52 pickup: reshuffling the 2014 deck

ArtsWatch looks back on the year that was: 52 arts stories for 52 weeks

What: we’re at the end of this thing already? It’s been a spine-tingling, head-scratching year, this 2014. During it we learned, by way of a $142 million Francis Bacon triptych that parked for a few weeks at the Portland Art Museum after its private purchase at auction, that Oregon is a tax haven for collectors of expensive art, a cozy Cayman Islands for ducking those pesky tariffs.

It’s also been the year that:

– Portland Opera decided to reinvent itself as a summer festival;

– Oregon Ballet Theatre star Alison Roper and Portland Art Museum chief curator Bruce Guenther retired;

– and a U.S. senator from Oklahoma, quite possibly as high as an elephant’s eye, railed against a government grant to Oregon Children’s Theatre for a musical about zombies.

Here at ArtsWatch World Headquarters we’ve been going over our dispatches from the past 12 months, looking for those pieces that give a sense of where we’ve been, where we’re going, and how many intriguing little side trips we took along the way. In another shuffle of the deck we could have picked a totally different house of cards. But this is the deck we chose. Gentle readers, here you have ’em – 52 stories for 52 weeks. May 2014 rest happily in our memories, and 2015 break out of the gate with a robust sense of boldness and adventure.

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Chase Hamilton in “Friends.” Photo: David Krebs

Chase Hamilton in “Friends” helps kick off the dance year. Photo: David Krebs

 

JANUARY

13: A roaring kickoff to the Second Dance Season. “[Tracey] Durbin and [Janet] McIntyre’s Ebb & Flow was the heavyweight of the evening, danced by a fine ensemble … and marrying dance and film fluidly, with each supporting the other: at one point the dancers sit down onstage, backs to the audience, and watch the film, too, absorbed in images of themselves underwater, sinking and swimming.” Bob Hicks reports that Eowyn Emerald’s show of works by eight choreographers got the year’s dance card off to a rousing start.

19: Portland Piano interview: Vladimir Feltsman. “I survived because I knew that finally I would be let out of there, and I had to be ready. I worked very hard for eight years; it was a blessing in disguise because I had plenty of time to learn new music, to read books, to develop. Those eight years were an important though difficult time, and I would not trade them for anything.” Jana Hanchett listens to the virtuoso Russian-émigré pianist talk about his long wait to leave the old U.S.S.R. and what it’s meant to his life and career.

26: To Mom, who isn’t here: Why Fertile Ground matters. “(T)he two most important things in my life happened at almost the same time: my mother died, leaving me with a cavernous empty space in my life; and Trisha Pancio Mead took me out to a downtown dive bar for whiskey sours with a group of theater people and said, ‘Guys, lets start a new play festival. And let’s make it open to everybody.’ This is why it matters that the Fertile Ground Festival is uncurated. Because the city was full of people like me who had stories to tell and the drive to create work, and we just needed someone to open a door.” As the city rushes toward a new Fertile Ground new-works festival in January (and you could look up A.L. Adams’ splendid coverage for ArtsWatch of 2014’s), playwright Claire Willett explains what’s important about it in the first place.

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Nicholas Galanin’s “Things are Looking Native, Native’s Look Whiter,” in the exhibit "This Is Not a Silent Movie," combines an Edward S. Curtis image and a photo of Princess Leia.

Nicholas Galanin’s “Things Are Looking Native, Natives Look Whiter,” in the exhibit “This Is Not a Silent Movie,” combines an Edward S. Curtis image and a photo of Princess Leia.

 

FEBRUARY

6: Four Alaska Native artists speak in ‘This Is Not a Silent Movie.’ “We could start with those curious Gold Idiot Strings that dangle in the sunlight in a bright corner of the Museum of Contemporary Craft. That’s going to take some explaining. I also want to talk about the walrus stomach and ivory in Susie Silook’s What Does It Take to See My Heart, but that’s a sad story, too, that winsome sculpture and how it came about.” Barry Johnson discusses the attractions and distinctions of an exhibition that captures the contradictions and realities of contemporary native life.

17: Venice in the balance: 300 years of art & music. The Portland Art Museum’s sprawling exhibit Venice: The Golden Age of Art and Music, Bob Hicks writes, “offers a glimpse into the aspirations and achievements of the thousand-year Venetian Republic during its final three centuries, until 1797, when Napoleon came knocking forcibly and the doges decided to surrender quietly rather than embroil their city-state in a probably unwinnable war. Most of the 120-odd works on display are modestly sized, essentially domestic in scale, and they tend to speak quietly, in the struck and plucked unamplified reverberations of the Baroque temperament. … Nothing’s in a rush. The secret is to take some time with them, so you can enter into the leisurely and richly burnished patterns of their world.”

19: Spinning Spaight’s tales in Eugene. “You could have heard a program flutter to the floor, the audience was so absorbed.” Martha Ullman West travels south to experience Eugene Ballet’s revival of the late Dennis Spaight’s blissful Scheherazade and premiere of Toni Pimble’s Bolero: “In this ballet, Spaight, who was dying and knew it, packed much of his autobiography as a dancer. It has the dramatic punch and stylistic eclecticism of Maurice Béjart, in whose Ballet of the 20th Century Spaight performed when he was young.”

