‘Fire and Ice’ preview: accessible adventure

New Portland composers' collective's debut performance includes aerial dance, sculpture, poetry, icy instruments — and a close connection to audiences

Though their music differed from each other’s, Portland composers Stacey Philipps, Jennifer Wright and Lisa Ann Marsh had a lot in common. All three were accomplished members of the composers groups Cascadia Composers and Crazy Jane Composers. Unlike too many 20th century classical composers, all three cared as much about what the audience experienced as what the creators wanted to express.

“We all appreciated each other’s music but also each other’s ability to make concerts engaging for audiences as well as esthetically appealing for all of us,” Philipps recalls. And they shared one more thing.

Burn After Listening’s Philipps, Marsh, Wright.

“We’re all up for anything,” Wright says. “We found each other because we wanted to do things that don’t look like the traditional thing.”

They decided to form a group called Burn After Listening. This weekend’s debut multimedia performances, Fire and Ice, promise to look nothing like a traditional classical music concert.

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Cascadia Composers reviews: Lights, poetry, music

Concerts seek meaning beyond music through complementary art forms

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

One of the oldest questions in music — right after “what the hell is music, anyways?” — is how music expresses meaning. We normally think of meaning as a semantic thing, something that can be explained in words and symbols. We can, of course, regard music as a kind of language…but when we think of meaning in music we normally go outside the music itself to something more overtly linguistic. Usually that means lyrics, libretti, and programmatic music based on poems or stories. We also tend to think of musical meaning as being something non- or extra-auditory — paintings, religious iconography, or the physical appearances of performers, conductors, and composers. In the past few months, Cascadia Composers has put on two concerts dealing with these strategies for meaning-making in music: one visual, one linguistic.

Visual Meaning: Desire for the Sacred

January’s Desire for the Sacred concert, hosted at Lewis & Clark College’s sylvan Agnes Flanagan Chapel, was as much light show as concert: performers on several compositions played up in the organ loft while the audience sat enveloped in the colored lights projected all over the chapel’s gorgeous modernist wooden ceiling and its Casavant organ, the world’s only circular pipe organ, its pipes suspended from the chapel’s ceiling in a dense spiral.

The organ in Agnes Flanagan Chapel.

The light show was run by Nicholas Yandell, whose music began each half of the concert. In the opening Dilate; Elucidate, slowly evolving pastels emulated the holy glow of the rising sun and reflected the yearning arpeggiations and pedal notes of the Pacific Northwest’s resident organ god, Dan Miller. After intermission, Yandell’s Hymn of Daybreak resurrected the solar theme, this time with Cheryl Young at the manuals and the sweet longing of Kurt Heichelheim’s distant horn imbuing the chapel with numinous charms.

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Mary’s Wedding: a retro refuge

The Armory's darling Canadian romance echoes some classics and charms the family crowd

First love. First kiss. First horseback ride. First World War. When everything’s fresh and innocent and new, it seems like it’s all going to work out fine. We can never go back to those times. Or, pretty please, can we?

Portland Center Stage’s Mary’s Wedding—the first full-length play by playwright Stephen Massicotte—is an idealistic retelling of a small-town romance turned long-distance correspondence, reimagined after the fact as a wistful dream punctured by gunfire. Mary (Lexi Lapp) is a prim, gorgeous, feminine English rose who “dreams of flowers and little babies,” and Charlie (Alex J. Gould), though he modestly refers to himself as a “dirty farm boy,” is more like a handsome clean-shaven Canadian Disney prince. They meet at the outskirts of their families’ respective farms while sheltering in a barn during a rainstorm. They notice each other’s loveliness as they share a horse ride home, and they begin a courtship.

The mating game: Lexi Lapp as Mary and Alex J. Gould as Charlie. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

This is an easy show to enjoy, but a hard one to review without sounding like a condescending cynic—largely because so many elements within Massicotte’s script invite comparison to pre-existing classics. L.M. Montgomery’s characters (chiefly Anne of Green Gables) recited Tennyson very much like Massicotte’s Mary, right down to their shared favorite title, The Lady of Shalott. Thornton Wilder’s Our Town characters were as small-town innocent and romance-prone as Mary and Charlie. Also, the spirits of Wilder’s dearly departed remained free to reinhabit scenes from their pasts, their afterlife neither hell nor heaven but a liminal state of observing from a vantage point physically near to where they lived and died until they gradually detached from life at their own pace. Massicotte borrows this view, too. One line, “Run, Charlie!” even evokes Forrest Gump, and scenes of war-wounded emit fainter echoes of the same.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Global dancing

This week Portland stages bubble with dance from Argentina, Berlin, Brazil, New York and New Orleans

This week Portland will host visiting dance artists from around the globe, beginning tonight with the all-male, Argentinian dance company, Che Malambo, presented by White Bird.

