Festival Interdisciplinary

Chamber of Secrets

it’s really hard :: Alembic Artists Showcase

It’s the same damp walk every time to Performance Works NW. I’ve only attended three performances here and yet somehow it rained each time. Maybe it’s just Portland. I underestimated the conjugated reputation this town has with dreary weather — it’s not all gossip, but it’s lighter than that. The streets are always wet with something and although it’s not always precipitation of the showering kind, tonight it rains.

Everyone is cluttered at the east end of the studio where it feels more like a familial gathering than it does an audience. Contrary to others, I’m not warmed tonight — not totally. One man stands out to me in conversation with seeming kin, resembling a young Jacques Dutronc and I can’t help but wonder if it’s him or me who’s projecting since news of the terrorist attacks in Paris only hours before. People are holding their loved ones a little tighter there than here, no doubt. And still, a show must go on in Portland, everywhere. So it does and we are grateful.

Linda Austin greets us with a question and a man in front of me begins answering almost before she can finish. He didn’t even raise his hand. What is the definition of “alembic” —  what does it mean? Linda translates, “a vessel that is used in the transmutation of one thing to another.”

A distilling apparatus.

A catalyst; chrysalis; cocoon.

And I’m sewn to the word.

Three performances in it’s really hard: Alembic Art’s Showcase are the result of Performance Works NW’s 2015 Residency. My understanding of it is that it is a deprivation chamber of sorts meant to decondition the artist from any idea of typical processes. Instead its function is to encourage an extracting of the artist’s individual methodology.

Grosso Cazzo: un’opera della signora (big dick; a lady’s play): Stephanie Lavon Trotter

Photo by Chelsea Petrakis

A white tarp body takes the shape of a glacier. It moves, expands and retracts with its warm underbody director. Loose limbs sink ships; an ankle extending from underneath gives up some half-hearted secret. Sighs escape to our ears and we also hear “It’s gonna be okay” several times, intensifying with each repetition.

Reveals wear on me; I wished Stephanie to not fully unveil and instead remain inside, down in quiet rebellion to expectation. But opposite of my desire she sheds her rumpled skin, shakes it free, folds it in half, quarters, eighths, smooths it —  clarifying her process. Who am I to plant an agenda on the process of another, innocuous or not?

On her belly now only feet from us she is surrounded by sound equipment, loops and wires waving near to us, mocking her own hair. She begins to add layers of natural sounds, sighs, breaths into our trance. I’m watching her lips that twitch with discontent, in an expression similar to what you see on those peaking on speed. It’s so natural that it makes me wonder how much she’s had. Maybe none. She gives us a language that is translatable and palpable with no actual words.

Mid Me: Nancy Ellis with Elodie Ellis Anderson

(Nancy Ellis) Photo by Chelsea Petrakis

We are taunted by an ad of mad and busty pink-camo women that parades in a projected image before our eyes. It seems like the proper intermission you’d often find on local television, fitting somewhere between reruns of Golden Girls and Sex in the City. I can’t shake its lack of place.

She makes a bed of a new camouflage, absent of a “feminine” palette. When she removes her shoes and socks I feel the sensation with her in a refreshing shimmer of relief for the tops of my feet. Bedding in, too soon this comfort escapes her and she tosses and turns until she’s up running circles in some panicked dreamstate.

From there she sways between fluid, classical-contemporary dance and stuttering confusion. She moves between fantasy and reality, hope and actualization. The last image before the dark is of her balancing on a great stone beneath her bare and glorious body, gorging with a need for genuinity, for her authentic self.

Sooner Than Already There: Dora Gaskill

Photo by Chelsea Petrakis
Photo by Chelsea Petrakis

I can’t tell immediately if the thin, totem-poled camera tripod is filming at us or away and I’m not alone as someone hiccups my thoughts into the room carelessly. Incessant chatter dying down from the intermission ceases as Dora enters like she’s breaking from hiking part way through the Pacific Crest Trail only to end up at some random bar. The only reason I know she’s not is because I had been admiring her between performances. She had my eye as it seemed she could fit into any one of Wes Anderson’s films; her flowing khaki pant, barely set apart from her golden top with a contrasting chestnut hiking pack.

Dora takes us on a journey through some bookstore or library in her monologue — probably mimicking any one person’s trip to Powell’s. Why is it that we spend so much time in these places full of words, sentences, and paragraphs? Is it similar to how we spend time reading on the internet? Which is better for us — or does it matter?

She catalogues through how we categorize them, roughly:

Those you meant to read; one’s you’ll never care to; ones you could borrow from someone; books someone else has read so you feel like you’ve read them too; books too expensive now; books you must read before you read other books; ones you’ve been pining over for years; handy books; summer books; companion books that go with others on your shelf; books that fill you with curiosity….

Speaking into the camera with her back to us, she enunciates in exaggerated tones so that the words become morphed. I’m at a loss.

I don’t know that this showcase is meant to be a relative experience comparatively between the resident artists. More than anything, it is an observation of each individual’s process which is difficult for me to describe or ascribe meaning to. There is madness in art-making that often times filters out mental turmoil and despair. These are factors here and in creating art that resonates with people. Even when the art is simply portraying that there is a process and that “I” as an artist have one — there is a process for each of us.

Jen Scholten

By Jen Scholten

Jen remains curious and inspired by all ventures unfamiliar and unconventional. A transplant from Grand Rapids, Michigan, she continues her creative discovery in an artistically inclined community of dreamers. She functions with a background in photography and an insatiable desire to express her swirling thoughts through wordplay.

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