Austin Granger’s commonplace miracles

When things go right, "I have the uncanny sense that the photographs were already there, just waiting for me. They feel predestined."

STORY by ANGELA ALLEN

PHOTOGRAPHS by AUSTIN GRANGER

Portland photographer Austin Granger, who grew up in northern California and studied philosophy at the University of California, Santa Cruz, prefers to load film into his Fuji GF670 or Deardorff 5 by 7 instead of pushing a card into a digital camera. Sticking to the old rituals, he’d also rather shoot in black and white than in color. Sixty of his images are on display through April 10 at LightBox Photographic Gallery in Astoria.

Granger calls photography “at once commonplace and utterly miraculous.” Among his landscape and nature images, the influence of Group f/64 photographers Ansel Adams and Edward Weston is apparent, Granger readily acknowledges. Adams is one of his heroes, and sharp-focused, meticulously framed photos are among his images’ hallmarks, as they are of his mid-century California predecessors.

“Self, Alvord Desert, Oregon,” self-portrait, 2016.

The 76-page catalog for Granger’s LightBox exhibition is titled Correspondence. “When I’m photographing well, I have the most uncanny feeling that the pictures are predestined,” Granger said. “I recognize them. They echo the feelings inside myself. They correspond.”

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Bill Bulick, arts agency architect, has died

Bill Bulick built the Regional Arts & Culture Council into a model arts agency, imitated around the country

Bill Bulick, the architect of the Regional Arts and Culture Council, the primary way government supports the art in the tri-county area, died yesterday in Portland. He had lived with Parkinson’s Disease for many years. He was 65.

When I first met Bulick in the late 1970s, he was affiliated with Artichoke Music, the great folk music center, attempting to get coverage for Artichoke shows. He was so earnest and so affable that his pitches were impossible to resist: He made me feel that I was doing a great service to the culture at large by helping to spread the word, and to this day, I think he was right.

By then, he had attended Reed College, the University of Chicago and Portland State, worked as a studio potter, and spent a couple of years in Ireland studying Celtic music. In 1983 he helped organize Wildgeese, the leading proponent of Celtic music in the Northwest, and he became the first program director at Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Bill Bulick, here making a presentation in Bradenton, Florida, spread the arts plan behind RACC across the country.

The culture at large: Bill switched gears and careers, moving from the folk music niche into arts administration. His sense of fairness, his calm demeanor and his determination were a perfect fit in this role, and he quickly became a crucial figure at the old Metropolitan Arts Commission, Portland’s city arts bureau, which he joined in 1987. By 1989, he had become executive director, succeeding Selina Ottum, who had professionalized the arts commission before moving to the National Endowment for the Arts as Deputy Chair.

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Edna Vazquez with Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble review: homeward sound

Portland mariachi singer/songwriter's music shines in new, original arrangements for jazz band

by CHRISTINA RUSNAK

In an interview with Edna Vazquez on Beyond Category – the PJCE Podcast a few days before her February concert with Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble (PJCE), executive director Douglas Detrick asked the Portland singer-songwriter about Portland as a home, and her sense of home. You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out her answer, but Detrick followed up by confessing that whenever he attended her performance, it felt like home for him.

Edna Vazquez’s grandfather listened to the big band music of the 1940s and as a child, Vazquez loved its melodies and motion. Although her own music is rooted in mariachi, she finds that jazz is a parallel genre.

Edna Vazquez performed with Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble at Portland’s Old Church. Photo: Douglas Detrick.

Vazquez’s mariachi music felt right at home in new arrangements for jazz ensemble at her 2018 PDX Jazz festival performance at The Old Church with PJCE. The concert was repeated in Gresham and Hood River.

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By HEATHER WISNER

Adapting Ibsen’s dark drama Hedda Gabler for dance is an ambitious undertaking: that much is clear when you’re greeted by two pages of program notes explaining the plot as you settle in for the world premiere of NW Dance Project’s Hedda. It’s sort of a heavy lift for viewers, although once you’ve read through the lengthy synopsis, you have a pretty good idea of what’s happening onstage.

Good thing, because this particular play is driven less by outright action than buttoned-up, Victorian-era emotional turmoil. Company artistic director Sarah Slipper has managed to pull a compelling contemporary movement narrative from it, aided by composer Owen Belton, from whom the company commissioned a score, and set designer Luis Crespo. Belton’s moody score amps ups up the dread, and layers in the sounds telegraph specific settings and actions. Crespo’s set design for the main characters’ home, where most of the action takes place, is simple but effective: black beaded curtains to the left and right, suggesting entryways, and a piano at the center banked by several bouquets of flowers.

Andrea Parson as Hedda in NW Dance Project’s “Hedda” at the Newmark Theatre/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Why flowers? Because Hedda (Andrea Parson) and her husband, Tesman (William Couture) have recently returned from their honeymoon, during which he worked on his academic research and she, presumably, slouched around the hotel, bored witless. She is still bored when the curtain rises: We find her draped over the piano, practically oozing ennui—that is, until her maid, Berte (Katherine Disenhof), begins ushering in a series of guests.