Freshly returned from a performance in France, the Jefferson Dancers will perform their Spring Concert Thursday at the Newmark. These talented, pre-professional dancers will engage in choreography by some illustrious Jefferson Dancer alums.

Also opening Thursday night is the Contact Dance Film Festival, curated by BodyVox artistic director Jamey Hampton in collaboration between Northwest Film Center and Hampton’s long-time collaborator and filmmaker, Mitchell Rose. The festival features a wide range of films on ballet, krumping, Ohad Naharin, and includes Crystals of Transformation, a dance film by Portland costume designer and filmmaker Fuchsia Lin, featuring NW Dance Project dancer Andrea Parsons.

Dance artists Scotty Heron and composer Brendan Connelly are visiting from New Orleans this week, and they’ll dance Appalachian Spring Break at Performance Works NW. XPOSED by Polaris Dance Theatre artists along with guest artist Barbara Lima from Brazil enters its second weekend, and the Butoh College Performance Series closes with Shoot Jeez My Gosh, by Berlin-based Butoh artist, Yuko Kaseki.

Performances this week

Che Malombo at White Bird Tuesday and Wednesday: rhythm and dance.

Che Malambo
Presented by White Bird
April 25-26
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway
Che Malambo is an all-male, Argentinian dance company that has adapted the dance style of the gaucho—the South American cowboy of the pampas—for the contemporary stage. Movements that were originally designed to emphasize agility, strength, and dexterity among the gauchos is now high-energy choreography that features rhythmic footwork, drumming, singing, and other musical accompaniment.

The Jefferson Dancers Spring Concert, April 27-29 at the Newmark. Photo by Fritz Liedtke.

The Jefferson Dancers
Presented by Jefferson High School
April 27-29
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
This annual spring dance concert performed by one of Portland’s oldest, pre-professional dance companies will showcase choreography by Jefferson Dancers artistic director Steve Gonzales, Jefferson alums and one current student, Alexa McKone. The former Jeff Dancer choreographers include Broadway performer Kevin Paul Clark (featured in Artslandia Kids Magazine in 2015); French choreographer Charlotte Faillard (a former exchange student); La La Land dancer Michael Munday; former Ballet Oregon and Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer Andrea Thompson; commercial dancer and long-time member of NW African American Ballet, Bunky Williams; and Thomas Yale, who performed in the Latin Grammy ceremony, Saturday Night Live, and Dance Moms Season 5.

Photo from Fuchsia Lin’s film Crystals of Transformation. Water crystal costume performed in by Andrea Parson, appearing courtesy of NW Dance Project

Contact Dance Film Festival
Presented by BodyVox and NW Film Center
April 27-29
Teaming up with the Northwest Film Center, BodyVox artistic director Jamey Hampton and his long-time collaborator Mitchell Rose have curated a festival of dance films. The program includes Broken, a documentary by Portland filmmaker Lynne Spencer, on Ballet BC’s lead ballerina Simone Orlando as she comes to terms with a major injury; Crystals of Transformation, a dance film by Portland costume designer and filmmaker Fuchsia Lin, featuring NW Dance Project dancer Andrea Parsons, that promotes water conservation; the Art of Krump: Journey to Heaven by Kaizen Pictures and Mr. Gaga. The films will be simultaneously screened at both the BodyVox Dance Center and the Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium. All films will screen in both locations.

Appalachian Spring Break by Scotty Heron and Brendan Connelly at Performance Works NW, April 28-29.

Appalachian Spring Break
Scotty Heron and Brendan Connelly
Presented by Performance Works NW / Linda Austin Dance
April 28-29
Choreographer/performance artist Scotty Heron, an early collaborator with Portland’s Linda Austin, and a contributor to the ‘80’s downtown dance scene in New York City will perform Appalachian Spring Break. The dance is a duet that plays “with the iconic, confused and clichéd relationship of choreographer and composer, glancing sideways at Martha Graham and Aaron Copland’s only collaboration and its sepia-toned Americana.” All of the movement, sound and light will be generated in real time, and manipulated by the artists, including composer/sound designer Brendan Connelly, onstage.

Photo courtesy of Polaris Dance Theatre.