24: Sam Dinkowitz explains ‘Spectravagasm.’ “Spectravagasm is—as it warns—raunchy and irreverent, but it can also be absurd, daffy, sweet, and even occasionally profound. It tends to make its audience laugh without trying—and, bonus, it’s more fun to say than “Supercalifragilisticexpealedocious.” A.L. Adams chats with the entrepreneur behind the phenomenon, an actor and Penn State MFA dropout with a seriously funny case of what-the-hell.

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Ralph Pugay, "Baby Coughing Politely," from the Portland2014 biennial. Photo: Disjecta

Ralph Pugay, “Baby Coughing Politely,” from the Portland2014 biennial. Photo: Disjecta

MARCH

1: Kenji Bunch: If They Care, Shouldn’t We Listen? The artistic director of fEarNoMusic hears classical musicians putting down enthusiastic amateurs such as Olympics ice dancer Charlie White, who took his love for the violin to network TV. In a piece originally run on violinist.com, he begs to differ: “(T)he young man just won a GOLD medal at the Olympics, and if he wants to use his moment in the sun to demonstrate something else in his life that he’s proud of, then hey — good for him.” Bunch adds: “What exactly are we afraid of? Is it that if we listen honestly and with open minds to hip-hop, hardcore, salsa, top-40, or the musics of other cultures, we’ll love Beethoven any less? He’s a big guy who has endured a lot over the years, and I think he can also withstand this.”

4: Grimm tidings: monsters in the house. “A flash mob magically appeared at the house across the street. I was working at my dining table, and one minute the street was empty, the next it was full of about 30 people. Like a stealth brigade. And that’s when it hit me. Filming on our street meant it was happening at the house with the spectacular historic weeping cherry tree, the house that’s perfectly framed by my picture windows. I would have a front-row seat. Pass the popcorn.” Laura Grimes writes about what happens when the made-in-Portland TV hit Grimm takes over the neighborhood.

11: Big Lear, little Lear: when size matters. Marty Hughley writes about a rare two-fer of Lears in town at the same time: “For a set of plays all written by the same person (let’s just go with Stratfordian orthodoxy; it’s easier), Shakespeare’s works sometimes can seem like they’ve come from different planets, so divergent are the possible production approaches. What sets these two shows apart isn’t just directorial choice. The most striking differences in the theatergoer’s experience relate to the spaces they’re in” – the tiny Shoebox Theater for Northwest Classical’s production, and Hillsboro’s gracious Venetian Theatre for Bag&Baggage’s.

24: Disjecta’s third go at a biennial, Portland2014. Not all that new is not all that bad, Patrick Collier declares about this year’s biennial: “Most of the names are very familiar in the visual art community. Although some may level the criticism of ‘same-ol’ same-ol’ ‘ or even suggest a degree of cliquish nepotism, outside eyes made the selection this year. In fact (Los Angeles curator Amanda) Hunt’s selections may force critics of the biennial to consider the possibility that these artists might fit into another, larger context, one neither regional nor the product of a personality cult.”

24: Portland Youth Philharmonic at 90: Celebrating with Shostakovich. “There’s no professional orchestra that can give the energy that a youth orchestra can give in its four or five performances a year,” Jana Hanchett quoted music director David Hattner in her review of a concert by the venerable yet eternally youthful orchestra, “because the professionals have to give at least a hundred concerts and by necessity can’t have that same sense of discovery and extra energy. For PYP, every piece is a world premiere.” Then she added: “That sense of discovery energized the orchestra’s ambitious winter program.”

26: Portland Opera’s ‘Postcard from Morocco’: Do we need more of less? Brett Campbell, writing about an intimate production in the 870-seat Newmark Theatre, anticipated the opera’s announcement later in the year that it would move half of its shows to the more audience- (and opera-) friendly Newmark: “Could staging fewer Keller warhorses in favor of more Newmark novelties simultaneously reduce the company’s financial risks … and help it attract more diverse audiences? Even if they lost some of the Bohème-aholics, how much longer can the company survive by constantly repeating the same old greatest hits in the unappealing, expensive Keller? And more to the point: why would it want to? Granted, the Newmark’s smaller capacity would require more performances to sell the same number of seats, but presumably it costs less to engage the resident artists (who have been one of the company’s real successes during this recent recession-wracked stretch), fewer musicians, and sparer sets and props. Maybe the lower expenses would even allow the company to charge lower ticket prices — the single best way to boost audiences.”

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Susannah Mars, Michael Mendelson, Linda Alper in "The Quality of Life." Photo: Owen Carey

Susannah Mars, Michael Mendelson, Linda Alper in “The Quality of Life.” Photo: Owen Carey

 

APRIL

8: On the forced closing of Place Gallery. When Gabe Flores’ gallery was kicked out of Pioneer Place Mall, supposedly for offensive content, the charges and countercharges flew across a landscape of outwardly placid official statements. It all got Patrick Collier wondering, and asking questions, and ending with a plea: “Convince us that this whole thing doesn’t smell funny.”

