About a month ago at our Cross Community Summit, I said that we’d know in a month whether or not we’ve got the necessary momentum to launch this project. I’m a little — but not a lot — sorry to say that we don’t. That is, we don’t have what we need to launch the project in the way I wanted to — from the ground up, using participatory, distributed methods instead of conventional ones.
What Does this Mean for the Project?
It means that I am calling off development on the website for the network, and we will not be printing passports.
Whether or not we still do prom is up to the people and groups who want to be part of it. I’m pretty sure we’ll have something fun.
We will still launch the International Waters online calendar. That’s coming soon! There are still lots of cool things going on in the next couple months that deserve your attention.
Why Not Keep Going?
The Portland Passport Project was a challenge and an experiment — to launch an ambitious project using only the support of the community that would use it rather than through outside support and advertising.
After talking to many, many people in many different communities, I’m convinced that the idea is too abstract and the schedule is too tight to motivate enough people to participate enough to launch a project this size without funding or a massive PR campaign.
An encounter between Mourad Merzouki and 11 young dancers from Rio de Janeiro at the Lyon Dance Biennial in 2006 is the inspiration behind this unique performance. The young dancers’ individual stories about their lives in the favelas and how they were determined to make something of themselves moved Mourad to create two heart-stopping works that showcase the young Brazilian’s astonishing acrobatic skills and dazzling virtuosity. According to Merzouki, “This language – hip-hop – is movement that comes from the streets, from poor neighborhoods, where there is a primordial rage to speak out, to give expression to furious energy, to the fierce desire to live. It is a voluntary act that matures over time, absorbing different schools of thought. Nourished by disparate elements, it becomes not only art but a commitment – to dispense with clichés and conventional thinking and to dismiss bromides about hip-hop as a social movement, in order to establish this language as an art in its own right.
Watching this show while sitting in the Schnitzer near seats that cost nearly much as a full day’s work at a minimum wage job, you sit among the tension between where the dancers and the dance itself came from and where they were performing. They came from a very different place, and those differences are all touchy — they are national, racial, and economic. Riskier still was the fact that the show was very fun, and the dancers grinned a lot. Was the fun to keep us from worrying about our difference from the foundations of the performance, or did the fun belong to the dancers, given as a gift to the audience?
The tension is one of accessibility in both the literal and theoretical senses. There’s the familiar pull of irony-vs-victory whenever performers or styles rise to a prominence from humble or rough beginnings. Is the exclusivity worth noting, or is it not since the show costs just as much as it would for any other world-class troupe whose members didn’t grow up in favelas? Is hip-hop declawed by entering the stage or does it do so as a deserved acknowledgment of its formal qualities? It is and it isn’t and that’s why there’s tension, but the challenge is in addressing it without suffering from it, in finding the art within and around it rather than slapping some on top of it. (And it should be noted that in case Portland has any budding b-boy geniuses who couldn’t afford a ticket, White Bird generously arranged a showing and Q and A earlier that day for public school students.)
Besides a bit too much grinning, I think they did exceedingly well by this measure. (And maybe I’m simply cynical in thinking that that much genuine grinning isn’t possible — I’m sure I’d be pretty damn happy myself if I could move like the men in Kafig).The piece is definitely a contemporary, stage-dance piece, doing more than simply showcasing some incredible breaking. At the same time, when the dancers do show their roots and flex their muscles, it does not feel watered down. They could have gotten away with a lot more showboating. Rather than restraining themselves, it felt more as if they were showing the freedom that masters of an art have to explore when they don’t need to prove how good they are. Breaking is the central vocabulary of the show, but the show as a whole is ontologically mixed and experimental. While making for a more interesting performance, this also means that the show avoids the hazard of being trumpeted as the greatest breaking you can see. There’s no question that these guys are among the best, but the best work within formal breaking is happening on streets and stages at the same time. But this show is not about what one can do within hip-hop dance but what hip-hop dance can do within a contemporary, international context.
The spareness and ingenuity of the second act, Agwa, nails this. The troupe dances with two props: clear plastic cups, and water. Nothing about it requires the Schnitzer any more than it requires a clear sidewalk. It needs a stack of plastic cups, some water, and a crew of incredibly athletic dancers and inspired choreography.
The first act both required and mocked the theatrical context more, but it still carried the infectious energy and freedom that blossomed in the second act. “Infectious” tends to get thrown around when talking about vague things like “energy”, but I mean it very specifically here. From the first moments on stage, the buoyancy of the performers filled the hall and lightened everyone there. Even sitting there as a critic, trying to feel for the edges of the sort of socio-economic tension that art school refugees like me usually seize on, it was impossible not to have fun at the show. It was so entreating that it did not require a deep reading to get at the reason it exists, but it was satisfying to see that the overall choreography stands up to that sort of rumination that you could do if you weren’t as busy clapping as we all were throughout the show.
