‘Israel in Egypt’ review: full-blooded Handel

Oregon Repertory Singers, orchestra and soloists deliver a performance that matches the great baroque oratorio's epic scale

by BRUCE BROWNE

It’s a plague, it’s a pestilence, it’s a flood, a conflagration. Is it a Camus play, a new video game or first run science fiction flick? No, it’s the dramatic unfolding of the Old Testament of the Bible and the 290-year-old oratorio Israel in Egypt.

For George Frideric Handel, the late 1730s were a period of upheaval. He suffered and recovered from a neurological event while living in London on the up side of his forties and down side of his opera successes. But Handel dug in and evolved. He stepped back from Italian opera and, by the end of the decade, he was composing and mounting his new favorite musical genre, the oratorio, which is like opera without elaborate costumes, props, theatrical character interaction or secular subject matter. (If you’ve seen Handel’s later Messiah, you’ve seen an oratorio.) Israel in Egypt, one of his first enduring oratorios, was premiered in 1739.

Oregon Repertory Singers performed Handel’s ‘Israel in Egypt’ at Portland’s First United Methodist Church. Photo: Allison Silverberg.

In the Oregon Repertory Singers‘ performance at First United Methodist Church last weekend, music director Dr. Ethan Sperry presented Israel in Egypt, as it is most often, in the two-act version created by Handel after a less than enthusiastic response to his three-act premiere. Thankfully, Handel retained the exquisitely virtuosic single and double choruses and several lovely arias presented by director Sperry, choir, orchestra and soloists.

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Diversity dances: Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater

Oluyinka Akinjiola's troupe mixes a social justice message with choreography drawing on the joyous movement of the African diaspora

In what place in America could it be more necessary to express the black and brown perspective than right here in our organic-kale-kombucha-Subaru-loving, second-generation hippie town of Portland, also known as the city with the fifth highest percentage of white residents in America’s top 40 metropolitan areas?

When Oluyinka Akinjiola relocated back to Portland from Rochester, New York, the artistic director of Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater joined the 6.3% of Portland residents who identify as Black or African-American, according to the World Population Review. “At the time I did not see dance in Portland that reflected an experience I shared, or even people that looked like me on stage,” Akinjiola remarked in an email exchange. “My only option was to create a path for myself as a choreographer and performer.”

Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater performed this weekend at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center/Photo courtesy of Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater

And create her own path she did. After securing two platforms (Subashini Ganesan’s New Expressive Works Residency Program and Linda Austin’s Alembic Co-Production series) in Portland to present her vision of creating space for people of color within the arts community,
she created Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater—one of the city’s very few predominantly black contemporary dance companies. Diversity in the company has always been a priority Akinjiola emphasizes through casting and choreography. To her, being in a creative environment with other people of color is vital to raising the awareness of the general population.

Over the weekend the company presented new works by Akinjiola, Michael Galen, and Jamie Minkus at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center in a three-show run. The evening’s program, entitled UPRISE, featured work inspired by the despair that followed President Trump’s election, and, consequently the need for a collective uprising. The roots of UPRISE come from Freedom Is a Constant Struggle by American political activist and author Angela Davis, published in 2016. For Akinjiola, the book’s most important message was the need to bring diverse groups of people together: “That speaks to my soul being that my goal for Rejoice! is to remain a diverse company and represent the histories and perspectives of black and brown communities within the Americas.”

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Growing up, up, and away

With its fresh book and music, NW Children's Theater's "Peter Pan" flies into a happy place for young audiences and their grownups, too

This is probably not the first time you have heard of Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up. It might not be the first time you will see his tale on stage. In fact, it might not be the first Northwest Children’s Theatre production of it, since it’s somewhat of a flagship for the 25-year-old theater company.

In fact, this is the seventh time the company’s mounted Peter Pan over the years, including this same adaptation – a NWCT commission – in 2012 and its followup in 2013. The good news is that the children in your life have likely not seen as many productions of Peter Pan as you have, and the universal story’s magic and wonder will win them over. The other boon for the grownups in the audience is that even if you have seen another Peter Pan (or several), this one has plenty to offer.

Grace Malloy as Wendy and Peter Thompson as Peter Pan. Photo © David Kinder 2018

For starters, it’s a new adaptation – both book (Milo Mowery) and music (Rodolfo Ortega) – that you haven’t seen if you didn’t catch the 2013 production. The songs are catchy and performed well by all in this cast. And the script is terrific, ratcheting up the preposterousness of Captain Hook and his pirates so kids are still a little scared – but most of the squeals are from delight.

