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787 Sprouts New Routes

I wrote a moderately disparaging article about the Boeing 787 a while back, likening it to a carbon fiber cathedral since it basically applied new(-ish) materials to the old tube-and-wing design.

But apparently because of the Dreamliner, you’ll soon be able to fly nonstop from both San Diego and San Jose to Tokyo. San Diego’s runway was evidently too short to put enough gas on to the 777 so it could go the distance across the Pacific against headwinds. San Jose had enough runway but not enough people to fill the plane. (See the piece by Guy Norris in Aviation Week.)

The 787 is smaller than the 777, so you can fill the tanks and still get off the ground in San Diego. And fewer seats to fill and a 10% improvement in operating efficiency means “long, thin” routes like San Jose/Tokyo or Boston/Helsinki, for example, can proliferate.

However, in keeping with my baroque thesis, Norris writes: “the 787 may not open the floodgates on long, thin routes in the same way as did the 767 on shorter transatlantic routes.”

Initially I thought perhaps we would see a PDX-Narita route. Delta already offers one–via 767.

Review: Dark Matters by Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM

White Bird dance has brought Kidd Pivot back to Portland for an incredible performance of the 2009 piece “Dark Matters”. Their last showing is tonight, and it should not be missed. “Dark Matters” is a remarkably ambitious piece which rewards a close reading while also offering a rich aesthetic experience for viewers who just want to watch world-class dancers in an inventive performance. But this is Research Club, so let’s get down to that close reading, shall we?

Most responses to “Dark Matters” begin with the structure of the performance, as the show is very much a choreographer’s show, directed with great ingenuity by Crystal Pite. The dancers are working with a world that she built more than they are building their own.

Broadly, “Dark Matters” is shaped like this — the first, theatrical act features dance wrapped up in a silent play  about a puppeteer whose bare-wood creation comes to life and turns on him (and the set). The puppet is animated with astute grace in the Bunraku style — multiple hooded performers dressed all in black  (kagezukai or “shaded manipulators”) appear on stage behind the puppet, using wooden rods to articulate it. For the entire first act, dancer Peter Chu is the only performer on stage in regular costume, dancing with either the puppet or the black-robed kagezukai. As the narrative and the narrative structure fall apart, the kagezukai are freed from their roles and become stage hands, fighters, and then dancers themselves. The narrative is driven by a cinematic and noisy score by Owen Belton which shares the audio space with a looped quote from Voltaire’s 1755 “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster”:


This frail construction of quick nerves and bones
Cannot sustain the shock of elements;
This temporary blend of blood and dust
Was put together only to dissolve;

    The quote’s obvious connection to the puppetry hides a subtler theory of the whole work encouraged by these words. (More on that later). 

    The way in which the first act tears itself apart is full of deft shocks and some genuine humor which shows both in the interpretation and the plotting. Any further details would ruin some really tangy surprises.

    The second act starts without warning, while the audience are still returning from the bar and bathroom — warning that the boundaries of the stage have not been repaired during the break. A lone kagezukai dances mainly with the astonishingly beautiful lighting design by Robert Sondergaard until the rest of the troupe joins. There is a temptation to refer to this portion of the show as the “pure dance” portion, as it does not include puppets or an obvious plot like the first act did. However, it is this reviewer’s opinion that the second act is entirely driven by the wake of the violent reframing that occurred in the first act and dissects the same ideas more tenderly and subtly. 

    The theatricality of the first act, which does get a little whimsical at points, has been criticizedas being too obvious and self conscious. I think this is quite missing the point. The broad strokes of the first act represent the long run back that Ms. Pite took to launch her program out of the theatre and into a new space. The intricacy of the show lies in the way in which the broad, loud themes of the first act are still enfolded into the aesthetic and structure of the second act. She shows us theatre and the hubris of thinking that one can control what one makes, she literally waves a sign that says “this is fake”, and then she breaks the illusion more than you thought possible, even after telegraphing her punches.

    What we’re seeing is an intricate, dance-based work of postmodern art which, like any sufficiently self-aware and ambitious contemporary piece, addresses its own unjustified, transitory, and fleeting existence. Vik Muniz’s concept of the worst possible illusion is at play on many levels. We know we are being fooled, but we are fooled more profoundly through that knowledge. Penn and Teller’s cup and ball trick is a brilliant shortcut to this feeling.

