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Luke George gets all tied up in Bunny

Neon ropes, living sculptures, punk penguins, and a centaur: TBA 2017 had plenty going for it. After a 10-day immersion into contemporary art, we've surfaced to choose the moments that made the most impact.  

A cabaret artist for the Trump era, Morgan Bassichis brought two performances to TBA. Protest Songs, his more straightforward stage show at the Winningstad, was lovely, but it was Daily Meditations at PICA’s NE Hancock headquarters that became something more. Barefoot, walking among LED tea lights and audience members seated cross-legged on the floor, Bassichis asked us to name everything we wanted gone from this world—the police, borders, every single one of our exes—and then imagine our invisible, communal trash heap floating away. “We cast you out, we send you away,” he sang, his voice ringing high and clear. —RJ

Like a living sculpture, a troupe of black-clad women in white head scarves moved into formation beneath the the sun-dappled trees at Peninsula Park. In metronomic jerks and guttural calls, they created a trance-like moment in the late Portland summer. But it was when the performers in Bouchra Ouizguen’s Corbeaux broke at last, and emerged as if newborn, running around the circle of their own creation with a kind of visceral, unburdened joy that the release came and the audience could make real sense of the raw work that preceded it. —FM

For the second year, Kelly Pratt corralled a grip of fellow Portland musicians for some madcap improv. Each of the eight musicians—some of the city’s most talented, from Holcombe Waller to Erika M. Anderson (aka EMA) to Brent Knopf—had 15 minutes to compose a song based on audience suggestions, resulting in a dirty polka about a total eclipse, a sad jazz number about the Columbia Gorge being on fire, and a Carly Rae Jepsen-style ditty about intersectional feminism. But most memorable was a punk throat-shredder about penguins. “The males are holding eggs on their feet!” the makeshift band wailed. “Tiny tuxedos, sliding on our bellies!” And, over and over and over again: “We swim better than we walk!” Umm, maybe you just had to be there. —RJ

“You did the right thing about your mother,” boomed the man in the theater’s back corner. Becca Blackwell was nearing the end of They, Themself and Schmerm—an alternately hilarious and harrowing solo show about gender and sexual violence—when a middle-aged man in the audience decided he also had some thoughts to contribute, launching into an aimless tale about his own mother’s death. The audience gaped at each other as he droned on: “I’m a straight man, but I’ve—” Blackwell was quicker: “I can tell!” We whooped and applauded—and then the man kept talking, stopping only when an audience member asked him to allow Blackwell to finish the show. Annoying? Inappropriate? Absolutely. And yet, in a way, testament to Blackwell’s power as a performer to crack open something real inside of us. —RJ

Trust House of Flora to bring full metallic drama to the final Critical Mascara, a spray-on, vogue dance spectacle courtesy of the joyously talented Brandon Harrison (Hydrangea Strangea) and Jared Chung. The laméd, sparkling poses to Röyksopp and Robyn’s “Monument” were taken to the next level with a death drop to Daft Punk’s “Satisfaction.” Add in Pepper Pepper’s multi-media lip synch extraordinaire as counterpoint for the full gamut of this last drag-queen-vogue-ball-throwdown of its kind. Sniff. —FM

“The universe blinks. We exist for a moment or two,” echo the five screens that together recite a poem from Portlander Samiya Bashir’s latest book, Field Theories. Then it goes dark. Nearing the end of 15 m = ?, black bodies fill the screens colored with constellations as they dance within their frames. Bashir, in all black, glides through the crowd, stopping every few steps to breathe. In and out, in and out, grounding the experience in the corporeal and punctuating the vibrations of the moving images. —KB

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Sidony O'Neal and Keyon Gaskin go big in Dead Thoroughbred

Image: Leah Kizula

The opening visual from Keyon Gaskin and Sidony O’Neal’s Dead Thoroughbred feels seared on my retina, and not just because it was in a sense the only visual in a show that took place largely in the pitch dark. But when the wall-length door of PICA’s annex space rolled up to reveal a 9-foot tall O’Neal, the stiletto-clad feet of Gaskin striding beneath her long dark cape, an electric current passed through the room. As one they walked through the audience, before O’Neal stepped down to form the head of a centaur, the thoroughbred of the title finding an echo in a troubling and spectacular moment before the room went black. —FM

How to explain to anyone not fortunate enough to witness Luke George and Daniel Kok’s Bunny that a show that involves tying up audience members in neon ropes and rolling on the floor with a fire extinguisher could be the most tender, exquisitely emotive show of TBA this year? The sweetness of our shared experience as we audience members bound and loosened each other made for a particular, intimate communion. George and Kok served as both guides and participants, teaching trust and consent as they too were constrained and contained, held in neon sailor knots as they played with the boundaries of desire and aesthetic value. And in one glorious moment of release, they broke into a joyous, choreographed dance, a duck-walking, neon-braid-swinging catharsis. —FM 

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