Speed-dating at Fertile Ground

As the new-works festival gets ready for its tenth annual run, a horde of writers and performers check out the media (and vice versa)

And lo, on the third day of the New Year, a great clamor fell upon the multitude, and the dread Pealing of the Four Minutes rang out, and the people scurried from line to line, taking their spots in the sun, pitching their pitches, eager to be heard. And a mighty clatter and confusion arose, accompanied by press releases and business cards, and then the next wave burst, and the pieces shuffled yet again. And the creator of it all smiled, and said, “That’s good!”

It’s true. On January 3, in the upstairs lobby of Artists Repertory Theatre, producers, performers, directors, and writers of shows in Portland’s 10th annual Fertile Ground festival of new works met with members of the press, pressing them, as it were, with quick-hit details on their shows and why the media members should really, truly see and publicize them. Once again Fertile Ground director Nicole Lane was stage-managing this frenzy of what she calls “media speed-dating,” cracking the whip – or, more accurately, blowing a harmonica – to keep things moving swiftly along. What sometimes seemed like bedlam actually had a drill-sergeant efficiency: Line up in front of a press member sitting at a table. Take your turn. Make your pitch. You get four minutes. The mouth harp shrieks. You move on to another line, and someone takes your place.

The Fertile Ground speed-dating crowd. ArtsWatch’s contingent is tucked discreetly toward the back, hidden behind more dashing daters. Photo courtesy Fertile Ground

This year, ArtsWatch’s contingency in the hot seats consisted of me and Marty Hughley, our theater editor and chief theater columnist. We made a deal beforehand. Marty would get the lay of the land, find out what’s out there, use his brief talks to help strategize our coverage, including which full productions to review. I would do my best to simply report the evening as it occurred from my table. And Bobby Bermea, who wasn’t at date night (sensible man), would tackle the festival from the inside, talking about the stages of some of the shows, and talking with artists about the process of creation. 

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Iterations of vision: Amy Bernstein’s Between the Dog and the Wolf

Absorbing abstraction at Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Between the Dog and the Wolf, an exhibition of six large, colorful paintings by Amy Bernstein, reveals the artist’s attention to the infinite possibilities of color, form, and symbols—plus the keenness to engage this attention in novel ways. Bernstein is the seventh recipient of the Stumptown Artist Fellowship and her work is currently on exhibit at the downtown location of Stumptown Coffee Roasters (123 SW 3rd Ave).

Bernstein’s paintings don’t readily recall direct influences, but instead foreground her active mind and life as a writer, lover of poetry, and socially conscious painter. Each canvas appears as a strange new thing made strictly in and on her own terms—a notable trait in the 21st century given all the art that has preceded. The paintings seem complex because of their no-nonsense, other-logic abstraction, and then simple because of their all-fun-and-games presentation and delight. In Bernstein’s paintings, there aren’t familiar images, formulas or tropes—but there’s something known and easeful about them: something uncanny that recalls a dream or an encounter with a stranger.

Amy Bernstein, “Buoy” (2018). Oil on canvas. 64×54 inches

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DanceWatch Weekly: The spaces we move through

What's happening in Oregon dance now

Lately, I’ve become obsessed with castles: their architecture; their scale; their permanence; their connections to history; their construction; their inhabitants. Castles are lasting, tangible creations, unlike dance pieces, which are fleeting. But they share some commonalities.

I recently had a conversation with someone about how being a dancemaker is similar to being an architect. I explained that when constructing a dance, a choreographer considers the same things that an architect might: style, time, space, design, scale, etc. Like architects, dancemakers create work in collaboration with other skilled artists and craftspeople, using the materials at their disposal. Architects and choreographers experiment as they work, and their creations often reflect their surroundings and culture. (I’m even more aware of the dance-architecture relationship now that I’m studying Odissi, a classical Indian dance form partially derived from relief sculptures, found on temple walls, that depicted movement.)

Ultimately, architects and choreographers both create structures that organize bodies in space. This week’s dance events do that too, removing barriers and bridging divides in the process.

The Oregon Dance Education Organization, for example, is creating an infrastructure of sorts with its conference Building Bridges, Connecting the Field. Dance can be divisive and competitive, so the conference is a welcome attempt to unite its different factions under one roof. The conference, staged in partnership with Portland Community College’s Dance Department, features BrainDance creative movement founder Anne Green Gilbert as keynote speaker. She will guide participants through a five-part dance class focused on building community through relationships and emphasizing skill development, choreography, and reflection. Additional presenters will include Terra Lyn Anderson, Sherrie Barr, Sarah Ebert, Laura Haney, Amy Werner, Sara Parker, and Mary L. Seereiter. Building Bridges will be held Saturday, January 19, at the PCC Sylvania campus. For more information, see oregondeo.org.