The audience reaction, and the lightness of mood throughout the hall was striking. There’s a bit of coldwar about clapping in high-class venues, but the side of clapping conservatism didn’t stand a chance at the Schnitzer. From the start of the show, the audience was gasping and clapping at each of the many surprises and moments of fission in the show. The obligatory standing-ovation even swayed a little bit during the encore — because the audience demanded an encore and the dancers had one ready, which didn’t seem at all out of place.
The unavoidable fun and blockbusterishness of the show certainly made it a good choice of a finale for the season. The house was packed, and the crowd was diverse and excited. Being my fourth White Bird show ever, it gave me a glimpse of the broadness of their program, especially when compared with some of their Uncaged series.
As White Bird prepares for some really exciting stuff in its 15th year, I hoped I could come up with some new insight into what makes it an interesting and important part Portland culture. But they’ve been doing a great job for half my life, and anyone who hasn’t figured that out for themselves isn’t in that position for lack of evidence or documentation. So instead, I’d like to borrow White Bird’s success for a moment to make a comparison.
In gallery world, we like to talk about advancing dialogue, of pushing boundaries, of entertaining the new art of a given field. But we are still quite cut off in Portland. We are cut off from buyers, from international fairs, and from most touring shows. We punch well above our weight as a city, but we send most of our best emerging artists away to big cities like the Midwest sent their best punk bands to New York in the 1980s. Why don’t we have a White Bird of visual art, and why have the past and current efforts to create something like that been so fraught? Visual art may not have the ticket-selling draw that performance does, but if it wants to be considered just as relevant it needs to look at its own metric of participation in comparison. By those metrics, we still do not have the coordination of patronage, audience-education, sustained international dialogue, and community development that White Bird represents to the dance community. We have a few institutions that do what they do very well, but until someone brings world-class artists to Portland as regularly and as visibly as White Bird brings world-class dancers, I think the gallery crowd needs to pay more attention to groups like White Bird and maybe even less attention to themselves.
Code for America sends Fellows to cities to help local governments do more with technology.Now, we’ve launchedBrigade to help everyone make their cities better with technology.We’re coming to PDX!
Who:Rebooting Democracy Folk,Civic Hackers, , City Reps, Developers, Designers, etc — anyone with the passion to make Portland better!
Where: Geoloqi HQ (920 SW 3rd Ave #400). Our civic-minded friends at GeoLoqi have graciously agreed to host our civic rabble.
When:April 22nd, 10am-3pm. *Lunch will be provided.*
What do you do at civic hackathon, anyway?At a civic hackathon, people who know and love technology (software developers, designers, entrepreneurs, etc.) come together with people who know and love urban issues (city staff, local organizations, community members and leaders) to use technology and their collective skills to build solutions that matters to our city, and other cities too.
There’s food, smart people, and networking opportunities. It’s an opportunity to make a difference with skills you know, hone some you’ve forgotten, and maybe even acquire some new ones. Still not sure what to expect? Check out a Fellow’s experience.
I paraphrased Antonoi Gramsci badly over beer with Nim. Here is a proper rendering, from Gramsci’s Letters from Prison:
In acquiring one’s conception of the world one always belongs to a particular grouping which is that of all the social elements which share the same mode of thinking and acting. We are all conformists of some conformism or other, always man-in-the-mass or collective man.
Such conformity (community?) underlies underlies language. Amartya Sen argues that Gramsci’s idea indirectly influenced Wittgenstein, leading him from his view of language as an abstract symbol system to something not reducible to math and logic. (RC’s own Vernon Carter believes Wittgenstein thought this way all along and was being ironic in the Tractatus.)
Gramsci isn’t quite paraphrasing Aristotle, who said something related, namely:
He who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god.
Tonight and tomorrow you still have the chance to watch the most inventive use of disembowelment the Portland stage will see for some time to come. If you sit up front, don’t wear anything that stains easily.
“I get up every morning at 5, go for a half-hour walk in the desert, come home and have a cup of coffee, sit down at the desk and ask myself what I would say if I were him, and what I would do if I were her. I think curiosity is actually a moral virtue. I think a person who is curious is slightly more moral than one who is not curious, because sometimes he enters into the skin of another. I think a curious person is even a better lover than one who is not curious. Even my political approach to the Palestinian question, for example, sprang from curiosity. I am not a Middle East expert or a historian or a strategist. I simply asked myself, at a very young age, what it would be like if I were one of them. So, that’s what I do − get up in the morning and ask myself: What if?”