    This brings me back to the Bunraku puppet. This particular style is a historically-rich example of the power of the idea of the worst possible illusion. The kagezukai are right there on stage in pure view, but not because of a failure of stage lighting. They are blocked out just enough so that we look elsewhere, but not so much that we are not aware that our gaze is being directed. The artistry with which the kagezukai direct the puppet is the treat, as is the artistry with which the author of the play directs our attention. In Bunraku, the musicians, the silent puppeteers, and a player known as a “chanter” create a synchronized performance that aims to thrill the audience not though its power of illusion but through an open demonstration of the artifice of theatre. 

    Whether there is a conscious application of the historical context of Bunraku to “Dark Matters” is not very important to me. The fight scenes contain recognizable martial arts stances, including poses from both tai chi and manga. I had the opportunity to talk to Peter Chu to confirm that those choices were studied and on purpose. So I do not think that there is a hidden message to be decoded from the references to Bunraku, but given the rigor of the rest of the show, it is much more likely that Ms. Pite has studied what she is working with than not.

    Bunraku was contemporary with the rise of Kabuki, which later became more popular. They differ in many ways, but their structures are fundamentally divided by the fact that Bunraku has the chanter — a performer who reads the story out loud, the same each time, doing the voices for every character. in contrast, Kabuki allows space for the actors and actresses to improvise and pun. Bunraku is called an “author’s theatre” — at least by Wikipedia and by people who use Wikipedia. The performance is driven by the writing and the planning.

    “Dark Matters” applies itself to the hazards of authorship and will — first in a fun, accessible spirit through the play, and then in increasingly poignant and abstract ways through the real-but-fake destruction of the play and its spirit and the dance that occurs in its rubble. The real plot of the piece is the journey of the lone kagezukai who escapes the first act, a journey which needs both the first act’s flawed theatre and the second act’s “pure” dance.

    “Sufficiently self-conscious and ambitious contemporary art” tends to come out rather dry most of the time, both from being baked in academia and from the maker’s worry at being distracted by the juicier ingredients. What we often get is a lot of meditation on the futility of practice or the restricting pressure of historical context. They don’t sound like it, but these are compelling plots. It’s just that it’s much less common that pieces can engage these ideas and turn them back on the audience as something human and relevant to getting out of bed in the morning. “Dark Matters” is an inventive, entertaining, and surprising performance by incredibly talented dancers, but it isexciting because it is a big, complicated contemporary work that manages to make these issues and ideas stab you in the gut.

    Later in the work, the Voltaire quote continues:


    Man is a stranger to his own research;
    He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes.
    Tormented atoms in a bed of mud,
    Devoured by death, a mockery of fate.
    But thinking atoms, whose far-seeing eyes,
    Guided by thought, have measured the faint stars,
    Our being mingles with the infinite;
    Ourselves we never see, or come to know.
    This world, this theatre of pride and wrong,

      The piece is framed by quotes from a poem written after an earthquake made city-building and everyday life seem pointless to one of the greatest writers of his time. These are read over the silent performance like a Bunraku chanter. The main structure borrowed from Bunraku — the puppeteers and puppet — falls apart and produces a refugee. This refugee, the kagezukai, perseveres after the destruction of its entire world. It enters the part of the show we were expecting — the dance. Without its presence and without its journey, this dance would merit a much less complex, direct reading of its formal qualities. The dancers are unquestionably at the top of their class, but I don’t think “Dark Matters” is about the dancing. It is about how it becomes about the dancing.

      Whether Voltaire is writing after an earthquake or Crystal Pite’s troupe is performing in a blindly-optimistic city overdue to be leveled by a massive one, the decision to stand up and make art has always been one of the few things that art can contribute to the world that makes it worth special attention. This decision requires comparing ones own creative forces to the forces of the outside world, and, like Voltaire reminds us, our guiding thoughts can seem to occasionally mingle with those larger forces that appear to be at work, despite how small and frail we are comparatively.

      So it is one thing to get up and perform as a talented dancer. It is another thing to build, destroy, and reconstitute the frames which these dancers occupy  so that the dance has nothing left to justify it. The plot is distilled into the choreography of the second act, where the kagezukai mingles, interferes, and plays with the forces that drive the dancers. Their effort to dance, the struggle to find and negotiate the forces which drive that effort, and the facts of will that make it possible to do so are the stories we follow. As the piece resolves, these stories focus in on the physical acts on stage — at points, the dancers’ gasping breath is the only sound effect.

      In the final passage, the lone kagezukai disrobes and reveals herself to be the remarkable Sandra Marín. The last, intimate partner dance concentrates the themes of will, drive, frailty, and doubt. Accompanied by Eric Whitacre’s beautiful choral work “Sleep,” it is balletic, earnest and solemn. What makes it work is how the audience was exposed to the delicate mechanics of building something fleeting and beautiful.

