100 moments in a very strange year

2016 in cultural review: a cavalcade of triumphs, challenges, and looming questions in Oregon arts

And that, saints help us, was the Year That Was.

The year we are only now escaping seemed written, like many others, by a sardonic jokester of a science fiction novelist: Really? But Annum Two Thousand Sixteen also dipped into the fertile and frightening world of Dystopia, a chilling prognostication of a future all too parallel to our own present, exaggerated only the tiniest of bits. No need to go over the details here. We’ve all been living them.

“Father Time,” Pieter Cornelis Wonder, 1810, oil on canvas, 48.8 x 42.1 inches, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. The old boy’s had better years than 2016. Time to pick up his game in 2017.

How have the arts responded? In Portland and the rest of Oregon, in a dizzying variety of ways. A few were direct challenges or responses to the year’s political and cultural ruptures, from race relations to the rise of authoritarian movements here and abroad. Many looked to the past to revisit the profundities of great cultural achievements or find similarities to current events. Some struck out in new directions. Some looked at big things. Some found whole worlds in the details. Some were simply about beauty in the world, or the lack of it, or the comedy of life, both gentle and harsh. Part of the nature of art is to confront the real world of politics and current events. Part of its nature is to bypass the public and ephemeral to explore the private, the enduring, the movements beneath the surface that reveal the stubborn and sometimes gracefully evolving nature of things. Creativity strikes out in all directions, surprising only when it fails to surprise.

ArtsWatch has been tracking the creative culture obsessively, painting a real-time portrait of a notoriously shifting subject. Or making a collage. The year saw solid gains and triumphant highs, from the nurturing of Theatre Diaspora as a voice for Asian American actors and playwrights to the blossoming of the Fertile Ground new performance festival to the Oregon Symphony’s innovative collaborations with visual artists in its SoundSight series to an exhilarating rise of new and exploratory voices in the often staid world of “classical” music. And it saw heartbreaking lows, including the deaths of many leading cultural figures: Edward Albee, Harper Lee, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Umberto Eco, Elie Wiesel, architect Zaha Hadid, Alan Rickman, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Merle Haggard, singer Sharon Jones of the Dap-Kings, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Prince, and more. Among those locally were artist Rick Bartow and musician Robert Huffman (see stories below); singer Signe Anderson, original lead vocalist of the Jefferson Airplane; Ted Mahar, longtime movie critic for The Oregonian; and the great, wonderful writer Katherine Dunn, author of the great, wonderful novel Geek Love, who was memorialized sweetly a few days ago by Caitlin Roper in the New York Times Magazine.

As 2016 ends, we offer 100 pieces from this most puzzling, perilous, and all too transformative year – not the “best,” necessarily, but a rigorous sampling of Oregon’s cultural scene over the past twelve months.

Call it a map, if you like, and remember that a map is only an outline of an actual terrain. Our cultural guide to the science-fiction landscape of 2016:

– Bob Hicks

 

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JANUARY

 

12: Yads, Torahs, history’s pointing hand. “We live in a time when knowledge and history are not just disposable, in that casual pop-cultural who-cares way, they are also actively and intentionally destroyed.” Three small shows at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education illustrate the tentativeness of history, the importance of reclaiming even its shards, and the beauty of meaningful objects. (Bob Hicks)

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Hades (Lauren Mitchell) and Persephone (Caitlynn Didlick) appear on and offstage in Myrrh Larsen’s “Grey Gold.” Photo: Jack Wells.

12: Grey Gold review: Myrrh’s myth. Portlander Myrrh Larsen’s rock opera at The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven gave the gods of safe and boring a god strong slap: “Would I pay $10 or $11 for this show? Hell Yes!! The overall experience of being shepherded from beginning to end by a gifted impresario/creator/performer as dedicated to his audience as Prince, in an underground venue as naughty as I wanted it to seem, doesn’t happen very often. … This is another world. Give into the spell.” (Maria Choban)

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16: Fertile Ground: Let the fest begin. ArtsWatch “speed-dates” with the makers of the city’s annual festival of new works (which rolls around again Jan. 19-29, 2017), listening to the hopes, dreams, and elevator speeches of dozens of artistic entrepeneurs. (Brett Campbell, Christa Morletti McIntyre, Bob Hicks)

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26: Just art: a creative shot in the arm. Duffy Epstein led a stellar cast in the premiere of Rob Handel’s smart, funny, and argumentative play I Want To Destroy You at Theatre Vertigo, based loosely on the story of Chris Burden, the artist who soared to semi-fame by having himself shot as a work of performance art. Ironies and terrific theater abounded. (Bob Hicks)

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Robert Huffman at rehearsal for The Portland Ballet’s “La Boutique.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert/2010

28: Remembering Robert Huffman. Writer, teacher, and former ballet star Gavin Larsen lovingly recalls the life and influence of Huffman, the “pianist, accompanist, performer, comedian, friend, confidant, mentor, and inspiration to many generations of dancers and teachers” who died at age 78. (Gavin Larsen)

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31: Solo showcases at Fertile Ground. “It takes a great team to create a one-person show,” creator/performer Sam Reiter wrote in her program notes to Baba Yaga. Portland’s festival of new performance works was unusually strong (if sometimes still in development) in solo pieces this year. A look at several. (Brett Campbell)

 

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FEBRUARY

 

Installation shot from “Alien She,” which closed in January at the late, lamented Museum of Contemporary Craft: In foreground: “Ladies Sasquatch” (2006-2010). Photo courtesy of Allyson Mitchell and Katharine Mulherin Gallery, Toronto.

