Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Thursday March 22nd-Saturday March 24th an otherwise empty studio space (supplied by a friendly and generous design firm called HAPPYLUCKY) held one of the most interesting and memorable multimedia events I have had the chance to be a part of: Liminal presents Gertrude Stein.

I didn't arrive in Portland in time to be clued in to the activities the great post-theatre company years ago, and the stories I've heard about the often multi-room theatrical happenings have left me wondering if there is anything more to do. A Theory of Love from 2007 is a legend, indeed I have nostalgia for this play on plays I never got to experience.

So you can imagine I was thrilled to hear that John Berendzen was re-adopting the Liminal banner to put on a tribute to the idiom-defying Gertrude Stein. I saw hints of what was going on at the Dadashop Salon a year ago, as John wrote a Steinian text across the floor of a salon in a line. Though I don't know the nature of that text's transformation into the events of last weekend.

Liminal presents Gertrude Stein included two multimedia installations, one by Liminal founder Bryan Markovitz and Ben Purdy, the other by sound designer Doug Theriault and video artist Stephen Miller. Doug and Stephen set up a rather chill lounge, featuring a minimal 60-minute soundtrack by Doug over a looping six-minute video by Miller. A voice reading from Gertrude Stein's plays guided a woman, again and again, through a portal, before becoming a shadow (if a rather shapely one). Across the hall, Bryan and Ben's installation and take on The Making of Americans paired some incredible ink drawings (whose process I'm told is equally intriguing) with video and audio narration. The video component mirrored the grammar of The Making of Americans, creating new images by arranging a vocabulary of sources, as Stein's text tells its complicated story with its own limited and repeating vocabulary.

The first of the two major performances was Virgil Thompson's Capital Capitals. Virgil Thompson was a contemporary of Stein whose work has been largely forgotten. The vocal performance, for four male vocalists is humorous, with enough physical nuance of gesture between the four performers to be really quite entertaining. But the amazing paper wigs by Jenny Ampersand, brought it to the level of sculpture, and on top of all that (literally- I think) Anna & Leo Daedalus video projected a tour through a city made entirely of paper, both from the perspective of sculpture and video making Capital Capitals a stunning, multifaceted, and unforgettable work.

Camille Cettina & John Berendzen brought a collaboration of durational composition and attention. One Dancing, likely the most difficult for some audience members, was probably also the most moving for others. At least literally. I may have my numbers wrong, but I believe there were six dancers and six vocalists, this time all female. One Dancing is the name of -I believe- a longer play by Stein, that features a very repetitive-seeming, but never actually repeating text, set to music by John Berendzen, primarily just in the voices of its chorus, though occasionally sliding and transforming into minimal electronic passages that seemlessly moves between the choral phrasings. All the while the dancers moved slowly among the audience, as there was no real distinction between dance-floor and auditorium. The dancers at various points would interact with the architecture, columns and walls, would sometimes disappear to center attention on one or more of the dancers, or at least you might think so, until you turned around.

One Dancing ran longer than an average feature-length film, and I believe may have been better appreciated by those who occasionally left the room for a drink or a breather, not necessarily because it was too much to take in, but maybe because the appreciation of the durational element may be better with some punctuation. At any rate, I have to mention the effect of the singers who surrounded the auditorium and dance-floor, projecting their voices from all sides, is something that most definitely made you need to be in the room to appreciate it. For me, having seen in the last few weeks two performances by Morton Feldman (one being his four-hour String Quartet II), I felt Berendzen's musical accomplishment fit in perfectly for me with those. This one all the more enjoyable to me in its mutability of art and idiom, positioned between dance, music, literature, theatre.

I can't forget to mention the readings of early work provided by the peripatetic David Abel, who broadcast from a wireless microphone before during and after Capital Capitals and One Dancing. I don't know if I know a reading voice I prefer to hear more, and I've certainly heard others say the same.

If you were there and feel I've left something out, remember I was tending bar almost the entirety of all three nights, and this is what I've been able to put together from when I could sneak away. Hopefully that says something for how impressive the weekend was.

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