      Wild Combination Debrief

      So Wild Combination was a huge success. Thank you to everyone who made it possible. We had an amazing lineup including  OperativeGoodnight BillygoatHand2Mouth Theater Oregon Painting Society plus video from Grand Detour, and a performance by Spare Room, all of which was hosted by Fluxus MC Leo Daedalus. And, just to top it off, Steve Davee got people to make and launch their own rockets in the front room, and then in the street. Also, thanks to bePortland for a great review.

      Lots — and I mean lots — of you signed up for the Portland Passport Project, which means that this isn’t just a one-night stand. Through the developing Passport Network, you’ll be able to connect with not just the participants in Wild Combination and upcoming Passport Network events, but also with the other people and communities connected to them, and the people connected to them, and so on. Stay tuned to find out more about those upcoming events…

      (Now would be a great time to join our mailing list!)

      Enjoy selections from the videos that night. Also, thanks to Jamie Marie Waelchli and Shawn Patrick Higgins for the excellent photos of the night.

      Seaweed Wall

      From the folks at the Center for Genomic Gastronomy about their exhibit at the EDIBLE exhibition at SCIENCE GALLERY, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland


      Getting to know you


      There's a big stack of books by my green chair these days. One of the many anthologies of literature from college, for its historical introductions to the Victorian era. Wordsworth, who has been there since Christmas anyway but is being revisited as he was Poet Laureate in Britain from 1843 until 1850. There are many, many books on costume and dress — some good, some less good, but all are taken into consideration and bits and pieces of them end up in my sketchbooks.

      Historical context

      There are lists in all my notebooks. Color ideas. Lighting tests. Characters slowly reveal themselves to me. And the actual source novel itself is getting shabbier and shabbier as I pore over the thing looking for details that may have slipped me by earlier, and try and flesh out the quick doodles made the first time around.


      In short: I am in the research phase of a massive new project, and it is pure and utter delight. My work days lately have consisted of just stirring this glorious soup of ideas, coaxing them into sketches. My reference stack is getting higher and higher. And my sketchbooks are getting fuller and fuller. Every rock I overturn leads to more questions, more books on hold at the library, digging and digging. Entire days have been spent in the shadow of this great stack of books, something I haven't really done since college.


      For the first time I am really appreciating that English major I ended up getting. An English major asks all the questions about a story that an illustrator SHOULD be asking. Why is that character dropping hints like that? What is motivating this character to ask his boss those questions? What the heck is a "hair-cutting chamber"? What would a cotton-mill look like? What does that work entail? What does it look like? What part of their bodies would be the most tired? A good illustration doesn't merely repeat what the text says. It should add a further element to a scene, perhaps depict what is being inferred. It should be a sort of conversation. A picture should encourage you to want to read the words. That's my goal here, anyway. I want the people who flick through the book to look at all the pictures looking for spoilers to come away with more curiosity.

      book tabs

      I finally started to hone in on the actual scenes I'm interested in, and as you can see there are quite a few. I'm trying to thin them down a little bit, though I'm certainly interested in painting all of these. There's actually more that didn't even make the rough cut. I went on a field trip to the bookstore a few weeks ago to see other illustrated novels (typically classics for young readers — think Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Heidi by Johanna Spyri, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain). They often employ a mix of black and white line drawings and full-color paintings, but I suspect that had more to do with the cost of printing than artistic choice. It all really depends on which pictures look best once they're dummied up, which is the next phase. Storyboard building. And sketching, sketching, sketching. And reading, reading, reading.

      Wild Combination is Happening Tonight

      Come one, come all! 8:30 @ Holocene.

      Getting the word out


      I’m in a sort of fun place in my career where I am submitting little packets to magazines, art directors, agencies and publishers. Some of this entails going to the library and poring over books in the children’s section. Who publishes this? Is the illustrator represented or flying solo? I make lots of lists and then go home and plan an attack. Who do I contact first, what do I pitch, when do I email, do I have to print anything.

      I have a lot of initial optimism but I am trying to keep it real. This process could anywhere from a couple months to a many years. So I can’t bank on it. If it happens, great. If not, well. In the meantime I have a lot of big fun projects in the immediate future, and right now my main goal is to find a rhythm. Find a way to do without without it taking ALL my colors out at once. This initial push has been exhausting, but it’s also been exhilarating. In the process of doing all this I have written some of the best application material I have ever written — which sounds campy but is something I’m really proud of. Knowing how to talk about your work in an intelligent (and intelligible) way is absolutely crucial.