3: The Museum of Contemporary Craft will close its doors. Pacific Northwest College of Art threw the local arts world and the national craft-art community into turmoil when it announced it would shutter MCC, one of the country’s premiere craft museums, and sell the property. The move was controversial then, and remains so. (The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education will move into the space sometime in 2017.) (Barry Johnson)

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3: A wild tale of Goya and piglets on the loose. “How messed up do you have to be to mistake your sons for piglets, or piglets for your sons?” BoomArts grappled with such perplexing problems in Rodrigo Garcia’s play I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me of My Sleep Than Some Other Son of a Bitch. (A.L. Adams)

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3: Spectragasm’s Gendergasm goes all the way. The sixth installment of the undersung late-night sketch series offended “everyone equally,” and amused ArtsWatch a lot. (A.L. Adams)

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10: Fearless dreamer: composer Bonnie Miksch. “I was transfixed,” FearNoMusic’s Paloma Griffin Hébert said about first hearing the Portland composer’s electronic music in 2009. Eventually that led to collaborations – and in February, a FearNoMusic CD, with give and take. “My world has shifted since coming to Portland,” Miksch said. “This project is no electronics —all chamber music. It feels a little strange being in both worlds at the same time.” (Brett Campbell)

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16: NW art awards: a box of chocolates. The Portland Art Museum’s biennial Contemporary Northwest Art Awards had a lot of strong and tasty art. But the packaging? “The artists’ works are ambitious. The Museum’s effort, not so much.” (Paul Sutinen)

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Wendy Red Star, “Apsa’olooke Feminist 3,” 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

19: Beyond Edward Curtis: Native lens. A fascinating exhibition at the Portland Art Museum juxtaposed Curtis’s romanticized images of Native American life with the often more pointed, political, and sometimes satirical work of contemporary native artists Zig Jackson, Wendy Red Star, and Will Wilson. “The story isn’t over. The story keeps on keeping on.” (Bob Hicks)

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20: Zero Project: fighter plane as art. Katsushige Nakahashi’s life-sized, 3D model of a Japanese Zero, made from 25,000 photos, landed at Reed College’s Cooley Gallery – for the first time, without the artist’s direct participation. Built in place, it was later un-built: “The finality of ZERO comes in the ritual of its very disappearance, as Nakahashi describes, a ‘return to ground zero’.” (Grace Kook-Anderson)

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23: Considering the Art Gym’s abstractions. Curator Blake Shell gathered ten artists who work in abstraction. It turned out to be a colorful lot, with art that reaches into deeper, or maybe higher, places of hidden realities. (Barry Johnson)

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Todd Van Voris as Kent, Tobias Andersen as Lear, Philip J. Berns as the Fool. Post5 Theatre photo

29: Bleak and bristling: Post5’s Lear. Veteran actor Tobias Andersen delivered “a Lear to member … with a perfect balance of anger, regret, confusion, delirium, and torment.” (Christa Morletti McIntyre)

 

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MARCH

 

3: BAM! POWFest strikes a blow for gender equality in filmmaking. The pay gap between male and female actors is huge. In Hollywood, men routinely run the show. And while some other female directors bristle at the idea of a gender-specific showcase, Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke was guest of honor at the ninth Portland Oregon Women’s Film Festival. (Marc Mahon)

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4: Memories are made for this. Jonathan Berger’s quite literally dark installation at Adams and Ollman gallery gazed deeply into death and Goth culture, and sparked memories. (Patrick Collier).

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Heath Koerschgen, Jessica Tidd, and Kelly Godell in “Durang/Durang.” Photo: Russell J Young

5: Durang/Durang: funny/funny. On talking with the absurdly funny playwright Christopher Durang, and what happens when he agrees to Post5 Theatre cast a guy in a critical role written for a woman, and how entertaining sketches like For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls can be. (A.L. Adams)

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7: Portland Jazz Festival: pianists prevail. Virtuoso saxophonists provided the backbone of this year’s festival. “The keyboardists, though, stole my heart – not only the soloists but the sidemen.” An overview of festival highlights. (Angela Allen)

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George Johanson, “Artist & Model,” reduction linocut, 2015,
12 x 16 inches

9: Johanson and Prochaska: media speak. For veteran art masters George Johanson and Tom Prochaska, exhibitions of prints reveal that the medium is part of the message: linoleum cuts for Johanson, etching for Prochaska. How they differ, and what those differences mean on the paper. (Paul Sutinen)