DanceAbility in performance. Photo courtesy of DanceAbility.

Eugene’s DanceAbility International, a program that Alito Alessi and Karen Nelson created in the 1980s to connect people with and without disabilities through movement classes, events, and teacher trainings, is one of 10 international programs selected to participate in the 2019 Zero Project Impact Transfer Program in Austria. The Zero Project Impact Transfer Program, which promotes solutions to the problems that people with disabilities face, prepares organizations to develop their programs into business models for worldwide application. Connie Vandarakis, vice president of DanceAbility’s board of directors, issued a statement on what selection means for the organization: “This opportunity has helped us shift our organization from an arts initiative program to a social entrepreneur program. One cannot overestimate the potential of being selected for the Zero Project and the Impact Transfer Program. The impact will magnify the DanceAbility methodology all over the world.”

Northern California Ballet, which lost its dance studio and costumes in the Camp Fire in Paradise, California this fall, is rebuilding with help from Eugene Ballet. The two companies have had a longstanding relationship ever since 2001, when Eugene Ballet principal dancer Jennifer Martin began guest teaching and dancing for NCB; since then, many Eugene Ballet dancers have participated in NCB programs as instructors and guest artists. This year, Eugene Ballet director Toni Pimble packed up and sent her company’s Nutcracker sets and costumes to NCB, which will perform the ballet January 18-20 in Oroville, California.

A window onto the choreographic process opens during a low-key work-in-progress show from dance artists Joanna Furnans (Chicago), Hope Goldman (Seattle), Allie Hankins (Portland), and Linda Austin (Portland). The show is held 3-5pm Saturday, January 19 at Flock Dance Center. Donations are welcome at the door and no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

A still from the film “sweetgrass” by Portland artists Amy Leona Havin/The Holding Project and Tomas Alfredo Valladares.

How does dance translate to a one-dimensional format? You have two opportunities to find out: the nine international dance films that won awards at the 2018 Portland Dance Film Fest will screen January 19 at the Clinton Street Theater. And the Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow is back with La Bayadère on January 20. Presented by Fathom Events, La Bayadère, choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich to music by Leon Minkus, tells the tragic tale of temple dancer Nikiya and her doomed love affair with the warrior Solor.

Finally, two dance-centric productions created largely by female artists and artists of color continue this week. These productions embrace global culture, mark the intersection of art forms, explore universal themes, and feature both inspirational and aspirational qualities.

The first production is Indian Music Now, a collaboration among Bharatanatyam dancer Subashini Ganesan and composers Reena Esmail, Asha Srinivasan, Shirish Korde, and Nina Shekhar. Produced by Third Angle New Music, the show plays January 19 at The Vault, in Hillsboro. Indian Music Now reflects the contributors’ experiences growing up within Indian and American cultures. The show features a dance performance by Ganesan and musical performances by Louis DeMartino on clarinet, Branic Howard on electronics, and Sarah Tiedemann on flute.

Bradley Gibson as Simba in “The Lion King”. Photo by Deen van Meer.

The second production is the Broadway tour of The Lion King, running at Eugene’s Hult Center January 9-20. The musical, which premiered in New York in 1997, is Broadway’s third-longest-running show and its highest grossing. It has received 70 major awards, including a Tony for its Jamaican-born choreographer, Garth Fagan.

The musical, based on the Walt Disney animated film of the same name, tells the story of the young lion Simba, who is to succeed his father, Mufasa, as king. But Simba’s uncle, Scar, kills Mufasa and takes over as king: Simba is then manipulated into thinking he was responsible for his father’s murder and goes into hiding. When Simba grows up, he returns to challenge Scar and reclaim his birthright.

“We have the negative forces in our lives, but if you are good and strong, you overcome them to beauty, and harmony, and peace,” Fagan told UK radio host Alex Belfield in 2009 in a discussion of the show’s theme.

Adrienne Walker as Nala and the cast of “The Lion King.” Photo by Deen van Meer.

Fagan, whose Rochester, New York-based company Garth Fagan Dance has appeared in Portland through White Bird, created The Lion King choreography with a unique mix of Caribbean and African dance, modern, jazz, hip-hop, ballet, and stilt work. Fagan has said he intended to expand viewers’ consciousness and reflect the varied experiences of children who came to see the show.

Director Julie Taymor, the first woman to receive a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical, also co-designed the masks and puppets, wrote additional lyrics for the show, and designed its costumes, for which she received a second Tony. Elton John composed the music, which earned him an Oscar.

