Boom! Arts from the edge

Boom Arts scans the globe for performances that challenge audiences to take on new perspectives. Next up: Penny Arcade; a gallery fete.

Essay and photos by FRIDERIKE HEUER

In times of political change and upheaval the arts often undergo a paradigm shift. New ways of representing the world or challenging the status quo rise out of despair or are driven by hope. This is true for the visual arts but perhaps even more so for theater. In Germany, my country of origin, for example, the era between the two world wars saw an enormous shift towards the use of theater as an instrument for social change. Famous innovators like Erwin Piscator and his Proletarian Theatre envisioned performances that would make people more thoughtful, and help them consider their social environment more critically. Live performance would encourage members of the public to analyze what was going on around them rather than making them react purely emotionally to a particularly beautifully written or produced play. In Piscator’s eyes the purpose of theater was to tell the truth and awaken consciousness for the truth in the audience, which might pave the way towards political action.

Piscator’s productions, which influenced his eventually much more famous compatriot and colleague Berthold Brecht, were geared toward audience involvement: He hoped for a modified version of the ancient model of the Greek stage and its public, making theater once again central to community life. His working-class actors often played without a stage, costumes or lighting, in neighborhood meeting halls or industrial barracks, encouraging conversation with the audience. His politics did not sit well with the rising totalitarian regime, and he eventually fled into exile, working, among other things, at the New School for Social Research in New York before eventually returning to Germany after the war.

Ruth Wikler-Luker

I was reminded of all this because I sat down with Ruth Wikler-Luker recently for a conversation about Boom Arts, the performing arts organization she founded in Portland about six years ago. I have been volunteering to photograph for Boom Arts for a number of those years, but had never had the opportunity to satisfy my curiosity about the organization and its producer in more detail.

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Sunwook Kim review: subtle touch, dynamic range

Versatile Portland Piano International recitalist knows when to exercise restraint — and when not to

By ANGELA ALLEN

Sunwook Kim opened his January 14 Portland Piano International recital with J.S. Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564, written for organ (think majestic, reverential, full-voiced) and ran furiously through the opening toccata. The word, toccata, comes from the Italian toccare, to touch, and Kim certainly had touch: his technical virtuosity, his fingers dancing like glittering lights, was unquestionable. But what about dynamics?

In 1900 when Busoni published his piano transcription of Bach’s original (likely written about 1712; most of the dates of Bach’s organ works are undocumented), he took plenty of liberties, including with dynamics, though like a harpsichord, an organ’s dynamics can be hard to express. But Busoni is reputed to have rescued Bach’s work from overwrought romanticism anachronistically imposed by other arrangers, and by the time Kim finished the three-movement piece, he showed he had far more than bravura in his tonal repertoire. The subtle touch and varying dynamics that surfaced there continued throughout his recital.

Portland Piano International presented pianist Sunwook Kim on January 14. Photo: John Rudoff/SipaUSA.

Kim won the prestigious International Leeds Piano Competition when he was 18. He was the first Asian to do so and the youngest winner in 40 years. Since then, the 29-year-old Korean pianist has carried a heavy load in his lithe hands to keep up the international reputation, but he’s doing quite well at it, playing with some of the world’s best orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw and the Berlin Radio Symphony, among them.

Portland Piano International presented him on Jan. 13 and 14 in its Solo Series at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall. His two-hour recitals, featuring different repertoires, fell smack in the middle of MLK weekend. The 475-seat auditorium wasn’t full on Jan. 14 for the concert I heard, but he didn’t seem to mind. Blessed with sleek hair long enough to fling creatively but short enough to stay out of his eyes, he filled the hall with technically precise, multi-dimensional music, though he does have a jones for the Germans.

Kim knows their music well. He played works by Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Robert Schumann. Though he did not make a special request for the PSU Hamburg Steinway, he sounded quite comfortable with it. Europeans are used to playing Hamburgs over the New York version. The Hamburgs have a slightly thicker soundboard than the New York-made pianos, so their sound is a bit more subdued. Kim produced a lot of sound out of that Hamburg, and there was nothing subdued about his performance. Again, he was all over the range of dynamics.

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Welcome to the “meet your neighbor” edition of DanceWatch. Yup, that’s right, you are surrounded by a sea of amazing, talented artists, and they all seem to be popping up THIS weekend. And, the “neighborhood” may be much bigger than you think—at least it was for me.

Opening Thursday, at Portland State Universities’ Lincoln Performance Hall, is LIFTED!, a new dance work by Philadelphia hip-hop legend Rennie Harris (Rennie Harris Puremovement), presented by White Bird, that addresses issues of morality, spirituality, and community, through the lens of house music and dance. The narrative follows a young man as he loses his parents, moves in with his aunt and uncle, rebels, finds the church, and ultimately finds his place in a new community. LIFTED! portrays universal themes of loss, abandonment, and redemption, and uses gospel music as a means of comfort and a way to connect to our spirituality.

LIFTED! by Rennie Harris Puremovement. Photo courtesy of White Bird.