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13: Kyle Abraham dances about race. White Bird brought Abraham and his hip hop/contemporary/traditional dancers in a program that “confidently and gracefully engaged both historic and immediate issues of race and the individual’s place in this culture. … I’m not sure how many times we need to repeat a moment of empathy before it sticks in the culture, but we haven’t hit that limit yet.” (Nim Wunnan)

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Vin Shambry, Chantal DeGroat and Joshua Weinstein in “We Are Proud to Present”/Photo by Owen Carey

15: Jackie Sibblies Drury and the pain of history. Drury’s massively titled play at Artists Rep about race, We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, from the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915, is “a scorpion of a play, and its tail packs a serious punch made all the more deadly by the light tone of the beginning.” (Barry Johnson)

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18: Matt McCormick on Buzz One Four. “Matt McCormick was Portland before Portland was cool. Or when it was still cool, depending on your perspective.” The veteran independent filmmaker talked about his latest labor of love, a documentary about a B-52 bomber, carrying two nuclear bombs, that crashed in rural Maryland during a snowstorm in 1964. The pilot was his grandfather. (Marc Mohan)

 

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Kayle Lian and Illya Torres-Garner in “Davita’s Harp.” Photo: Gary Norman

22: Song of childhood: Davita’s Harp. Portland’s Jewish Theatre Collaborative ended its seven-year run on a high note with its adaptation of Chaim Potok’s 1985 novel. “The elliptical storyline … delivers to the table the most important of questions: What may I bring?” (Christa Morletti McIntyre)

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28: Chamber music crossovers: anti-genrefication activists. “ ‘Crossover’ is a dirty word in classical music. To some old-guardians, the c-word implies some kind of sellout or dilution of the purity of great music.” Yet we have seen the future, and it is crossed. In Portland, classical’s been crossing lately with hip-hop, climate change, hair gel, and comedy, not to mention jazz, pop, and rock. (Brett Campbell)

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31: Elizabeth Woody, Oregon’s voice. ArtsWatch sits down for a long conversation with the state’s new poet laureate, an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and also a visual artist. Certainly the imagery of her writing reflects an open and creative eye, taking in the world around her and rearranging it in words.” (Bob Hicks)

 

 

APRIL

 

Rick Bartow with feather, days before his death. Photo: Joe Cantrell

4: A death in the family: Rick Bartow. Oregon and the art world lost a giant when Bartow, whose transformational work reflected his keen feel for contemporary expression and his immersion in his Native American traditions, died at age 69 from congestive heart failure. “The element of chance and the equations that he made, I came to realize, had to do with people, and his generosity, and his sense that life was made to share.” An appreciation. (Bob Hicks)

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8: Disjecta connects to Kenton with music as the medium. For her final exhibit as guest curator, Chiara Giovando brought in musicians from Disjecta’s North Portland neighborhood to explore “sound and the ephemeral qualities that push toward materiality.” (Grace Kook-Anderson)

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Gregory Grenon, “What I Shouted”, 2016, reverse oil on glass, 47.25 x 39 inches/Courtesy of Laura Russo Gallery

11: Three painters: nooks and crannies. Shows by veteran artists Morgan Walker, Gregory Grenon and Paul Green resolutely go their own ways, renewing and celebrating old themes. Novelty isn’t everything, by a long shot. (Paul Sutinen)

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16: Age before (and beside) beauty. Nicolo Fonte’s Beautiful Decay at Oregon Ballet Theatre movingly juxtaposed OBT’s young fleet performers with the dancing of sixtysomething guest artists Susan Banyas and Gregg Bielemeier. The kids are alright. So are the elders. (Martha Ullman West) BONUS PICK: Bielemeier and Banyas talk about aging artfully. (Jamuna Chiarini)

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20: Director Jeremy Saulnier talks Portland-shot Green Room. When the director talked about his punks-versus-skinheads movie thriller, he inevitably also talked about its big name, Patrick Stewart – starship commander, Shakespearean giant, superhero – who came to town to play a white supremacist, neo-Nazi, dug-dealing villain. (Marc Mohan)

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25: Linda Austin: dancing inside everyday life. One of Portland’s leading contemporary dance lights turned her 2012 group piece A head of time into a solo. It’s partly a commemoration of her sister, whose birthday coincided with the performance, and her nephew, both of whom died the year before she created the piece. “So much of what we call strange is simply something personal glimpsed from the outside.” (Nim Wunnan)

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Brooke Totman in a scene from “The Benefits of Gusbandry.”

