DanceWatch Weekly: The Risk/Reward bargain

Risk/Reward's 10th anniversary festival highlights the week in dance

Usually a curator knows what an artist’s work is going to look like before it hits the stage, but in the case of the Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance, those creations aren’t revealed until opening night.

The festival, which opens Friday night at Artist Repertory Theatre and is directed by Jerry Tischleder, is interested in supporting the creative process more than the finished product. The end result is a selection of 20-minute works that break boundaries and new artistic ground, by merging together multiple genres of dance, music, theatre, performance art, film and more.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this weekend, the festival will includes; a lobby film installation, karaoke, a post-show concert, and new performance works by well-known Portland choreographers Linda Austin and Pepper Pepper, alongside visiting artists Queen Shmooquan, Pam Tzeng, Kiana Harris, Shannon Stewart/Donal Mosher, and Coley Mixan.

What is the risk for the audience? There isn’t one. Especially not monetarily. Because this year, all tickets are pay-what-you-will, for the entire festival.

The reward, in my opinion, is that we (the audience) are not being “sold” on what to expect from the performances, because the presenter doesn’t know what the artists are presenting ahead of time. In today’s world where we are constantly being bombarded with marketing for things to buy, I find this approach to be a reprieve.

Also in Portland dance this week, visiting Pakistani Bharatanatyam dancer Amna Mawaz Khan will perform in Theatre Wallay at Artists Repertory Theater and give a performance and talk Tuesday night at New Expressive Works about living life “underground” as a Bharatanatyam dancer in Pakistan. For you musical theatre buffs, Roundabout Theatre Company’s Cabaret is here on tour from New York, and for ballet lovers, Sleeping Beauty is brought back to life by the students of June Taylor’s School of Dance.

Plus…lots of sun. Enjoy it all!

Performances this week

Risk/Reward Festival Of New Performance, June 23-24. Photo of Linda Austin Dance courtesy of Risk/Reward.

Risk/Reward Festival Of New Performance
Participating artists: Linda Austin Dance, Queen Shmooquan, Pam Tzeng, Pepper Pepper, Kiana Harris, Shannon Stewart/Donal Mosher, and Coley Mixan
Produced by Jerry Tischleder
June 23-24
Artist Repertory Theatre, Alder Stage, 1515 SW Alder St.
See above.

Bharatanatyam dancer Amna Mawaz Khan. Photo courtesy of New Expressive Works.

Amna Mawaz Khan-Lecture and Bharatnatyam dance performance
Presented by Subashini Ganesan/New Expressive Works in partnership with Linda Alper of Artist Repertory Theater
6:30 pm June 27th
New Expressive Works (In the WYSE Building), 810 SE Belmont St.
Use building doors located on the South side of the building.
Pakistani Bharatanatyam dancer Amna Mawaz Khan began her dance training at the age of eleven from one of Pakistan’s oldest living dance exponents of the form, Indu Mitha. She has performed worldwide, and has recently run for an elected office in Islamabad, connecting her practice of resistance politics to that of her dancing.

Khan will talk about her experience dancing Indian dances in Pakistan, along with how her dance teacher adjusted Bharatanatyam, which is a South Indian form of classical dance, to suit the Pakistani culture and languages.

Sleeping Beauty, June Taylor’s School of Dance, June 24th at 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Photo courtesy of June Taylor School of Dance.

Sleeping Beauty
June Taylor’s School of Dance
June 24th at 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Portland Community College Sylvania Performing Art Center, 12000 Southeast 49th Ave.
With music by Ilyich Tchaikovsky and steps by Marius Petipa, the students of June Taylor’s School of Dance from five to eighteen, will dance the story of Princess Aurora, cursed by the evil Carabosse to prick her finger on a spindle and die on her 16th birthday. Of course good triumphs over evil, and the powerful and righteous fairies intervene, rescuing Aurora from death, and uniting her with her prince.