XPOSED
Robert Guitron, M’Liss Quinnly, Gerard Regot, (Spain), Barbara Lima (Brazil), and Jess Zoller.
Polaris Dance Theatre
April 28-29
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave
Polaris Dance Theatre presents new dance works from choreographers Barbara Lima from Brazil; Spanish dance artist and current company member Gerard Regot; founding company member M’Liss Quinnly, who is also the artistic director of Polaris’s Junior and Neo companies; current company member Jessica Zoller; and two new works by artistic director Robert Guitron.

The dances consider ideas of community, individualism against universalism, and politics, playing with energy, group dynamics and the architecture of the body and bodies.

Butoh dancer Yuko Kaseki in Shoot Jeez My Gosh. Photo credit: Dadaware, Sigel Eschkol

Shoot Jeez My Gosh
Yuko Kaseki (Berlin)
Butoh College Performance Series
8 pm April 29
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NW Farragut St
Concluding the Butoh College Performance Series curated by Portland butoh artists Mizu Desierto, butoh artists Yuko Kaseki from Berlin, will use recorded sounds of war, juxtaposed against iconic images of innocence questioning “the feeling of ambivalence towards the systematic violence of belief that imposes powerlessness, and simultaneously reminds us of the brutal terror that characterizes our epoch.”

Kaseki studied Butoh dance with Anzu Furukawa and performed in her company Dance Butter Tokio and Verwandlungsamt for many years. She tours internationally performing and teaching and collaborating.

Performances next week

May 4-7, Direct Path To Detour, Taka Yamamoto, Produced by Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
May 5, Spring Dance Concert, Reed College Dance Department
May 5, Alice Gosti showing and reception, Hosted by Performance Works NW/Linda Austin Dance
May 6, Place, Vitality Dance Collective
May 5-7, In Close Proximity, The Tempos Contemporary Circus
May 5-7, Chickens and Cheese Pizza, Inclusive Arts Vibe Annual Performance, Disability Arts and Culture Project

Upcoming Performances

May
May 10, Critical Engagement Series with Lu Yim, hosted by Flock Dance Center/Tahni Holt
May 10, Martha Graham Dance Company, Presented by White Bird
May 13, Feria de Portland, hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland and La Peña Flamenca de Portland
May 13, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Anjali School of Dance
May 16-21, An American in Paris, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
May 20, The Art of Nattuvangam: South Indian Classical music and dance, Hosted by New Expressive Works and Anjali School of Dance
May 20-21, The Future is Female, Mixed Dance Company
May 26-28, N.E.W. Residency performance, Dora Gaskill, Jessica Kelley, Stephanie Schaaf, and Michael Galen
May 26, PDX Choreographers Showcase, PDX Dance Collective
May 26 – 27, Spring Concert – Tribute to the Ballet Russes, Featuring work by Michel Fokine, Tom Gold, George Balanchine, and Lane Hunter, The Portland Ballet
June
June 2-4, Interum Echos, PDX Contemporary Ballet
June 2-17, The Goblin King, A David Bowie and Labyrinth, Trip the Dark Dance Company
June 8-10, Summer Splendors, NW Dance Project
June 23-24, Risk/Reward Festival Of New Performance, Produced by Jerry Tischleder and Hand2Mouth Theatre
June 27-July 2, Cabaret, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
June 29-30, Choreography XX, Oregon Ballet Theatre
July
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
August
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans

It’s another busy week on Portland stages, so let’s just jump into the thicket:

Oye Oyá at Milagro. With a book by Rebecca Martinez based on a treatment by Rodolfo Ortega, who also wrote the music and lyrics, the world premiere of Milagro’s new Spanish-language musical play has good bloodlines. Estafanía Fadul directs this tale about a boat, a storm, and the beaches of Cuba, based loosely on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Thursday through May 27.

“Oye Oyá” at Milagro: a world premiere. Photo: Russell J Young

Contact Dance Film Festival. The Northwest Film Center and BodyVox collaborate on this cinematic exploration of the world of dance, with screenings at both locations. Thursday-Saturday.

The Talented Ones at Artists Rep. The world premiere of a dark comedy by Yussef El Guindi, whose last show in town, Portland Center Stage’s co-premiere of Threesome, went on to a successful Off-Broadway run. Saturday through May 21.

