Luciana Achugar's Puro Teatro: A Spell for Utopia

Image: Alex Kangangi

TBA 2020 ended last month, and its final lap was about clearing outdated ways of knowing. It was about reclaiming ancestral traditions for the new world still unfolding around us. It was about abandoning capitalistic models that make artists and observers fall out of love with art, and reigniting a drive to express what words and tradition can’t on their own. To that end, TBA 2020 became Portland’s cultural charging station, with its final week offering soothing music, refreshing visuals, and a hypnotic spell for expanding horizons.

Most Soothing

Multidisciplinary artist Dao Strom’s Instrument/Traveler’s Ode is a concert film that starts simply, with Strom singing and playing guitar in a shadowy living room. The piece explores a voice’s meaning, from Strom’s singing voice to her authorial voice. The music becomes an echoing sea of guitar strums and soft, lulling vocals, keeping company with Kelsey Lu, Portlander Dolphin Midwives, and Vanessa Carlton. The visuals Strom eventually incorporates into the piece include fractal collage poetry and a short art film showing natural textures like water and wet fall foliage—welcome sights in a state still recovering from unprecedented forest fires.

Most Rewarding

The artist and musician San Cha made a welcome return to TBA with La Luz de la Esperanza, the visual album she released weeks after last year’s festival ended. Part concert, part telenovela, La Luz de la Esperanza stars San Cha as a poor, virtuous farm girl with stunning natural glamour. The farm girl falls into a familiar love-gone-wrong story: a rich man takes her from the countryside, learning too late he doesn’t really love her. In her despair, the titular glimmer of hope appears, a genderless spirit that makes her feel so loved and free that her husband orders an exorcism. Between referential fashions and dusty pastel filters, San Cha’s epic gives Lady Gaga and Sofia Coppola a solid run for their money.

Most Challenging

Choreographer Luciana Achugar’s honesty in her piece Puro Teatro: A Spell for Utopia is what makes it effective. On the surface, it doesn’t seem to cover much new ground. Puro Teatro is a project about art for art’s sake. A supplementary conversation with theatre director Brian Rogers covers how Puro Teatro isn’t an activist’s direct action, but a project about expanding personal and collective consciousness—about reconnecting with our bodies and our autonomy outside capitalism. It mostly succeeds: Puro Teatro at least offers a hypnotic incantation that unconsciously accomplishes Achugar’s goal.

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