There is Hedda’s old schoolmate, Thea (Lindsey McGill); Tesman’s old academic rival, Lövborg (Franco Nieto); and Judge Brack, a friend of the Tesman family. Each arrives with an agenda. Thea loves Lövborg, an alcoholic, and is trying to save him from himself; Lövborg, who has dried out, is trying to publish a promising new paper; and Tesman, who is sweet on Hedda, has come with the warning that Lövborg may land the professorship Tesman wants.

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Film picks: “Faces Places” and “The Death of Stalin”

Octogenarian Agnes Varda teams with young artist JR for a mobile art project while Armando Iannucci, the creator of "Veep," applies his satirical skills to Soviet Russia

Who doesn’t love Agnes Varda? Anybody who isn’t thoroughly charmed by the venerable, diminutive legend of French filmmaking probably isn’t worth knowing. If any 88-year-old can be said to be precocious, it’s her, and her latest (please, not her last!) effort, the Oscar-nominated “Faces Places,” is perhaps her most endearing and thought-provoking movie yet.

Some of the energy in “Faces Places” doubtlessly derives from Varda’s co-director, the visual artist known as JR. His signature project involves wheatpasting enormous photographs in public places, to incongruous effect. (He once made the Louvre pyramid seem to disappear.) In the latest iteration of this method, he and Varda drive around France in a van shaped like a camera and that serves as a giant photo booth: people climb in, get their picture taken, and a giant blow-up prints out from the side of the vehicle.

Agnes Varda, JR, and a goat in “Faces Places”/Courtesy NW Film Center

The title begins to make sense now, even if the rhyme is better in the original French: “Visages Villages.” In various hamlets, factories, and farms, ordinary folks are mythologized by having enormous images of themselves slapped onto the buildings they inhabit. Or used to inhabit–in one instance, a mural of long-dead miners transforms their onetime lodgings into a testament. In another, a giant goat head pays homage to the power of horns. Three woman married to workers at the port of Le Havre get their due by staring down at the dockyard from a stack of dozens of shipping containers.

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Dance review: Jesús Carmona’s reinvention of flamenco

The quick and charismatic Jesus Carmona has entangled ballet and flamenco to make something astonishing

By HEATHER WISNER

Pure happiness doesn’t seem to exist in flamenco; a hint of melancholy, a sense of world weariness, suffuses the music and the dance. But there is pure happiness to be found in watching flamenco, especially when it’s done very well.

Ballet Flamenco Jesús Carmona does flamenco very well. Following a weekend stint at New York’s Flamenco Festival, the Madrid-based company made its Portland debut with Ímpetus, a suite of dances that delivers substance with style.

Carmona—wiry, charismatic and impressively fleet of foot—has stretched himself beyond traditional flamenco: He is a former principal dancer with Ballet Nacional de España and has studied tap with American hoofer Jared Grimes. That artistic expansiveness comes through in the show’s technical and stylistic variety. Backed by live musicians and singer Jonatan Reyes, Ímpetus features six dancers (Carmona among them) performing in shifting configurations against a simple backdrop of criss-crossing black lines, dramatically lit by David Pérez. The opening piece, set to the music of Albéniz, is a prime example, with spotlights on soloists switching on and off suddenly, and dancers emerging and receding in starkly contrasting pools of light and shadow.

Jesus Carmona marries flamenco to ballet/Courtesy White Bird

Carmona’s ballet training is most obvious in a batterie-filled pas de deux for a man and a woman (batterie is the beating or crossing the feet or calves together during a leap) , and in the pirouettes that unspool throughout the show, although they differ from classical ballet as the performer, arms curved overhead, angles the upper body forward instead of keeping it upright and centered. Carmona, who choreographed the show, is especially adept at whipping off multiple turns, although this is a technically accomplished group all told.

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Tudor Choir review: wall of sound

Seattle ensemble’s concert of early English and contemporary American choral music offers intriguing programming but monochromatic performance

by BRUCE BROWNE and DARYL BROWNE

The Tudor Choir re-opened for business this month. On hiatus since 2015, the ensemble presented one concert in their hometown of Seattle and two more in the Portland Metro area, at St. Mary’s Cathedral and in Hillsboro’s St. Matthew’s Church. The latter is a wonderfully accessible venue with a reverberant acoustic, challenging but with potential for this concert’s Tudor period music in which melismatic lines and reiterated melodies are woven through cleanly defined harmonies – when the choir and director find a way to bring this to the fore.

To a degree, the performance undermined that perfection of detail by creating a uniform wall of sound that obfuscated inner phrasing, was mostly uni-dynamic throughout, and void of nuance. There were, however, many wonderful duets that provided sonic and textural relief from the unvarying full-voiced mass sections.

Seattle’s Tudor Choir performed in Hillsboro, Portland, and Seattle. Photo: Sarah Wolf / Catholic Sentinel.

These concerts presented the music of two composers from an England in ecclesiastic turmoil. The music of John Taverner and John Sheppard represented some of the earliest examples of English choral polyphony. With insightful programming, however, founding conductor Doug Fullington ventured to the opposite extreme and paired that duo with two contemporary American composers: Jeff Junkinsmith and Nico Muhly. The gap of four centuries was bridged by subject matter and a common tune.

The performance, however, never quite rose above the purely technical. The music was not allowed to bloom and breathe. Of the thirteen voices, all but one was featured as a soloist throughout the ten-work program. Each was sumptuous, well trained with near perfect intonation. The entire ensemble blended vowels; entrances and releases were as one.

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