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Susan Seubert’s days of the dead

The Portland photographer's "Not a Day Goes By" at Froelick Gallery opens a door to thinking about suicide and its roots

They are masks, topographies, transparencies, transient spirits floating between being and nothingness, human faces shrouded in veils of plastic like a second skin. Composed and startling in their alabaster absences, they are images of the dead. And not just any dead, but the self-chosen dead. “If you Google ‘asphyxiation’,” the Portland photographer Susan Seubert notes with a hint of bemusement, “it’s not something you want to see.”

Nevertheless, she did. What she discovered, among other things, is that asphyxiation is the number one method of suicide in the West: cheap, relatively easy, relatively unmessy. And so it became the focus of her most recent show, Not a Day Goes By, which is running through May at Portland’s Froelick Gallery. Selections from it also will travel to the global showcase of the Venice Biennale in mid-May, a prestigious career boost: She’ll be in the collateral exhibition Personal Structures at the Palazzo Bembo, and by coincidence, she says, in the same space Oregon painter James Lavadour had in the 2013 Biennale, “a beautiful, big, nice space that’s got window light.”

Susan Seubert, “Asphyxiation #8,” digital photographic print on aluminum, 40 x 30 inches, 2017. Edition of 10

Death in Venice. Death in Portland. Death in the Arctic, in the Antarctic, on the high seas. Death wishes, death trauma, inevitable death. Death glorified, sanitized, hidden away. Death by one’s own hands. Seubert’s exhibit on a subject most people don’t like to think about includes two series: Asphyxiation, a grouping of 40 x 30 inch images printed on aluminum, and Method of, another series of smaller prints, 12 x 12 inches each, depicting various methods of taking one’s own life. They are passionate and controlled and free of irony. The larger images in particular are unsettling and revealing. These ghostly images of faces misshapen by clinging bags of clear plastic are confrontational, and yet they’re not. The photographs are beautiful, simple, gorgeous in a way that seems strangely moving and serene, like Pietàs of the underworld.

It’s this beauty, I think, that makes the Asphyxiation photographs so remarkable and close to heartbreaking. They are overt expressions of a mute muddle of anger, sorrow, confusion, and tears that have been purified into single images that are both stark and overflowing with intimation. Who are these people? Who were they? How did they get here? Why?

Seubert is a highly respected veteran fine art photographer who also has a successful career as a photojournalist, often traveling the world on assignment for National Geographic and other magazines. It’s her global perspective, partly, that put her in the frame of mind to dive into the meanings and metaphors of suicide. “It came from a very dark moment in my life,” she says. “It started last July. I’d just got back from somewhere … North Pole, South Pole …” she stops for a moment to laugh. “I’ve been so many places for my work I lose track.”

It was also about the time the national presidential race was beginning to tighten up, and she found herself both angry and despondent about it. “I was very depressed about a lot of things, but one was how far backward we’d gone culturally. I thought we’d moved past this as a human race. I found myself deeply saddened by that. … the rise of Trump and this utter disdain for restraint.”

Susan Seubert, “Asphyxiation #1,” digital pigment photographic print on aluminum, 40 x 30 inches, 2017. Edition of 10.

And so the photographs have a political impulse. But their intimations run broader, and deeper, than mere electoral issues or personalities, unsettling as those may be. The images of suicide suggest as well the willingness, almost the compulsion, of contemporary humans to commodify and destroy the larger world that keeps them alive, evidences of which Seubert has witnessed in her travels to the far reaches of the globe. “All of the dead animals I’ve seen, all the trash, up in the Arctic,” she says. “Mainly plastic. Plastic, plastic, everywhere. No matter where I go on the planet, it’s everywhere. Most of it travels on the oceans. And it does not decompose. It breaks down into smaller and smaller bits.” She’s seen whales entangled in fishing nets, and animals – like sea lions – growing in grotesque deformities around plastic six-pack rings that trap and squeeze them: “They’re just bulging.” The stubborn continuation of practices that imperil crucial environmental balances, and the push to strip away what safeguards exist, suggest a kind of human death wish, or at the least a willful denial that actions can have lethal consequences.