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Dance Week Diary, Part Five: Punjabi folk dance

To conclude her National Dance Week celebration, Heather Wisner takes Bhangra from DJ Anjali

Editor’s Note: With a last Punjabi folk dance class at Viscount Dance Studio, Heather Wisner completes her five-day, five-dance class sashay through Portland dance studios. We’re hoping her celebration of National Dance Week will inspire you to make it National Dance Year. Good dancing out there!

Part Five: Bhangra and Giddha at Viscount Dance Studio []
What is it? Punjabi folk dance
What makes it fun? Buoyancy
Who is it for? People who like group dances/clubbing/Indian pop music
Who is it not for? People with knee issues

Between the luck of the draw at BeMoved® and my 10-minute accidental warmup at Vitalidad, I’ve done more Indian dance than I expected this week: my only deliberate attempt is a Bhangra and Giddha class at Viscount Dance Studio. Up to this point, my Bhangra training has consisted of a barefoot bop at Arbor Lodge, where Jai Ho! host DJ Prashant taught the basics during last year’s Portland Parkways.

DJ Anjali teaches Punjabi folk dance forms at Viscount Dance Studio/Photo by Heather Wisner

So I have some catching up to do—and if you haven’t been to Viscount in the last five years, so do you, since the studio moved from its longtime Burnside location around the corner to Sandy. The new space isn’t huge, but there’s a good-sized dance floor bordered by a long wall of framed vintage album covers (Polka Party! looks promising).

Our teacher is Anjali Hursh, better known locally as DJ Anjali, who, with the Incredible Kid, has been deejaying Indian-themed dance parties for the last 18 years. She studied classical Indian dance herself, from her Kathak-trained mother and from Bharata Natyam instructor Jayanthi Raman; she learned Bhangra, as many people do, on the dance floor.

If you haven’t heard of Giddha, it’s sort of the female counterpart to Bhangra, which was traditionally done by men. This being a nontraditional setting, the male and female students in our class learn both. At the beginner level, at least, it’s not complicated, but it is aerobic: there’s near-constant hopping—on one foot, on two feet, in triplets—paired with shoulder-shrugging, face-framing, windshield-wipering arm movements.

The challenges come in when the music speeds up, the combination begins to integrate all the elements you’ve learned in the last hour and the class dances those elements in the round. DJ Anjali smiles beatifically throughout the class, and unlike the rest of us, never seems to break a sweat, despite the warm day and the close surroundings. This is a dance you could do just for the exercise, but the camaraderie and the music make it seem less like a workout and more like a social event.

*****

National Dance Week ends April 28, so there’s still time to officially celebrate by trying a new class, seeing a performance (check out Oregon ArtsWatch’s calendar of local dance concerts), going dancing with friends or even cutting your living-room rug with loved ones. As someone who grew up in a small town with one dance studio and very few performances, I’m gratified by the wealth of choices Portland offers to learn and explore.

This was a challenging week, physically and mentally. I’ve realized that I’ve been out of a studio for too long, defaulting to the gym to avoid rush-hour traffic and for other not-very-compelling reasons. But this was also a fun, soul-rejuvenating week, and I intend to keep celebrating dance unofficially once National Dance Week is over.

I left Viscount with a flyer for Tropitaal!, billed as “A Desi-Latino soundclash” remixing Bollywood tunes with reggaetón. It’ll be held June 9 at Goodfoot, so look for me there: I’ll be the one bouncing down an imaginary runway, grinning like an idiot, waving my jazz hands and swinging at serial killers.

 

‘Albert Herring’ review: keeping it fresh

Portland State University production overcomes the challenges posed by Benjamin Britten’s mid-20th century opera

by ANGELA ALLEN

British composer Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring is a challenging opera for both performers and audiences accustomed to the usual Romantic classics. Though funny, it proved a serious undertaking for the Portland State University Opera this week at Lincoln Performance Hall. Delivered in two acts and several scenes, with three changes of bright creative scenery and lighting, the opera proved an achievement for these students, most of them undergraduates—and it succeeded in overcoming many of those challenges.

Britten composed Albert Herring after World War II and it debuted in 1947, when he directed it at England’s Glyndebourne Festival. The comic chamber opera portrays an uptight Victorian English town, similar to Britten’s own Lowestoft in Sussex. Its stuffy, class-conscious “dignitaries” decide the only person fit to be crowned May “king” (the queen potentials are voted down for their various sins and indiscretions) is the virginal, naive and henpecked Albert Herring.