JTSD students Helia Megowan will be dancing the leading role of Aurora, Sarah Valesano will perform the Lilac Fairy, Michelle Oakman will perform Carabosse, and Lauren Wattenburg will dance the role of the Bluebird. All original Petipa choreography is staged by June Taylor-Dixon, and additional choreography adapted for JTSD’s younger dancers is by June Taylor-Dixon, Rachel Fleming, and Rebecca Hasler.

Cabaret by Roundabout Theatre Company, presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland. June 27-July 2, Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St. Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company.

Cabaret
Roundabout Theatre Company
Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
June 27-July 2
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St.
In pre-war Germany, as the Nazis gain power, drama unfold between a young writer and Sally Bowles, a singer at the seedy Berlin nightclub called the Kit Kat Club. Nightlife is alluring, but dangerous, and times are uncertain. The Emcee, a ghoulish persona, tantalizes the crowd with his raucous, debauched performers, helping them to forget. In the musical’s final scene, as the Emcee is giving his Auf Wiedersehens, Sally Bowles says, “It’ll all work out, it’s only politics, what’s it got to do with us?” A nod to the society’s blindness towards the Nazi regime, and a relevant critique today.

Upcoming Performances

June
June 29-30, Choreography XX, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 30, Spectacle Garden 13: The End, Hosted by Ben Martens
June 30-July 1, Improvisation Summit of Portland 2017, Hosted by The Creative Music Guild and Disjecta
July
July 6, Éowyn Emerald & Dancers
July 8, Ten Tiny Dances, Beaverton Farmers Market, Directed by Mike Barber
July 14-15, Rantum Skoot, Linda Austin, Gregg Bielemeier, Bob Eisen (NYC), and Sada Naegelin & Leah Wilmoth
July 14-16, Apparatus, by Danielle Ross
July 15, Rush Hour, Heidi Duckler Dance Theater Northwest
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
July 26, Movement and Flow: Portland Dance Films, Hosted by NW Film Center featuring films by Conrad Kazcor, Fuchsia Lin, Dylan Wilbur Media, Gabriel Shalom, Jackie Davis, and Amy Yang Chiao
July 29, Hafla, Portland Bellydance Guild
August
August 3-5, Galaxy Dance Festival, Hosted by Polaris Dance Theatre
August 11-13, JamBallah Northwest ’17, Hosted by JamBallah NW
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans
August 24-October 8, Kurios: Cabinet Of Curiosities, Cirque Du Soleil

‘Gypsy’ preview: one thorny Rose

The Shedd revives a classic midcentury musical that shows the dark side of celebrity ambition

The overture to Gypsy kicks off the show with one of those rousing, familiar tunes that practically bellows “classic American musical.” And a classic the 1959 show (created by writer Arthur Laurents, composer Jule Styne, choreographer Jerome Robbins, and young lyricist Stephen Sondheim, just off his breakthrough with West Side Story) certainly is. But if it’s most famous for “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” they’re more like the blossoms the Rolling Stones sang about in “Dead Flowers.” Like the music, the story turns darker, more complicated, more real than its splashy opening number suggests.

Closing this weekend at Eugene’s Shedd Center for the Performing Arts in a production directed by Peg Major, with music directed by Robert Ashens and choreography by Caitlin Christopher, Gypsy delivers the memorable Big Tunes and production numbers that fans of musicals crave — while also limning the depth of character and even darkness rarely found in musical theater to that time, and too seldom since.

‘Gypsy’ closes this weekend at The Shedd in Eugene.

Set in 1920s vaudeville, the story is propelled by an aging, wannabe burlesque queen, “a pioneer woman without a frontier… born too soon and started too late.” It’s at heart a family drama pitting the manipulative stage monster, er, mother’s stifled ambitions and fears against her daughters’ independence and self-esteem as she labors to vault them to the vicarious stage stardom she never achieved herself. In the process, we come to understand the pain that underlies her craving for recognition.