The production features elaborate sets that rise up from the floor; magnificent, heartfelt songs sung in six indigenous African languages; actors and dancers dressed in colorful, ornate animal costumes; puppets; and a luminous orange sun made of silk that shimmers as it rises over this theatrical African desert.

The Lion King is full of theater magic. I hope its universal message of hope, perseverance, and goodness will inspire you and renew your spirit as you move forward into the new year. Surround yourself with beauty and people who inspire you, and go see lots of art–and dance, of course.

Upcoming Performances

January 2019
January 24-February 3, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin Greenhouse
January 24-February 2, The Cutting Room, BodyVox
January 26, Nrityotsava 2019 , Indian Classical & Folk Dance Event, Hosted by Kalakendra
January 27, Oleaje Flamenco at Tablao Artichoke, Espacio Flamenco Portland
January 27, The Art of Seeing: The Masculine Dancing, The Tiny Theater PDX
January 31-February 2, Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art, presented by White Bird

February

February 5-19, Chinese New Year at Lan Su Chinese Garden
February 6, Ballet Outsider: Gender Politics and Power, a panel discussion hosted by Eugene Ballet Music Director Brian McWhorter
February 8-10, The Gift, PDX Dance Collective, choreography by April MacKay, Zahra Garrett, and Rachael Singer
February 9-10, Romeo and Juliet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
February 13, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, presented by White Bird
February 14, Fall In Love With Flamenco, Espacio Flamenco Portland
February 15-16, Two of a Kind: A Shared Evening of Dance, Beth Whelan and Trevor Wilde
February 16-23, Cinderella, Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 20, Beijing Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
February 21-24, Anicca/Impermanence, Minh Tran & Company
February 22-24, Alembic Resident Artists Performance, Performance Works NW
February 23, Left of Center, AWOL Dance Collective
February 24, Bharanatayam Margam by Mugdha Vichare and Mayurika Bhaskar, students of Sweta Ravisankar
February 28-March 2, Compagnie Hervé Koubi, presented by White Bird
February 28-March 2, Trip The Light Fantastic, NW Dance Project

March
March 1-3, The Odyssey, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
March 1-3, Materialize, PDX Contemporary Ballet
March 7-9, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, presented by White Bird
March 8-10, Interplay, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
March 9, Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company, Walters Cultural Arts Center
March 10, The Sleeping Beauty, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
March 14-17, Corteo, Cirque du Soleil
March 14-21, Ordinary Devotions, Linda Austin
March 16, A Midsummer Night at the Savoy, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater
March 29-31, New Expressive Works Residency Performance

April
April 5, Lecture Demonstration with Rosie Herrera and Company, Reed College
April 4-6, Parsons Dance, Presented by White Bird
April 4-13, The Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox
April 7, The Golden Age, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
April 9-10, Savion Glover, presented by White Bird
April 11-14, Director’s Choice, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 12-14, Shen Yun, Presented by the Oregon Falun Dafa Association
April 13-14, The Firebird, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
April 24, Philadanco, presented by White Bird
April 25-27, Encores, NW Dance Project

May
May 9-11, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox and NW Film Center
May 10-12, Shaun Keylock Company
May 10-12, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, Cleopatra (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
May 17-19, Undone, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 19, Carmen Suite / Petrushka, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
May 26, Derek Hough: Live! The Tour, Eugene

June
June 7-15, The Americans, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 7-9, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 13-15, Summer Performances, NW Dance Project

MusicWatch Weekly: hidden figures

This week's Oregon concerts include music unfairly consigned to the background

Best known as the premier exponent and explorer of the musical traditions of Byzantium and other early Christian music, Cappella Romana has recently branched out into other Orthodox Christian music descended from Byzantine origins, including Russian, Finnish, Ukrainian and more. You’re unlikely to hear any of this music performed anywhere else by anyone. Now the incomparable vocal ensemble shares its latest discovery: long lost Armenian Orthodox liturgical music.

In a concert directed by founding artistic director Alexander Lingas and Haig Utidjian, a British conductor of Armenian descent, they’ll sing traditional Armenian chants and later arrangements of them by 19th century Armenian choirmaster Makar Ekmalian and his student, Komitas Vardapet, regarded as the savior of Armenian music, who collected and transcribed thousands of works that would have otherwise been lost to history. It’s a chance to experience a lost world through music.
Thursday, Central Lutheran Church, 1857 Potter St., Eugene; Saturday, St. Mary’s Cathedral, NW 18th & Couch St, Portland; and Sunday, St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, 1112 SE 41st Ave, Portland.

Edgar Meyer, here shown at Chamber Music Northwest, performs with the Oregon Symphony. Photo: Jim Leisy.