LIFTED! will be performed by 15 dancers alongside Portland gospel singer Alonzo Chadwick and a choir of singers. The work also features two gifted Portland dancers: Donna Mation, the artistic director of Axé Didé and owner of Center Space Studio in Southeast Portland; and dance artist Rashad Pridgen, who presented his film Global Street Dance Masquerade #GSDMQ8, just last weekend at the Portland Art Museum.

Eugene dance writer Rachel Carnes who has a 20-year history with Rennie Harris, interviewed him back in September 2017 and shares his history, the history of the hip hop movement, and that conversation with you, in her story, Rennie Harris, moving pure for ArtsWatch.

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A lioness of the mind

Fire-yellow eyes fixed on her heart: A friend of more than 50 years pays a farewell tribute to the writer Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929-2018

I have been reading the many tributes to Ursula K. Le Guin, my friend of 52 years, who died on Monday at age 88, and they are, mostly, wonderful. They make me remember my own reactions to her work, as novelist, poet, teacher, feminist rabble-rouser, and performer (something I’ve not seen mentioned).

On Facebook, people speak of which book they loved best, which ones influenced them the most, and why; and that has made me think about all that, as well. I have loved the  Earthsea books, and Sea Road, her most “Oregonian” book (it’s set in a town on the coast), and what I think is her most difficult, Always Coming Home. The night before she died I was happily rereading Sur, the harrowing and funny short story about the women who discovered the South Pole and kept it secret, so a man could take credit for being the first.

Ursula K. Le Guin. Photo: Eileen Gunn

But at the end of the day it is her last novel, Lavinia, about Aeneas’s last wife, in which Virgil makes appearances from time to time, and her poetry, the music of her poetry, that speak most eloquently to my mind and my heart. In recent years I have hated, and I mean hated, her titles, because they sound so much like leave-takings, starting with Finding My Elegy, published in 2012, which I wrote about here, and Late in the Day, published in 2016. I’m none too fond of the title of her new collection of essays taken from her blog, either: No Time to Spare.

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‘Voices of Light’ preview: trial by fire

Camerata PYP, In Mulieribus, Portland State University choirs perform Richard Einhorn’s popular oratorio 'Voices of Light' with Carl Dreyer’s 1928 film 'The Passion of Joan of Arc'

Even the flames couldn’t destroy Joan of Arc. The 15th-century teenage revolutionary was infamously burned at the stake for leading a revolution, but her memory survived. Ultimately, she achieved sainthood and became a symbol of France itself.

Centuries after her immolation, Danish film director Carl Dreyer, a titan of silent cinema, made a magnificent 1928 movie, The Passion of Joan of Arc. After receiving rapturous acclaim, though, like Joan, the film fell victim to flame — all known copies were destroyed in a warehouse fire.

French stage actress Reneé Jeanne Falconetti portrayed Joan in Dreyer’s ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc.’

Once again, Joan rose from the flames, when Dreyer assembled a second version from outtake negatives. And yet again, that version burned in a second warehouse fire. Devastated, Dreyer gave up on Joan, but went on to make a series of film classics.

In 1981, workers cleaning out a hospital storeroom in Norway found some old tape reels that turned out to hold a pristine copy of Dreyer’s original The Passion of Joan Arc. Its re-release won worldwide acclaim all over again for its stark, striking depiction of Joan’s ordeal.

When New York composer Richard Einhorn discovered the film, it so enraptured him that he created his own musical response. His oratorio Voices of Light earned its own abundant accolades and a classical chart-topping 1995 Sony recording featuring acclaimed early music ensemble Anonymous 4. On Friday, Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Camerata PYP, In Mulieribus vocal ensemble, three Portland State University choirs and some of the city’s finest classical singers will perform Einhorn’s oratorio to accompany the Northwest Film Center’s screening of Dreyer’s film classic.

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Dance review: ‘Two Love Stories’ tracks our heartbreak

Marissa Rae Niederhauser explores the trance of masculine aggression and the trance of female passivity

By ELIZABETH WHELAN

Two Love Stories, presented by Linda Austin’s Performance Works Northwest Sunday night, was far from the romantic walk in the park you’d expect from its title. Marissa Rae Niederhauser, Berlin-based dancer and choreographer, cuts down the back alleys and into the dark corners of the game we all play. The game called love.

She plunges to the depths of heartbreak, in all of its repetitive and nauseating layers, and by the end of Two Love Stories, a surface level conversation about relationships isn’t even a remote possibility. The work meticulously opened up every door that pain might hide behind—and journeyed deep into the recesses of the heart, unearthing the unspoken part of love.

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Watching Readings

Playreadings and staged readings are endemic in theater. But do audiences really enjoy watching them?

Fertile Ground is springing up about us again, and Portland’s theatrical venues are filled with performances—dance, original drama, comedy, even a couple of premiere musicals, all there to delight audiences.

And then there are the playreadings.

The festival is heavy with new works, and that means that there’s a large dose of play readings and staged readings. The differentiation between the two forms is that you don’t expect more from a reading than some actors, chairs and music stands, while a staged reading can vary from a couple of simple props or costume pieces to some fairly elaborate blocking and tech—which can be indistinguishable from a workshop, which are also featured at Fertile Ground. (This is what happens when artists try to label their own work.)

Both playreadings and staged readings are generally seen as part of the natural trajectory of a script leaving the page and climbing the ladder to a regional theater premiere.

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