One indicator of any classic’s greatness (whether a play, a composition, a dance) is the variety of interpretations it allows, and in frequent revivals on Broadway and beyond, Momma Rose has been successfully played by a wide variety of acclaimed musical actresses. Though all inevitably stand in the formidable shadow of the original Momma Rose, the volcanic-voiced Ethel Merman (who actually initiated the project after reading the memoirs of striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee), the fact that stars as diverse as Angela Lansbury, Bette Midler, Tyne Daly, Rosalind Russell, Bernadette Peters, and Patti LuPone have successfully played the role in frequent revivals demonstrates the character’s depth. In Eugene, Shirley Andress reportedly presents a more vulnerable interpretation of a still-steely character in transition.

So too, do different productions vary the import of the ambiguous ending. More than most works of musical theater including opera, Gypsy catches the complexity of real life — and conveys it in unforgettable songs like “Together Wherever We Go,” “You Gotta Get A Gimmick,” “Let Me Entertain You” and of course “Everything’s Coming up Roses.” And that complexity, signaled by an unexpected turn from opening exuberance to eventual disappointment, helped spark a similar transformation in the American musical itself, opening it to an unprecedented kind of psychological complexity that Sondheim and others would continue to develop.

That makes Gypsy a timeless creation, frequently staged. Maybe in this age of “American Idol,” “The Voice,” and a burlesque revival that recently produced a made-in-Portland opera that told the story of Portland striptease artist/author Viva Las Vegas, the time is again ripe for Rose’s demented dreams of ecdysiastic elevation. The notion that you can cure your psychic damage and find glory — or at least self-esteem — by riding the public revelation of superficial parts of yourself to stardom didn’t disappear with vaudeville strippers.

Featuring Shirley Andress as Rose, Clarae Smith, Ward Fairbairn, and Kenady Conforth, Gypsy runs for six performances at the Shedd’s Jaqua Concert Hall. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $22 to $38, available at the box office at 868 High St. Eugene, 541-434-7000, or online. A version of this story appears in Eugene Weekly.

Want to read more about Oregon musicals? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

‘The Woman of Salt’ preview: from trauma to opera

Her family sundered by homophobia, a Eugene composer confronts a painful moment from her past by creating a new opera

by RACHAEL CARNES

It was at Anice Thigpen’s lowest emotional point that the protagonist in her new opera The Woman of Salt came to her.

“I was walking in the woods. And she took the wind out of the firs and made that the voice for the first song,” she says.

The Woman of Salt — Thigpen’s first opera — was born from deep trauma.

“I was there, in the childhoods of my children — flooded — and I turned around, and there, floating in space, is an oversized, feminine figure,” Thigpen says. “I recognized her as Lot’s wife. She telepathed to me, ‘Look back!’”

But before she could write the opera, which premieres June 23 at Springfield’s Wildish Theater, a part of Thigpen had to die.

‘It Didn’t Have to Be This Way’

When Thigpen looked back, here’s what she saw, and how she tells it.

She was in her late 20s and married with two young daughters when she came out to her family as gay. “We were living in rural Arkansas,” Thigpen says. “My oldest daughter, Erin Lee, was 5, and my youngest, Paige, was 2.”

Thigpen’s then-husband, 16 years her elder, at first took the news in stride. “Initially, he wasn’t so upset, nor surprised,” Thigpen says. “When he and I got married, I was already attracted to women, but I believed I could choose to be heterosexual.”

While her kids were little, Thigpen was a stay-at-home mom, a job she adored. She tried to be straight. “I made a go of it, but it wasn’t on my choice list,” she says.

Thigpen divorced her husband and, at first, the pair shared joint custody of their daughters.

Then things changed.

Anice Thigpen speaks to the audience at a preview performance of ‘Woman of Salt.’ Photo: Kelli Matthews.

In a suit brought against her after the initial divorce and custody hearings, the state of Arkansas awarded full custody of Thigpen’s girls to their father, based largely on Thigpen’s sexual orientation while questioning her emotional stability and referencing a distant attempt at self harm.