Bassists usually lurk in the background onstage, but Edgar Meyer has turned his big acoustic bass into a lead instrument. One of the country’s most in-demand studio musicians, he’s scored a MacArthur “genius” grant, formed a popular ensemble with Yo Yo Ma and Bela Fleck named after his composition “Appalachia Waltz,” starred in bluegrass, classical, folk and country music recordings, and composed major orchestral works. Meyer joins the Oregon Symphony as soloist in his third double bass concerto, written in 2011, and he’ll be back this summer at Chamber Music Northwest. The concert also features an 1845 bass concerto by Italian composer Giovanni Bottesini, Aaron Copland’s ever-popular 1943 ballet score Appalachian Spring, and another tuneful, landmark 20th century work by the dean of African American composers: William Grant Still’s exhilarating 1930 Afro-American Symphony — a most welcome addition to an orchestral music scene still lacking demographic diversity.
Friday, Smith Hall, Willamette University, Salem, and Saturday Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, Portland.

Leslie Odom, Jr. performs with the Oregon Symphony.

On Sunday, the orchestra backs Grammy- and Tony Award-winning show tune singer Leslie Odom, Jr., who er, shot to fame in the role of Aaron Burr in Hamilton, and parlayed it and his considerable vocal talent into a successful side career singing jazz and Broadway hits.
Sunday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

More welcome diversity distinguishes Oregon Sinfonietta’s free Sunday concert: a work by a female composer. British composer Ethel Smyth’s breakthrough, four-movement 1890 Serenade silenced many skeptics who wondered whether women had what it takes to write for orchestra. She went on to excel in opera and choral composition before her career was sadly shortened by deafness. The concert includes music by  Mozart, Debussy and Smyth’s English contemporary, George Butterworth, whose career was truncated even more tragically and abruptly by a German sniper’s bullet in World War I at age 31.
Sunday, Sunnyside Seventh-day Adventist Church, 10501 SE Market St, Portland.

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Music Notes

New year brings new leadership to Oregon music institutions, and more recent news in Northwest classical and jazz music

Portland’s classical music scene is experiencing a leadership transformation. This season, Third Angle New Music selected Sarah Tiedemann as its artistic director, replacing Ron Blessinger, who had moved over to 45th Parallel Universe as interim artistic director of the now collectively run organization. Now two of the city’s biggest classical presenting organizations have announced upcoming new directors.

Marc-André Hamelin

Portland Piano International announced that one of today’s most esteemed performing classical pianists, Marc-André Hamelin, will curate the presenting organization’s 2019-2020 SOLO season. The Boston-based Canadian ultra-virtuoso is the first guest curator in PPI’s new, annual single-year guest curatorial system, instituted after artistic director Arnaldo Cohen ended his five-year tenure last year, leaving founding artistic director Harold Gray to step in and curate PPI’s current season.

Chamber Music Northwest announced that violinist Soovin Kim and pianist Gloria Chien will become joint artistic directors in fall 2020. They will succeed David Shifrin, the New York clarinetist who has led the organization since 1980 and who will curate the next two summer festivals before passing the baton to the husband and wife team, chosen from among 60 candidates. They’ve run chamber music series in Tennessee and Vermont, and Chien was a CMNW Protege artist in 2017.

Soon-to-be CMNW artistic directors Kim and Chien

Portland’s BRAVO Youth Orchestras named Cecille Elliott to the newly created position of Director of Creative Play, which has to be the coolest title on any music resume in memory. “Her primary responsibility is to find existing activities and develop new ones that are not usually seen as components of classical music education,” the press release says, “using body percussion, rhythmic chants, songwriting, singing, circle songs and games, as well as body movement.” She’s been with the admirable youth organization since 2015.

BREAK THE CAGE – Collective Composition at BRAVO from Seth Truby on Vimeo.

The Siletz Bay Music Festival named Karin M. Moss as the festival’s new executive director. She’s a 30-year veteran of music promotion and business development at organizations in California, New York, Chicago, North Carolina and beyond.

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The power to move people

Miles Davis, Linfield College’s new president, champions the arts as both a means to living well and to forging relationships, but warns of a dark side

A recent change in leadership at Linfield College is significant not only for the 160-year-old liberal arts institution, but also for the community at large. It is not hyperbole to say that the private college plays a major — even an essential — role in local cultural life beyond the resources it offers its 1,980 students.

