talking about Faustin Linyekula— half the audience loved the performance with all their hearts and half the audience detested it with all their might. I had a great fight the night I saw it with my boyfriend—it split us right down the middle (we recovered, thankfully) but I still stand staunchly behind my position that while it was a passionate work with striking images, it was too damn loud and made only one real point, which was “ARGGGGGHHHHghghh!” This year is no different, and I strive to wade into the differences, even if it means getting into a brawl at the Works. I overheard someone telling a woman next to me the other night not to bother seeing Yubiwa Hotel, and instead to see Vivarium Studio, which was “much better.” I disagreed so intensely that I intervened to tell her that I had the exact opposite opinion—if you must choose, I exhorted, see Yubiwa Hotel, because while not as well-structured, it has a much more interesting and provocative flow of images than Vivarium. Which one of us is right? Who knows. More kind-hearted people insist that we both are, but I still say I am.
Which brings me (long-windedly) to Universes, which I thought was the most smart, soulful, howling, wailing, stomping, heart-breaking and heart-soaring piece I’ve seen yet at TBA (not counting Kiki & Herb, upon whom I have already drooled my love). When it comes down to it, I like experiments to be exuberant, messy, and participatory. I like to see people take chances, bait the crowd, and bite off more than they can chew. And in this case, they bit it off, chewed it up, spat it out and stomped all over it, in lockstep and four-part harmony. This does not impress everyone, but I think the talented crew of Universes is experimenting within a strong tradition (a tradition that goes back much farther than the early 90s) of weaving poetry, spoken word and political calls to action in and out of old spirituals, work songs, musical ballads and Sly and the Family Stone. And strangely enough, it reminded me of song-based theatre I’ve seen in Eastern Europe— a tradition born of entirely different circumstances but also using voice, rhythm and body to generate music and rhythm and words that shock, delight, seduce and haunt the crowd. This is the kind of work I love to see: call and response that fuses the personal with the political and calls us on our shit (and if you ask me, the near-uniform whiteness of Portland culture could use some calling out). Whatever category you put it into, I call it FUCKING AWESOME.
Faith Helma