“He realized the power that my sexual orientation afforded him,” Thigpen says. “But I don’t want to villainize him.”

Thigpen flips through the score she’s written for The Woman of Salt and sips a bit of water. “They got a homophobic lawyer. The judge is a deacon in the Southern Baptist Church,” Thigpen says. “I got an original judgment and took it to the state Supreme Court, where I also got the shit kicked out of me.”

Thigpen half-smiles, shaking her head. Then she looks at me, almost as if I’m a foreigner. “How can I explain the Deep South?” she says. “My own parents were instrumental in leading the charge against me.”

Thigpen grows quiet, her eyes focused. “My parents were, and are, supporters of David Duke. My dad had a colleague who wrote his master’s thesis on the disproportionately small size of the Negro brain. They were — we were — steeped in racism, homophobia. It’s an illness and a blight — culturally, spiritually. I’m totally estranged from my parents and brothers.”

In the courtroom, Thigpen’s mother and father testified against her. Claiming that she was unfit, Thigpen’s parents encouraged the court to terminate their daughter’s rights to her own children.

“There is no immunity from that kind of assault,” Thigpen says. “No defense.”

In an instant, Thigpen’s role as primary caregiver was reduced to dust. “The court order limited my access to the girls and said I couldn’t take them out of state,” Thigpen says. “I was shunned, criminalized and impoverished.”

I Cannot Tell You Why’

Thigpen turned 60 this year. She grew up in a tiny town — Lecompte, Louisiana — where she learned to play the piano from Miss Martha Faye White, “who was classically trained and offered lessons out of her home,” Thigpen says. “I studied from the age of 8 or 9 right through high school. And I’ve never moved anywhere without my piano.”

Thigpen’s father taught English when she was growing up, and her mother stayed home. She has two siblings, an older brother and a younger one. She has no contact with any of them. “Family estrangement is probably much more prevalent than we are willing to talk about,” she says. “It’s like a collective secret.”

Laura Wayte and Anice Thigpen rehearsing ‘The Woman of Salt’ in Thigpen’s home. Photo: Todd Cooper.

Though wounded by her family’s betrayal, for the sake of her girls, Thigpen persisted. After the court tore her daughters from her, Thigpen moved to Austin, Texas, to pursue a doctorate. And every two to three weeks, for years, she made the 500-mile one-way drive from Austin to Little Rock and back to see her girls for a few precious hours.

“Every time I could, I got in my beat-up truck and drove to Arkansas,” she says. “I think this opera was being written on the drives home. My blood was a caustic sludge of rage.”

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Northwest Piano Trio review: three, four, five

Augmented threesome shines in music by Mozart, Schubert and Dvorak

by TERRY ROSS

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) started writing a piano trio in the last year or so of his brief life, but he used the slow adagio movement as a stand-alone piece, which he thought of as Adagio and his publisher called Notturno, presumably because of its peaceful nature. The violin and cello play its sinuous and mesmeric melody to a plucked accompaniment in the treble and bass, both played on the piano imitating a harp.

In their most recent concert, on June 10 in Portland State University’s Lincoln Recital Hall, the Northwest Piano Trio — pianist Susan McDaniel, violinist Heather Mastel-Lipson, and cellist Hillebrand — gave a dreamy, easy-sounding rendition, with the cellist often playing in the viola range, leaving the low notes to the piano. It was a beautiful nine-minute piece beautifully done.

Although Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G Minor from 1785 (the first piece ever written for the ensemble of piano, violin, viola, and cello) was commissioned for amateurs, it immediately proved too difficult, and was left to professional players. In the hands of the Northwest Piano Trio, abetted by violist Hillary Oseas, its 25 minutes emerged smoothly, culminating in a lovely third-movement Rondeau.

Northwest Piano Trio added a pair of guests for its performance of Dvorak’s famous quintet. Photo: Logan Brown.