      Having this stuff on the back burners also makes me more keen to take risks and do bigger things in my paintings. If it’s a choice between writing query letters and blocking some tricky paintings I’ll go for the tricky paintings every time. So in that way it’s stimulating as well. It pushes everything forward.

      Does being wealthy make you unethical?

      An interesting piece in Ars Technica, summarizing research appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Disclosure of sorts: I occasionally write for Ars but my SES is not greatly affected thereby.)

      Does being wealthy make you unethical? New research suggests it does



      Research Club Monthly Update // February 2012

      Have you checked out our swanky new digs yet? If not, you have another chance for food, talks and socializing at Collective Agency during this Sunday’s brunch.

      Location: Collective Agency, 322 NW 6th Ave, Suite 200
      Date: Sunday, February 26
      Time: Noon-3pm

      Featured Talks:

      Leo Daedalus - The Late Now
      Leo hosts the thinking mammal’s live late-night-style variety-cabaret-talk show. A considered fiasco for the avant set.

      Vivian Hua

      In 2005, I started a publication called REDEFINE, which began with no particular focus. It grew to become a music and arts publication dedicated to covering lesser-known and independent musicians. In the past year (2011), a series of extraordinary [personal] circumstances has led to the complete thematic and conceptual overhaul of REDEFINE. The music industry is not even close to what it was in 2005, and the site’s new mission, moving forward, is one that I hope will be predictive of changes to come in the industry. 

      Sara Mirk - Oregon History Comics
      In 2009, I started on what I thought would be a quick, fun educational project: Creating 10 small comic books about Oregon’s history. My friends, myself, and the majority of Portland didn’t grow up in the state, so researching and writing these comics was a way to help build understanding of our surroundings in a relevant, accessible medium. Local arts and culture nonprofit the Dill Pickle Club joined on as a collaborator and over the past two years we’ve raised $2,500, hired nine local artists, and published six of the ten comics. The box set of comics is finally being released this March 5th at Powell’s!


      Ezra SpierWhere Coffee Comes From

      Ezra has traveled far and wide, to plantations in South America and Africa, to see every step of the process of making coffee. Follow one of our favorite beverages from berries on the plants to our greedy, greedy mouths.


      Wild Combination at Holocene March 7


      Research Club and Holocene present…
      March 7 8:30 – late

      Seriously, don’t miss this. This is our biggest event ever (until the next one…)

      featuring music by
      Goodnight Billygoat

      performance by
      Hand2Mouth Theater 

      and a performance by 
      Oregon Painting Society

      Plus video, presentations, interactive demos from
      Grand Detour
      Distillery Row Passport
      Research Club (that’s us!)
      and many more

      hosted by Fluxus MC Leo Daedalus

      We’ve teamed up with Holocene for a night of interdisciplinary art fun with some of our favorite local innovators! WILD COMBINATION is the kickoff event for the Portland Passport Project. This is the first of three events between now and July that will be composed of some of the most amazing projects from all the many communities of makers and thinkers in Portland. We’re reaching out to the food, drink, music, art, dance, science, tech, advocacy, DIY, and education communities to create events and experiences which combine their amazing talents to show what happens when you cross boundaries and find out what your neighbors do. 

      During this time, we’ll be building the Passport Network — is a system to make it easier to find new communities that matter to you and to gain new, enthusiastic members for your own community. Check out our website for more details.

      Check Out Portland Talks, a New Guide to Lectures and Talks in Portland

      From organizer Ilie Mitaru:

      Over the summer, I was spending a lot amount of time trolling through events emails from the likes of Mercy Corps and Powell’s, trying to figure out what lectures were happening when, and then convincing friends to join me. Around the same time I was introduced to Nim and the good folks at the Research Club, and realized the wealth of events that had been completely off my radar. 

      There are dozens of comprehensive resources for Portland’s nightlife, but none for the lectures, screenings, critiques and workshops happening across the city in a given day. So we built PortlandTalks to collect and organize all these events. The goal is to help Portlanders participate in and support the city’s open knowledge base.  

      The site went live last month, and we’ve already had some organizers saying they’re meeting new attendants who’ve come from PortlandTalks. There’s a weekly email newsletter where you can sign up to get a run-down of the week’s best talks and of courseFacebook and Twitter, where we post all our events as well. If we’re missing something, please reach out to us or submit an eventon the site.

      Check us out, tell us what you think, and hopefully we’ll see you around at one of Portland’s incredible lectures.