26: The Benefits of Gusbandry hits the big screen. Creators Alicia J. Rose and Cortney Hameister talk about their “raunchy, heartfelt, weed-infused,” Portland-made web hit about a straight woman and her burgeoning best-friendship with a gay guy. (Marc Mohan)

 

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MAY

 

5: Portland Opera, rebuilding a magical world. The story of the legendary Maurice Sendak’s whimsical designs for Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and how his sets were destroyed in a Florida hurricane, and how Portland Opera’s Christopher Mattalliano, who worked on the original Sendak 1980 production in Houston, helped bring the designs back to life for the Portland company he now runs. (Angela Allen)

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Malposo Dance: long hair, loose limbs. Photo courtesy White Bird

12: Dance Cuba, dance America. The high rhythmic energy of Cuba’s Malpaso Dance Company at White Bird and the equally high hopes of the young dancers of The Portland Ballet passed in the night, and though they were not on the same stage, seemed somehow to connect. What linked them was the choreography of onetime Portlander Trey McIntyre, which both performed. (Martha Ullman West)

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17: A hunger for a new mythology. “No one likes to sit with the dead. More than that, no one likes to sit with people who live between the living and the dead”: experiencing the strange, beguiling netherworld of The Udmurts at Defunkt Theatre. (Christa Morletti McIntyre)

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Adrienne Flagg, laughing during rehearsal of “Note to Self.” Photo: Brent Barnett

20: Note to Self, across time. “Imagine for a moment … that you could go back in time and talk to yourself at a younger age, imparting hard-won wisdom and warnings.” At CoHo, playwright Adrienne Flagg and her actors, aged 23 to 80, embarked on just such a journey. (Marty Hughley) BONUS PICK: A tribe of artists, noting the self: Christa Morletti McIntyre reviews the show.

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21: Music in Small Spaces. Big halls get most of the attention, but the creativity seems to happen in little venues. “That’s why I’ve cherished Music in Small Spaces,  which for the past six years has presented new and unusual music in Beaverton and other towns on the west side of Portland’s West Hills (Tualatin Mountains), and Third Angle New Music’s Studio Series and Porch Music, which bring mostly new sounds to inner Southeast Portland’s Zoomtopia studios and the front porches of homes in a leafy old Northeast Portland neighborhood.” (Brett Campbell)

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24: Making American theater 1940s again. “ ‘Stella!’ the woolly mammoth roars, and the American culture of the 1940s escapes into the 21st century by the skin of its teeth. Surprisingly, it feels right at home.” Artists Rep produced Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, from near the beginning of America’s entry into World War II, and Portland Center Stage countered with Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, from shortly after the war’s end. Oddly, the wartime play was the more optimistic. (Bob Hicks)

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Composer Andrea Reinkemeyer, composer of “The Thaw.” Courtesy A. Reinkemeyer.

24: The Thaw: a transitional journey. How a world musical premiere comes together: diary notes from composer Andrea Reinkmeyer; Oregon Wind Ensemble leader Rodney Dorsey; librettist Artis Henderson; and Sharon J. Paul, leader of the University of Oregon Singers; as they prepared Reinkmeyer’s new work. (Gary Ferrington)

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26: Tina Chong and other adventurous women. Beginning with the 16-year-old Clara Wiek, before she married Robert Schumann, and continuing with Portland composer Sarah Zipperer Gaskins, rising star pianist Chong made a sterling case for the women who buck the male-composer tide. (Jeff Winslow)

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31: Are the arts getting squeezed out? A City Club of Portland forum delved into the issues of high real estate costs and the needs of the creative culture that has helped fuel the city’s economic boom – a growth that has come while homelessness is becoming epidemic and many artists can’t afford to live in the city anymore. (Brett Campbell)

 

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JUNE

 

Susannah Mars as Mrs. Lovett and David Pittsinger as Sweeney Todd. Photo: Cory Weaver/Portland Opera.

7: Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd. With temperatures teetering toward 100 degrees before a matinee, Portland was a “city on fire,” and a nearly full house showed up at Portland Opera for Stephen Sondheim’s “murderous masterpiece.” (Daryl Browne and Bruce Browne)

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9: Oregon Symphony’s mega-Mahler. The symphony closed its season with the daunting challenge of Mahler’s Third, the longest symphony in the repertoire and one of the thorniest. “As the whole of the OSO came together for the final climax to the triumphant conclusion, it was impossible to resist being carried away. [Conductor Carlos] Kalmar even released the final chord like it was a long, heartfelt hug instead of going for the traditional impact of a full orchestra high five. Walking out into the warm, fragrant night afterwards, it seemed certain, as it must have seemed to Mahler then, that love conquers all.” (Jeff Winslow)

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“Leo, Geoff, Dylan, Emmet, Tab” (2005)/Blake Andrews at Blue Sky Gallery

16: Because the past is just a goodbye. Eugene photographer Blake Andrews’ Pictures of a gone world (also the title of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s first book of poems) at Blue Sky brought his street photographer’s sensibility into the home, celebrating “playfulness – including his own with a camera – all the while making us look more closely at what we have lost in our sophistication as adults.” (Patrick Collier)

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29: Grimm star David Giuntoli in Buddyman. Portland’s had a love affair with the cast and crew of NBC’s shape-shifting thriller Grimm, and the feeling’s largely been mutual. Giuntoli, who stars on the made-in-Portland procedural as a police detective who doubles as a sort of supernatural cop on the lookout for evil creatures, likes Oregon so much that he and a couple of buddies shot their independent film Buddyman here. It’s “slight but goofily endearing, and a notably heartfelt depiction of male friendship that avoids the clichés of a typical ‘bromance.’” (Marc Mohan)

 

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JULY

 