After the intermission came the main event. Dvorak was in his prime when he wrote his second piano quintet in 1888, with his two great symphonies (No. 8 and No. 9 “From the New World”) coming in 1889 and 1893. His Opus 81 was instantly acclaimed upon its premiere and was soon grouped with the piano quintets of Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms as the best of its genre. Dmitri Shostakovich’s quintet joined this trio later.

Dvorak’s five-hander announces itself immediately with all the instruments playing loudly. And here one can already notice one of its defining features: all five instruments participate more or less equally, without the piano doubling the strings overmuch and the string quartet an independent force. In the first-movement, the cello states a beguiling tune that later turns up several times wearing different clothing. In the second movement “Dumka” (a form, beloved of Dvorak, in which somber, slow music alternates with lively dance music), the viola steps up with its own soulful music in the slow sections. The third movement Scherzo, furiant, marked molto vivace (very lively) is a five-minute dose of Slavic energy, leading into the allegro Finale, in which a Mendelssohnian chorale near the end surprises and pleases before an energetic ending.

It’s always a treat to hear Dvorak’s chamber music, with its abundance of melodies and brilliant part-writing, performed well. Cellist Hillebrand played with exceptional warmth and forthright expression. Pianist McDaniel seemed to execute her not infrequently challenging part effortlessly. Second violinist Nelly Kovalev, who plays in the Portland Opera Orchestra, played with great assurance and rose to the occasion in her brief solo passages, and violist Oseas, who plays with the Portland Baroque Orchestra, was especially good in her solo passages, which contain some of Dvorak’s most elegant melodic writing. First violinist Mastel-Lipson, a Portland Opera member and co-concertmaster of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, played accurately and in perfect tune, but I could have used a much heavier right hand; her solo passages did not stand out as they should.

But this is a mere cavil; the Northwest Piano Trio is superb. Committed to “the performance of traditional classical music while also exploring the music of 20th and 21st century composers,“ they have yet to announce their 2017-18 season, but perhaps before they do they’ll put their heads together and find themselves a much catchier name.

Recommended recordings

• Schubert Notturno

Florestan Trio (Hyperion CDA67273), 2001.

• Mozart Piano Quartet in G Minor

Mozart: Piano Quartets: Emanuel Ax, Isaac Stern, Jaime Laredo, and Yo-Yo Ma (Sony 88875070972), 1994.

Dvorak Quintet in A Major

Dvorak — Piano Quintets: Sviatoslav Richter with the Borodin Quartet (Philips E4757560), 2006.

Terry Ross is a Portland freelance journalist and the director of The Classical Club, through which he offers classical music appreciation sessions. He can be reached at classicalclub@comcast.net.

Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

ArtsWatch Weekly: Solstice!

Here comes summer. Here comes summer art. Take off your shoes, put on your swimsuit, and dive right in.

Raise a glass, if you’re of a mind, to summer, which according to the wise old heads of The Old Farmer’s Almanac officially begins at 9:24 Pacific Daylight Time this evening – Tuesday, June 20. If you’re reading this on the East Coast you’ll need to wait until 12:24 on Wednesday morning for the solstice to kick in.

That makes it high time to start thinking about summer arts, too.

The eclectic Siletz Bay Music Festival in and around Lincoln City on the Oregon coast opens Wednesday with some Mendelssohn and Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and continues through July 4 with concerts ranging from classics to rock violin to swing jazz and cabaret.

Chamber Music Northwest kicks off its summer season in Portland on Monday evening, June 26, with a program of music by Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn, and Amy Beach (plus a little Bach), and continues through July 30. The opener’s a good introduction to this year’s celebration of women composers – and that ties in neatly to Choreography XX, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s swiftly approaching program of free performances June 29-30 in the Washington Park Rose Garden Amphitheater, featuring works by three women choreographers. For a deeper look, see Jamuna Chiarini’s interview with Helen Simoneau, one of the three, in DanceWatch Weekly.