Looking at the Asphyxiation portraits up close got me to thinking of other artistic responses to death in this culture that is both obsessed by and, well, deathly afraid of it. I thought in particular of the exhibition Securing the Shadow: Posthumous Portraiture in America, which I saw a few months ago at the American Folk Art Museum in Manhattan, and which seemed almost the inverse of Seubert’s Not a day Goes By ­– not a contemplation of death as a reaction against life, but a celebration of life in spite of death. The paintings in Securing the Shadow, mostly from the early and middle 19th century and mostly made by naïve artists (there were also many postmortem “mourning portrait” daguerreotypes, the old technology giving way to a new and cheaper one), tended to be vividly colorful, unlike Seubert’s palette of cool receding whites and blacks and grays. Looking at them I had the clear sense that they were attempts to keep the dead alive, at least in memory, not as faded beings of sorrow but as vibrant everyday presences. If they were children, as so many were, they seemed active; ready to play. With childhood mortality so high, a relatively prosperous family might have three or four of these posthumous portraits on the wall, along with three or four or more surviving children: everyone together, dead and alive. Many of the paintings, if you strip away their circumstances, seem cheerful: bright pieces of Americana that you might hang on your wall next to a folk art weathervane or a painted wooden flag.

Death for sale: Items in the shop from the “Securing the Shadow” exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum.

The deaths addressed in Not a Day Goes By are different, because they are not deaths of disease or age or accident or even war but deliberate deaths, chosen by those who carry them out on themselves. Yet the act of suicide is both a response to and a negation of the world outside the self, and so what that world does and how it treats the matter of life and death are inevitably pieces of the process. And we are living in a carnival of death. As it happens, I saw Seubert’s show on the day the United States dropped “the mother of all non-nuclear bombs” on Afghanistan, a country that has been known as “the graveyard of empires” since long before American involvement in it. It was also three days before Easter, the day that much of the world celebrates the miraculous rising from the dead of a man-god. And it was scant days before, oh, let’s see: a triple slaying in Fresno by an apparent religious extremist; a “lost” U.S. aircraft carrier heading for a confrontation with a nuke-threatening North Korean despot except it turns out it wasn’t; and the apparent suicide in his jail cell of a onetime NFL football star convicted of murdering a friend after a tiff in a bar. Death is in the air, and it seems that much of the world is in love with it, even if it sometimes seems the love that dare not speak its name. As the old song goes: everybody wants to get to Heaven, nobody wants to die.

Leonardo Alenza, “Satire of the Romantic Suicide,” ca. 1839, oil on canvas, 14.4 x 11.2 inches, Museo Romantico, Madrid

Death, of course, is a natural part of life and regeneration. But violent death – by war or catastrophe or murder or suicide – tends to fascinate us. Maybe it’s the idea of the natural order being accelerated, or interrupted; of some violation in the ordinary progression of things, and wondering, considering the blunt force of private trauma and human history, whether the violation isn’t itself part of the natural progression. Artists have always responded to death, from the cave paintings of prehistory to the anti-vivisection jeremiads of Sue Coe’s paintings and the slice-and-pickle body counts of Damien Hirst’s cynical sculptures. The evidences in art history are too many to count. A million Crucifixions, corpus Christis, martyrdoms of the saints. Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith hacking off Holofernes’ head. The heroic martial images of Delacroix. Jacques-Louis David’s bathtub-murder scene The Death of Marat. Léon Cogniet’s piercing Tintoretto Painting the Portrait of His Dead Daughter, a heart-shattering study for which is in the collections of the Portland Art Museum. Images of suicide abound, too, from paintings and sculptures of the deaths of Cleopatra and Sappho and Socrates to Leonardo Alenza’s Satire on Romantic Suicide, an 1839 painting of an artist teetering over a cliffside. Many of these involve action, drama, even some sort of heroism, all of which are notably absent in Seubert’s portraits of quietude. The Catalonian sculptor Damia Campeny’s 1804 Dead Lucrecia, with its alabaster stillness and slumped absence of gesture and expression, comes much closer to matching the endgame mood of Seubert’s portraits.

Damia Campeny, “Dead Lucrecia,” 1804, marble, 53.1 x 49.2 x 24 inches, Llotja de Mar, Barcelona

Seubert’s aesthetic skill separates the photographs in Not a Day Goes By from purely political, and certainly from sensationalist, art. There is, to use an old-fashioned word, a strange lovingkindness to them; a sense of dignity and honor in spite of their contortions. The curves and crevices and striking whites leaping out of shadow give them a feel of marble: “The whites are what define the image,” Seubert says. The heads themselves are 25 percent larger than real life, so they dominate but don’t overwhelm. And crucially, printing the images onto luminous metal creates a shimmering, shifting, mirror effect, so that when you view one of the portraits you also enter into it. Seubert worked closely with digital expert Phil Bard and the San Francisco area lab Bay Photo to get the precise effect, which couldn’t be clearly anticipated earlier in the process. Until mid-December all of the images were digital, and Bard helped match the prints in color, tone, and treatment.  What Seubert refers to as “that performative aspect of seeing yourself in the image” creates a connection to, and so perhaps an empathy with, a person who has chosen to disconnect.