McMinnville residents may check materials out of the Nicholson Library. Authors from around the region give readings that are free and open to the public. There’s an art gallery, and both the theater and music departments mount classy productions (plays are often accompanied by panel discussions) and concerts. Linfield music professor Anton Belov launched, on his own, an ambitious, opera-centric event last summer that drew musicians from all over the world. Meanwhile, Linfield faculty members publish work that reaches far beyond the campus, one recent example of which I wrote about here.

In July, Miles Davis became Linfield’s 20th president and the first African-American to fill the role. Davis, 59, comes from Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., where he headed the university’s Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business. Don’t let that “business” part throw you. In fact, you may want to tread lightly inquiring about that aspect of his life, if you’re implying an unbridgeable chasm gapes between professional (or vocational) education and liberal arts education. Davis says that’s a false dichotomy, and when I sat down with him recently to discuss arts and culture, he explained why. He also elaborated on the issue on LinkedIn, where he occasionally posts short essays.

Linfield College President Miles Davis says the best art “pulls you in. It transports you. It takes you to a different place.” Photo courtesy: Linfield College

Davis welcomed me into his spacious office and even before I was seated, he was firing off questions about my education, work history, and artistic interests. I mentioned that I’d done many shows at Gallery Players of Oregon, which he was familiar with because a couple of Linfield administrators also are long-time Gallery actors.

We launched into a lively conversation that went a full hour. The transcript below has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me about yourself. What’s your favorite art form?

Davis: My favorite — and some people will debate whether this is fine art or not — but I like photography. I love imagery, I love the visual display of things, I love taking something that is ordinary and capturing it. Even now, I love looking out this window, looking at the framing of that tree, and the moss on that tree. That is a perfectly framed photo for me. And the ability to play with light. I started in the prehistoric age where you had development paper. Now, what you can do with digital imagery is incredible, but I like unfiltered stuff.

Where did that interest come from?

I was a photography student, even back in middle school. I was finally able to purchase my dream camera about 15 years ago, a Nikon. I like action photography, I like travel photography. I don’t do still or portraits except for imagery. It’ll be an image that will capture me. I actually won a Kodak photography award. I hate posed things, but I happened to be at a rally where Joe Biden was speaking, and he had his granddaughter with him, and I had my camera. He had leaned over in what I believe was an unscripted moment, and put his arm his granddaughter, and just the look of love and adoration on his face for her, I captured it. Kodak was having a photo competition, and I submitted it, and I won.

It was a true Kodak moment!

It was! And that’s what they wanted. They didn’t want posed, they wanted unscripted moments. That must have been 2007.

I’ve read that you were raised in Philadelphia, and that your parents made sure that you had a lot of exposure to the arts. Tell me about that.

It’s really interesting, for a poor inner-city black kid to be taken to art museums. Philadelphia has one of the great art museums, quite frankly what I think is one of the greatest art museums in the world. To be exposed to that. They exposed me to opera. This is the time of Motown sound, so you heard that stuff, but my parents wanted to make sure I was exposed to far more. So I got a chance to see ballets and symphonies, because they wanted me to have a vision of myself that was bigger than the world in which I found myself.

All of that has come to bear later in my life. I went horseback riding, I played tennis, I was on the fencing team! They exposed me to a world that was greater and bigger. They didn’t have money.

I had a chance to spend time in Cuba. I was in Havana in January 2012 studying the transition, as Raúl Castro came in and was looking at the expansion of entrepreneurship and their equivalent of deregulation of their economy. I talked to people, and I speak Spanish, so I asked them about these changes. They said there are three things that government should always do, that the government should provide support for: One is health care, the second is education, and the third is the arts. I think about that, because I went to the Philadelphia art museum for free.

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Is Portland the newest dance destination?

Recent transplants tell us why they moved to Portland to choreograph and perform  

By BETH WHELAN

The other day, I stumbled across the Oregonian article  “13 reasons to leave Portland and go back to where you came from.” Quick flashback to 14 months ago: Me, squeezing everything I owned into my car and trekking across the country to Portland, where my only local connection was a rented Craigslist room. In 2017, Oregon was rated the second most popular state for relocation, and Portlanders have been experiencing the effects of that migration for the past decade, including skyrocketing real-estate costs and traffic congestion. As one of the transplants, I hear you, Portland! There are drawbacks to everyone realizing what a gem this city is and abruptly moving here.

But there are benefits, too, including the growth of Portland’s dance community. I moved here because I felt I could have it all: a full life within and outside of dance in a right-sized city surrounded by natural beauty. Once I arrived, I was surprised to find so many recent transplants like myself; people with a passion to leave their creative mark on the place. Why pursue a dance career in Portland, though? I asked some of these new artists what brought them here, the differences they’ve found between Portland and the dance communities in their cities of origin, and what their experiences have been like. Here’s what they told me.

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