1: Dancing in Iran. A DanceWatch Weekly interview with the 23-year-old Iranian dancer, choreographer, and filmmaker on what it’s like to be a dancer in a country where dance is prohibited. (Jamuna Chiarini)

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6: Requiem, wrestling with the angels. “A perilous slide overcomes the Kyrie eleison, a keening, piercing swoop of sound, a lament rising above the orchestra like an unanswered and perhaps unanswerable question.” The premiere of Sir James MacMillan’s A European Requiem at the Oregon Bach Festival raged against the dying of the light. (Bob Hicks)

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6: Jealousy’s cold dark heart, melting. On the outdoor stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, the 2016 season’s Winter’s Tale bent toward forgiveness, not justice. With links to several more of Suzi Steffens’ reviews and features from the OSF season. (Suzi Steffen)

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J.D. Perkin, “Island” (installation view), 2016, ceramic and wood, 44 x 144 x 144 inches/Courtesy Laura Russo Gallery

11: Breaking through: Robert Colescott and JD Perkin. At Russo Gallery, some eye-opening works by the legendary Colescott, who once taught at Portland State, shared the gallery with Perkin, the Portland artist whose installation of large sculpted heads marked a bold new direction. (Paul Sutinen)

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11: Makrokosmos Project II: joyously crazy. In Eugene and Portland, the New York piano duo Stephanie & Saar’s second annual festival went American berserk. Two cities, two writers, two views. (Jeff Winslow, Daniel Heila)

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12: Talking race: the color of now. In the wake of a series of police shootings of black Americans across the country and the rise of hate groups and hate crimes, an overflow crowd jammed into Imago Theatre for an arts-based conversation called What’s RACE Got To Do With It?: “Genuine questions were asked. A few controversies arose: Was the constant sharing of video clips of recent shootings necessary to spark action, or a form of violence porn? And things, for the most part, remained polite. Still, there was anger.” (Bob Hicks)

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12: Conduit is closing with a party. Founded in 1995, the adventurous Conduit was the epicenter of Portland’s contemporary dance scene for two decades before shutting down and leaving a gaping hole in the city’s dance landscape. But at least it went out with a party. (Jamuna Chiarini)

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Tatiana (Jennifer Forni) records her love letter to Eugene on her boom box in Portland Opera’s “Eugene Onegin.” Photo: Cory Weaver.

12: At Portland Opera, a tale of Russian love lost. The opera’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin moved the action forward from Pushkin’s 1820s and Tchaikovsky’s 1870s to the breaking-out-punk 1980s and the teetering of the Soviet empire, time-traveling without losing the sense of tragedy in the music and the tale. (Bruce Browne)

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26: Running the gamut with Beethoven. A time-traveling highlight at Chamber Music Northwest: “As the Miró Quartet drove through the variations, the Adagio showed a composer who had gone from clever competition to an individual who had experienced love, regret, disillusionment, and anger, and had continued to create with an uncompromising drive.” (Christa Morletti McIntyre)

 

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AUGUST

 

MK Guth, “Molly”/Elizabeth Leach Gallery

9: Busy Bodies: MK Guth at Elizabeth Leach. The artist’s ravishing exhibit of braided fabrics This Fable Is Intended for You: A Work Energy principle: Final was bittersweet, the end of a series that began in 2009 as a public project at One New York Plaza. (Patrick Collier)

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10: Portland 2016: The cellular memory of place, Part 2. As Disjecta’s latest Portland biennial spread its wings across Oregon, our writers followed and reported back. In Astoria, artist Avantika Bawa explored the nooks and crannies of the old Astor Hotel, a ghost of former glories and styles that was turned as dark as dark and as quiet as a crypt. (Jennifer Rabin)

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11: Berwick Chorus: dynamic tension. Many composers, devout and otherwise, have created music for the Catholic Mass. Frank Martin, son of a Calvinist minister, was very devout, and took a full four years, from 1922 to 1926, to compose his Mass for Unaccompanied Double Choir. Then he hated the idea of having it performed: It didn’t premiere until 40 years later. This summer the Berwick performed it at the Oregon Bach Festival, and our reviewer explored the whys, whats, and hows. (Daniel Heila)

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Arvie Smith, “We Be Lovin’ It,” 2009, oil on canvas, 60 x 40 inches, collection of the artist.

22: Strange Fruit: Arvie Smith’s seductive provocations. The veteran Portland artist’s ravishing show of large paintings at the Portland Art Museum was like a giddy carnival of race and paint. “Smith’s APEX paintings, while very much made from a black perspective, seem also to be a potent conversation with the larger culture. Here are the popular images of who and what you think we are, they seem to say. I’m going to mix them up and throw them back at you. Now what do you think? The fact that they are both deeply disturbing and deeply pleasurable speaks volumes.” (Bob Hicks)

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22: Composers Symposium: collaboration, co-creativity, community. An innovative program of the Oregon Bach Festival helped composers, musicians, and conductors from around the globe reach out and touch someone – oh, and prepare for performances of 76 compositions, 55 of them world premieres. (Gary Ferrington)