Falstaff (K. T. Vogt) bemoans his difficulties wooing Mistresses Ford and Page, unaware that he’s speaking to Master Ford (Rex Young) in disguise. Photo: Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

The granddaddy of Oregon summer festivals, Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival, continues full steam ahead through October with eleven plays moving in and out of repertory during the season. Sir John Falstaff, that great gross night, makes a big splash, making appearances in all three plays in which he’s a character. For more on that, read Suzi Steffen’s Five questions for the Falstaffs, an interview with festival actors K.T. Vogt and G. Valmont Thomas, who between them cover all of the big guy’s bases.

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Full Circle: a universe of theater

At TCG's national conference in Portland, people of color traded stories on how to build an American theater that includes everyone

I straddle many worlds as a journalist, writer, and media and theater artist. When I interview artists, I often have to pull back from their perspective to gain a more outside view. Yet it’s the inside look that draws me to the work of the artist, and it’s the personal I find fascinating. Crossing lines and boundaries of many worlds is in my DNA. I’m mixed-race. I’m Asian. I’m Chinese or Taiwanese or a person of color, an immigrant, an American. Like all PoCs (People of Color), I switch languages, cultures and sometimes personalities depending on the world I inhabit. I was not prepared to find the worlds presented at Full Circle, the Theatre Communications Group national conference June 8-10 at the Hilton Downtown, so welcoming and meaningful.

Theatre Communications Group’s leaders of color gather for a group shot at TCG’s national conference in Portland. Author Dmae Roberts is near the center in the second row from the top. Photo courtesy Elena Chang / TCG

I don’t generally like conferences, but lately I’ve found ones focusing on racial and cultural issues impact me the most. Last October I forged deep connections with API (Asian/Pacific Islander) theater artists at the National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival (ConFest). I honestly thought TCG would pale compared to ConFest. I was wrong.

I’ve been to enough conference sessions dealing with diversity issues to become skeptical. At one public radio conference, I recall a session on “Unintentional Bias” with great irony when a white executive director of a national radio program barged her way to the head of a line filled with PoCs waiting to comment. She felt defensive and thought nothing of interrupting a Latinx radio producer to tell everyone her network wasn’t biased.

So when I saw the TCG conference had numerous EDI sessions, I was hopeful yet cautious. Equity, diversity, and inclusion, or EDI, has become the phrase of choice when looking at changing the structures limiting the imagination when it comes to hiring practices and the kind of art that’s presented, particularly in theatre. This year’s Full Circle exceeded my expectations.

*

Day 1 – June 8, 2017

On the first day of the TCG conference, I attended TCG’s Commitment to EDI session, which pretty much foreshadowed EDI as the main theme of the conference. I turned to another conference attendee and asked if this was a typical focus for the TCG conferences. The person nodded her head and said it was even more last year.

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A film festival takes a stand against Islamophobia

The Seventh Art Stand film festival explore the many strands of Muslim and Muslim-American experience

The Seventh Art Stand, a nationwide screening and discussion series that focuses on the many facets of the contemporary Muslim and Muslim-American experience, comes to Portland’s Open Signal at 7 pm on June 21. The series has been part of a multi-platform effort that is intended “as an act of cinematic solidarity against Islamophobia,” according to organizers. Through Q&A sessions at the screenings and social media campaigns such as #sharemuslimfacts, the series seeks to challenge and humanize the discussion around the lives and beliefs of members of the nationalities and ethnicities under attack by the current administration and Islamophobic currents in the media.

By the time it’s over, Seventh Art Stand will have shown in more than fifty theaters, museums, and community centers in more than half the states, with prominent shows in Honolulu, Detroit, Milwaukee, Houston, Harlem, and Minneapolis. As part of the collaborative nature of the project, each venue curates its own selection of films and runs its own public discussions, often tailored to the surrounding Islamic community. Previous screenings have featured Queens of Syria by Yasmin Fedda, A Stray by Musa Syeed, American Arab by Usama Alshaibi, and The Salesman by Asghar Farhadi, which won the Oscar for 2017 Best Foreign Language Film.

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