That star role is sung here by uber-talented tenor Christian Sanders, who worked with the PSU cast this spring. He is a resident artist at the Utah Opera and has sung major roles in such operas as La Boheme, Falstaff, Little Women, the Magic Flute, Gianni Schicchi and Jules Massenet’s Cendrillon. He sang the prince chaplain in the 2013 world premiere of Theodore Morrison’s Oscar at the Santa Fe Opera with renowned countertenor David Daniels. So he’s been around.

Christian Sanders stars in Portland State University’s production of ‘Albert Herring.’ Photo: Joe Cantrell.

Sanders’ maturity and versatility gave the opera, directed by stage veteran Brenda Nuckton, a professional texture. Early on, he played Albert as a tight-lipped insecure nerd toiling in his mother’s grocery store as hilariously he did the last act’s disheveled cad. He uses his 25-quid May Day prize to get thoroughly loaded, despite the town’s expectations of him as a goody-goody. He can still sing when drunk.

Sanders performed his transformative role with stage-savvy sparkle and athleticism, so onstage he convincingly overcame Albert’s awkwardness. The tenor approached the role as an outsider and misfit—and Britten creates these characters regularly—and he made Albert change and oddly–grow.

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Dance Week Diary, Part Four: Vogue femme

Daniel Girón takes his vogue class to lands beyond "Paris is Burning" and RuPaul

Editor’s note: We’ve reached Day Four of Heather Wisner’s five-day course through Portland dance classes in honor of National Dance Week, and, of course, that means Vogue Femme! Previously in the series, we’ve encountered Laura Haney’s BeMoved class, Latya Wilkins’ hip-hop class and Kody Jauron’s Broadway jazz class.

Part Four: Vogue Femme at Vitalidad Movement Arts Center
What is it? A crash course on the form’s history and fundamentals
What makes it fun? Feeling like a supermodel
Who is it for? Designed to uplift queer people of color, but all ages/races/body types welcome
Who is it not for? Introverts, anyone with joint or flexibility issues

As a first-timer to Vitalidad, I get a quick tour from front-desk staff, ending at the classroom (one of four in this spacious studio, located around the corner from Vega Dance Lab) where Vogue Femme will be held. During our warmup, the instructor plays Indian music and guides us through gentle stretches, which isn’t quite what I was expecting. Then he turns to face us. “OK,” he asks, “Does anyone have any questions about Bhangra or Bollywood?”

I run back to the front desk.

Daniel Girón leads the vogue class at Vitalidad Movement Arts Center/Photo by Heather Wisner

As it turns out, Vogue Femme has moved to another room; I dash in just in time for a set of intense quad stretching. After the warmup, instructor Daniel Girón gives us a voguing history lesson and lays down Vogue Femme’s five fundamentals: catwalk, hand performance, duck walk, Spin Dip and floor work. If your voguing knowledge is limited to Paris is Burning or RuPaul’s Drag Race, Girón recommends catching up with New York Vogue Nights:

Remember when I said that you don’t have to be young and pliable to dance? [Editor’s Note: That was in Part One: “You don’t have to be young and pliable.”] That doesn’t apply here: pliability is actually a huge advantage.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Erik Kaiel comes home

A Jefferson High grad returns home, BodyVox intersects with the Imani Winds, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre and so much more

Choreographer Erik Kaiel and his dance company Arch8, now based in the Netherlands, will be performing in his hometown of Portland for the first time since Kaiel graduated from Jefferson High School’s dance program in 1990.

After leaving Jeff, he spent a decade in New York City making dances in subway stations, sculpture gardens, empty swimming pools, city streets, and on stages, too. In 2003 he moved to the Netherlands where he is now the artistic director of Arch8 and Crosstown Den Haag, a choreographic fellow at Danslab, and a faculty member at the Artez Dance Academy in Arnhem. In 2010 he won both the Dutch national prize for choreographic talent and the No Ballet competition in Germany.

Presented by Boom Arts, Arch8 will dance an award-winning quartet, choreographed by Kaiel in 2012, called Tetris, a work specifically made for children inspired by the 1980s video game of the same name.

Erik Kaiel’s Tetris performed by his company Arch8. Photo courtesy of Arch8.

Tetris, the dance, uses everyday movement like walking, sitting, standing, traditional dance, complex partnering and acrobatics to mimic the game’s objective—to stack and fit different block configurations into an existing block structure to create a connected line of blocks across the screen. The dance aims to explore our connections with each other, with the larger world, how we build languages of intimacy and our private inner worlds. It’s meant for “the kids who can’t sit still, for the ones who like to climb the walls, and those who can imagine further than they can see,” it says in the dance’s description. If the description is the qualifier for who will enjoy the dance, then it’s a dance for pretty much for everyone, as far as I’m concerned.

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