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24: A biased (and glowing) review of Kubo and the Two Strings. Yes, the author once worked at LAIKA, the Hillsboro-based animation heavy hitter that also made Coraline, ParaNorman, and Boxtrolls. So she knows a thing or two about stop-motion animation. And the studio’s latest “carried me away, swept me up in its story, gave me chills and made me cry.” (A.L. Adams)

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Gasvin Laren: the necessity of stretching. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

26: The entire Everyday Ballerina. One of ArtsWatch’s favorite projects of the year was Gavin Larsen’s series “Everyday Ballerina,” which vividly tells the tale of her life in ballet from her childhood classes in Manhattan through her apprenticeship, her eventual stardom at Oregon Ballet Theatre and elsewhere, and her post-performance career as a teacher and writer. This story wraps it all up, with links to all twelve chapters in the series, plus a slide show of Blaine Truitt Covert’s gorgeous photos of Larsen in action over the years. (Gavin Larsen)

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28: William Byrd Festival: fervid finale. Every year for a week or so, Portland becomes the global epicenter of the life and music of Byrd, the English Renaissance composer. It’s a good thing to be, and somehow, very Portland. This year’s festival finale with the choir Cantores in Ecclesia raised the question, What’s more important, words or music? The answer: Byrd, who fuses both. (Bruce Browne)

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29: Keep the fire burning. Life moves fast, theater moves slow. Across the nation, police shoot black men, a black man shoots back, and who knows where the next fires will be in a deeply divided nation? As artists struggle to respond, must new plays that deal with urgent issues be stuck in development hell? (Brett Campbell)

 

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SEPTEMBER

 

6: Places of enchantment, page to stage. Portland writer Rene Denfeld, author of the luminous novel The Enchanted, flew to Edinburgh to see a scrappy Great Britain company turn her transformative prison tale into a play. She reported back, and talked about what the theater has taught her as a writer. Sometimes, lightning strikes twice. Sometimes, it’s an enchanted world. (Rene Denfeld)

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Samantha Wall,”Ann-Derrick”, 2016, graphite on paper, 30 x 22 inches/Courtesy Laura Russo Gallery

7: Samantha Wall: drawing portraits, freshly. The talented young Portland artist’s drawings of women’s faces “focus almost exclusively on the expressive parts of the head: the eyes, nose and mouth. … Wall has made a leap out into a new kind of ‘look’—one that I don’t think can be copied because it depends on a sense of drawing judgment that cannot be taught.” (Paul Sutinen)

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13: The best of a bad situation. Elizabeth Malaska’s paintings at Nationale were emotional, political, and hard-edged, weaving “imaginative virtuosity with a didactic that manages to keep me squirming – a fine measure of their success as paintings.” (Patrick Collier)

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13: The great American (gun) divide. The Gun Show, E.M. Lewis’s “compact yet high-caliber theatrical” expertly performed at CoHo by Vin Shambry, is “a short one-hour blast of personal recollection, rhetoric and genuinely conflicted questioning about the gun show that plays out in varying versions throughout our society, our political forums and our private lives.” And the show goes on. And on. (Marty Hughley)

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Formidable trio: from left, Darius Pierce (John Adams), Adam Elliott Davis (Thomas Jefferson), Mark Pierce (Ben Franklin) in “1776.” Triumph Photography

13: Today in politics: singing a revolution. Lakewood Theatre turned back the clock to “the original Tea Partiers,” the Founding Fathers, with its witty revival of the 1969 musical 1776. Things should’ve turned out so neatly in 2016. (Marty Hughley)

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14: Renée Fleming, Queen of the Night. “The people’s diva” opened the Oregon Symphony’s 120th season with “a kind of variety-show vibe, but who cares when Fleming can sing just about anything so well, so fully, so emotionally … She completely defies any notion of the park-and-bark symphony/opera singer.” (Angela Allen)

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18: Profile Theatre artistic director Josh Hecht: focusing the lens. The Portland company that focuses on the works of a single playwright each season has a new leader with new ideas, among them developing new plays. A conversation with the Drama Desk award-winning director, who comes to town with significant credits in new York and regional theater. (Heather Helinsky)

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22: Cappella Romana: Byzantium and beyond. A conversation with Alexander Lingas, leader of the distinguished chorus rooted in the music of the medieval Greek Orthodox church, on CR’s 25th anniversary. A lot’s changed, and a lot’s stayed the same. (Brett Campbell)

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Marion Post-Wolcott, “Negro Man Climbing the Stairs to a Movie Theatre, Belzoni, Mississippi,” 1939, 18 x 19.5 inches, collection of John Goodwin and Michael-Jay Robinson.

29: At Upfor, layers of racism and social progress. Collector John Goodwin’s The Soul of Black Art: A Collector’s View offered a smart and perceptive view of African American life over the past century, combining hurt and hope in some excellent art. (Jennifer Rabin)

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Blaine Fontana: the artist amid his art.