Susan Seubert, “Manner of: Tonto Sword (Seppuku),” digital pigment print on Thai silk tissue paper, encaustic medium, clayboard, 12 x 12 inches, 2017. Edition of 10

The smaller Method of prints that make up the second part of Not a Day Goes By are also technically precise, but with a very different layered approach that makes them look a lot like graphite drawings. “I decided they should be very dreamy,” Seubert says of these quiet images of the many methods of taking one’s life, from the ritual disembowelment of seppuku to syringe to razor blade, noose, handgun, bullet, pills, a bridge to leap from, a convenient tub for drowning. Each photograph is printed on Thai silk tissue paper (“I used that because it has a very drawn quality”), and coated via encaustic, or wax, to further the illusion of aesthetic separation from the reality they represent. Although they aren’t angry or satirical in the same way, and the images are much simpler, they remind me in approach of Goya’s The Disasters of War series, which is blunt in its depiction of atrocities but worked and shaped into contradictorily pleasing final form. I don’t see overt anger in either of Seubert’s series, although the expert craftsmanship may suggest a calculated fury.

Susan Seubert, “Manner of: Drowning,” digital pigment print on Thai silk tissue paper, encaustic medium, clayboard, 12 x 12 inches, 2017. Edition of 10

Creating a series about suicide is bound to be controversial, or just unnerve people for whom the subject is too close or disturbing. “I’ve gotten a number of personal messages from people who refuse to come see the show. And I understand that,” Seubert says. Yet in the end, what might have seemed a closing-off of conversation became instead a beginning. Not a Day Goes By, Seubert says, “opened up this odd door. Everyone was really open to it.” The covered faces in the Asphyxiation series belong to models, several of them Seubert’s friends, who agreed to be part of this photographic journey into the macabre: “It was such an interesting process. It made me realize I was not as isolated as I thought I was.”

Introduced to the project, people began to tell their own stories about suicide – of family members and friends who killed themselves; of helping a frail and dying friend hasten the end. “I didn’t ask people to share it,” Seubert says. “I showed them, and they shared it.” Not a Day Goes By, like most art, is not a suggestion or a prescription but an invitation to a conversation: a strange and fascinating transformation, this melting-down of pain and isolation into something embracing and somehow beautiful. It is, of course, one of the things art does. Things mystify and also open up. Even viewed though a glass darkly, there is a piercing of the light.

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Susan Seubert’s Not a Day Goes By continues through May 27 at Froelick Gallery, 714 N.W. Davis St., Portland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medea brings new meaning to catharsis

Imago presents a gut-wrenching Greek tragedy on a slanted stage

“Does the word ‘catharsis’ have Greek origins?” I wondered as I watched Imago’s Medea. Sure enough—and its meanings have been faithfully maintained: Katharsis and related words imply vomiting, purging or bodily cleansing, with an aim toward purity. When the body is sick, it triggers nausea (another Greek word, for seasickness specifically), and before the body can rest—either in repose or death—it must first expel some poison.

And yet, there’s a natural impulse among “civilized” people to resist the impulse to purge, to contain the inevitable upheaval. Guts clench and wrench. Teeth gnash and throats choke. And in that moment, however brief or prolonged, there’s suspense and tension. In the nausea before the catharsis, sickened people are holding in an ocean’s worth of sorrow. They’re dry-heaving a clutch of tortured sobs before unleashing a torrent. And that, Friends, is the feeling of a good Greek tragedy.

Anne Sorce as Medea: a family tragedy. John Rudoff/Polaris Images

For an archetypal figure from antiquity, Medea’s plight is surprisingly universal. The mother of two (played by the always-commanding Anne Sorce) has just lost her cheating, midlife-crisis-indulging husband Jason (played by the equally-formidable Todd Van Voris) to a much younger woman, and it’s driving her crazy. As her ex-husband’s wedding day approaches, she schemes about how to make him pay, deciding that ultimately she’s willing to add to her own suffering in order to inflict her pain on him. Medea, her nursemaid/narrator (Madeleine Delaplane), and a chorus of Medea’s peers spend much of the play in a prolonged reverie of poetic nausea, trying in vain to choke back the forthcoming horrors the scorned woman is about to release. They wail. They moan. They warn. And we wait trepidatiously.

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