29: In the studio: Blaine Fontana. From a riverside workplace in a North Portland art hub, the muralist and public artist fans out around the globe. In a wide-ranging conversation, he talks about how and why he does what he does. (Christa Morletti McIntyre)

 

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OCTOBER

 

View of Poston concentration camp, Arizona, where members of playwright Jeanne Sakata’s family were incarcerated, Jun. 1, 1942. Photo: Densho Encyclopedia http://encyclopedia.densho.org/sources/en-denshopd-i37-00476-1/

1: Truths self-evident and the camps. Alice Hardesty, whose father designed and helped build a World War II Asian American internment camp, has a fascinating conversation with Jeanne Sakata, whose play Hold These Truths at Portland Center Stage is about a young man from Seattle who fought the forced relocation to the camps on legal grounds. It’s a meeting of minds at another moment in history. (Alice Hardesty) BONUS PICK: Bob Hicks reviews the production.

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4: The Nether: virtual damnation. Third Rail Rep entered into scary near-futurist territory with a finely tuned production of Jennifer Haley’s play about the thin line between entertainment and dark reality. Is a heinous crime a heinous crime if it’s virtual? (Marty Hughley)

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Artist’s rendering of the Portland Art Museum’s new Rothko Pavilion, from Southwest Park Avenue.

6: The art museum fills in the blanks. The Portland Art Museum announced a $50 million project to build a new pavilion to connect its two buildings, and reconnect with the legacy of the great Mark Rothko, who grew up in Portland and whose work has been almost nonexistent at PAM. What the project means, and why it’s important. (Bob Hicks)

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10: Third Angle rides the rails with Reich. The Portland new-music ensemble celebrated contemporary master Steve Reich’s 80th birthday with a concert of his string quartets inside the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. The evening steamed right along, grease smudges and all. (Matthew Andrews)

 

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13: A study in contrasts at the Oregon Symphony. Guest conductor Nicholas Carter and Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin collaborated on an exhilarating ride from the heroic to the monumental in works by Sibelius and Rachmaninov: “When it came time to pound the keys … Hamelin was irresistible, sweeping Mr. Carter and the orchestra along with him to the crashing, triumphant coda, at which the audience rose in a shouting, standing ovation.”

 

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16: A fond farewell at FearNoMusic. “Joel Bluestone walked onstage to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. ‘I haven’t played a note yet!’ he demurred with a grin.” Except the thousands he’d played over 25 years since founding the new-music ensemble with Jeffrey Payne. Now he was retiring, passing the sticks to Oregon Symphony percussionist Michael Roberts, and the audience made sure he knew how much he’d meant. (Matthew Andrews)

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Kristina Wong plays with her handmade hashtags.

17: Wong Street Journal‘s #funnysocialjustice. This identity thing can get tricky. Performer Kristina Wong, used to being an outsider at home because she’s Chinese American, discovers the tables tipped when she takes a “volun-tourism” trip to Uganda and learns that in Africa, she’s just another American. (A.L. Adams)

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24: Itzhak Perlman: summoning musical memories. An appearance by the great violinist opens a floodgate of memory that includes baseball hero Rocky Colavito, The Chosen author Chaim Potok, and a rising 19-year-old violinist named, well, Itzhak Perlman. (Daryl Brown and Bruce Browne)

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Meet Tracy, a strikingly lifelike puppet of a stylish teenage witch from “Spooky Girls.”

26: Spooky Girls: a new puppet short-film series. The passion project of the Portland group The Hand and the Shadow is a puppetry series about a coven of five teen-age witches who are “about to conjure more magic than they can master.” P.S.: They’re cool kids. (A.L. Adams)

 

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NOVEMBER

 

3: OCT’s Fangs go deep. Oregon Children’s Theatre’s Young Professionals company moved into a deeper, darker sort of storytelling with the potent and transformative contemporary fairy tale In the Forest She Grew Fangs.

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Jana Demartini and Tomas Svoboda at their Portland home in October 2016.

10: Tomas Svoboda’s Symphony #2: a love story in four movements. “Jana Demartini was a 22-year-old folk dancer who met Tomas Svoboda when the 22-year-old percussionist joined their Prague folk music group in 1961. … “And Tom was looking at me,’ she remembers. ‘He was almost childlike: when he looked, he looked. I think that purity drew me to him.’” So began the remarkable, continent-straddling story from Prague to Portland of an intertwined life and a major work that the Portland Youth Philharmonic finally premiered more than a half-century after Svoboda wrote it. (Brett Campbell)

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12: Jamuna Chiarini on The Kitchen Sink: my process story. ArtsWatch’s weekly dance columnist, a choreographer and dancer herself, tells the tale of her own new work and how it came to be. (Jamuna Chiarini)

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Nathaniel Mackey spoke at Reed College about breath and other matters.

12: Nathaniel Mackey: Black breath matters. The poet, academic, and music writer mentioned Eric Garner, the black man killed by a chokehold from a New York cop, several times during a poetry reading and lecture at Reed College. “I can’t breathe,” Garner famously repeated, and Mackey linked the very breath of life – the rhythms of black jazz musicians in the 1950s and ’60s – to the experimental poetry of the same time. Cut off the breath, cut off the creativity, cut off the life. (Barry Johnson)

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15: From Piraeus to Portland: scenes, sounds, and stories from a lost cosmopolis. A two-day gathering at Portland’s Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church looked at the 1922 destruction of the cosmopolitan city of Smyrna, on the Turkish coast, the ethnic purge by Turkish Army troops of its large Christian population, and the mass slayings, tortures, and rapes that went with it. What happened, what it means to newly nervous immigrant groups in the United States, and a musical celebration of the birth of the “Greek blues.” (Maria Choban)

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17: Responding to crisis: Artists will do what artists do. “The arts aren’t necessarily that good at responding immediately to events, especially something like an election; the changes have to be lived first, become particular. … But I do believe that artists WILL respond to attacks on the environment, specific religious or ethnic groups, on immigrants, on the rights of women, and the rights of all people to occupy whatever part of the gender spectrum they choose. … I think they will, because that’s one of the things they generally tend to do.” (Barry Johnson)

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18: White Bird: Reggie Wilson considers Moses(es). “No burning bush or parting of the Red Sea, no delivery of the Ten Commandments or turning a rod into a serpent.” In Wilson’s dance, inspired partly by a Zora Neale Hurston novel, the multiple Moses(es) showed up “in the songs, the spirituals, that figure prominently in the soundscape, especially Go Down Moses.” (Barry Johnson)

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Henk Pander, “The Floor”: Memories of the Nazi occupation years in Haarlem.

30: Henk Pander’s memories of Nazi occupation. The Portland painter, born and raised in The Netherlands, has made many memory paintings of his childhood in wartime Haarlem and everyday life under Nazi control. He reflects on those times, and these: “I again live in a Fascist period.” (Barry Johnson)

 

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DECEMBER

 

1: Developing dance at New Expressive Works. Subashini Ganesan’s performance center on the near East Side has become a vital spot for independent choreographers to develop their ideas and art. (Jamuna Chiarini)

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“Blubeard’s Castle,” with Dale Chihuly glass. Photo: Oregon Symphony/Brud Giles.

1: Music to our eyes: Oregon Symphony’s SoundSight series. Pop concerts do it all the time. Classical concerts? Not so much. The symphony’s innovative collaborations with leading visual artists (glass icon Dale Chihuly on Bartok’s opera Bluebeard’s Castle, animator and video artist Rose Bond on Messiaen’s massive Turangalila symphony, and, come spring, puppetmaster Michael Curry on Stravinsky’s Persephone) add a whole new dimension to the experience. (Brett Campbell)

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6: Black Nativity: dignity and joy. PassinArt’s pared-down, elemental production of Langston Hughes’s gospel-music retelling of the nativity story resounded with good music and deep feeling: “The miracle, if you will, of his version is that it makes the story feel less like a ritual or a dogma and more like a current event, something happening right now in real time.” (Bob Hicks)

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12: An Appalachian Christmas: traditions converging. Nancy Ives, principal cello of the Oregon Symphony, writes about performing with master fiddler Mark O’Connor and her realization that his blend of roots Americana is a “coming home” for her. (Nancy Ives)

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8: Arletta O’Hearn, Oregon icon of Christmas cool. The delightful tale of the Oregon composer, teacher, and jazz pianist whose jazz arrangements of Christmas tunes have brightened spirits the world over. (Rhonda Rizzo, with sound files and annotated score excerpts by Maria Choban)

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Stephen Hough performed with the Oregon Symphony. Photo: Hiroyuki Ito.

10: French feast at the Oregon Symphony. It was the Frenchmen who brought ’em in: composers Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Chausson and Debussy, plus conductor Ludovic Morlot. But it was an Englishman who brought the house down – the acclaimed pianist Stephen Hough, whose performance of Saint-Saëns’ concerto was “breathtaking.” (Terry Ross)

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13: La Belle: a beauty of a Beauty. Imago Theatre’s gorgeous new version of the Beauty and the Beast tale, La Belle: Lost in the Automaton, brings the myth into a new, slightly steampunk age. Long may it steam. (Marty Hughley) BONUS PICK: Brett Campbell traces La Belle’s long journey to the stage.

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Students from the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre performing as Angels in this year’s OBT “Nutcracker.” Photo: James McGrew

14: In stride: a tight, bright Nutcracker. Oregon Ballet Theatre’s newest version of the Balanchine Nutcracker was “the best-rehearsed, best-danced opening performance of this Nutcracker I’ve seen in the thirteen years OBT has been performing it.” (Martha Ullman West)

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15: Irving Berlin: for everyman, by everyman. David Schiff, the prominent Portland composer and elegant music writer, considers the songs and importance of the great American songwriter on the occasion of Portland Center Stage’s biomusical Corey Feldman as Irving Berlin. (David Schiff) BONUS PICK: Berlin Stories: the making of an American legend: Bob Hicks reviews Feldman’s musical play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Response.

  1. Ben Earle says:

    Lovely, succinctly comprehensive, poignant, review of a richly diverse and typically atypically creative year of a wide range of our energetically & challenging beloved unique, steadily growing and impactful urban, suburban, and rural outpost hotbeds of American art expressions.

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