18: No hallucination: It’s a high ‘Life.’ Marty Hughley writes: “When Jeannette offers a hit of pot, her straitlaced cousin Dinah doesn’t know what to expect. ‘Will I hallucinate?,’ she asks innocently. ‘It’s a gentle, inquisitive experience,’ Neil, Jeannette’s husband, reassures her. The same can be said for The Quality of Life, a thoughtful, funny play by Jane Anderson that approaches questions both contemporary and timeless, and, in a perfectly balanced production at Artists Rep, counts as yet another high point in a Portland theater season that’s already had more than its usual share.”

20: Dancing inside and out of the lines. “There are no libertarians in the world of matter and physics,” Bob Hicks writes upon seeing Eric Skinner’s invigorating dance Within the Lines. “… We live in a universe of restraints, continually pushing and pulling us, channeling us, limiting and occasionally emancipating us, defining what sort of movement through time and space is possible. Dance, at least in one sense, is a testing of those limits. How high can we jump? How much can we bend? How far can we lean without falling over? What happens when our bodies meet other bodies, also in flight? How fast can we go until there’s no more speed?”

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Alison Roper: one more round of applause. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert/2014

Alison Roper: one more round of applause. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert/2014

 

MAY

1: Past, present, future: Alison Roper and OBT. “Extending her long, long legs like the rays of the sun in Apollo, dropping a disembodied hand into a piano in The Concert, wringing our hearts with every ripple of Odette’s arms as she returns to swanhood in Swan Lake: these moments and many others flash through my mind as I think about Alison Roper’s long career with Oregon Ballet Theatre,” Martha Ullman West wrote in reviewing Roper’s final concert before retiring. “For nearly two decades, Portland audiences have seen these qualities in Roper’s performances: joy in the dancing, commitment to the music, or the movement, or the character, or the story.”

10: My month in ‘Clubland’: Inside A/A’s pilot season. How did things go when ArtsWatch’s A.L. Adams got the acting bug? Allow her to do the setup: “I’m the roommate. I’m polyamorous and excited about everything. I play a lot of musical instruments, I want the main characters to be happy, and at any given time I may be stoned. These ideas, in lieu of lines, informed my character in Clubland, the live, semi-improvised ‘pilot episode’ that I recently acted in at Action/Adventure Theatre. ‘Um, what?’ you may say. Don’t worry; I’ll explain all.”

23: The new CEO hire at the symphony might keep the Cutters at bay. When the Oregon Symphony hired Scott Showalter from the Los Angeles Philharmonic to be its new president and CEO, Barry Johnson declared it a victory for flexibility as opposed to the board-forced budget slashings that have swept orchestra, opera and ballet companies across the land: “A better way to think of this hire, though, is in the context of the battle going on at nearly every symphony in the country, the battle between Cutters and Re-inventors. At the Oregon Symphony, Showalter represents a victory for the Re-inventors, one that I wouldn’t have predicted last fall when it looked as though the Cutters on the board had the upper hand.”

28: Janice Scroggins: rest in peace. “Whenever you saw her name on a musical bill, it was almost a guarantee that something enlightening and real was going to happen,” Bob Hicks wrote upon learning of the great Portland blues and jazz pianist’s untimely death at age 58. “Janice played all over town, and out of town, in churches and outdoor festivals and clubs and theater halls. She was a fixture, and sometimes fixtures are taken for granted, but anyone who took her music-making for granted was missing the boat. Her playing was smart, and historically informed (she was nominated for a Grammy for her 1987 album Janice Scroggins Plays Scott Joplin), and passionate, and clean. She understood rhythm from the inside out, and she excelled by putting the music first.”

28: A poignant ‘Private Lives.’ “Despite the period setting, the story feels so modern, I can imagine a staging conducted entirely in text messages,” Brett Campbell writes about Bag&Baggage’s unexpectedly poignant production of Noel Coward’s supposedly light comedy. “I can also imagine one that plays up the withering Coward wit and its unlikable protagonists’ sarcasm. But instead, director Scott Palmer unflinchingly looks beyond the cynical humor and into the very dark and real flaws that real people in real relationships harbor, and which ultimately keep couples that we imagine would be perfect for each other apart. It’s a Private Lives for the post-Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf generations.”

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Jayne Tahni (left), Maureen Porter in "The Beauty Queen of Leenane." Photo: Owen Carey

Jayne Tahni (left), Maureen Porter in “The Beauty Queen of Leenane.” Photo: Owen Carey

JUNE

6: Bedraggled, grubby, and beautiful. Marty Hughley describes Maureen Porter’s performance in Third Rail’s tip-top production of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane: “(T)he chief reason (among several) to put this show on your must-see list is the marvelously calibrated, multifaceted performance from Porter, a longtime company stalwart. She delivers some choice moments, such as flailing awkwardly from the shock of Pato’s first kiss, or talking brazenly of sex to dismay her mother. But what’s really so affecting is the precise yet low-key way she moves among the character’s mercurial moods and manners — now caustic, now fragile, now sanguine, now frightfully cold — always with the subtlest hints of submerged memory and emotion.”

17: BeatsLyricsLeaders: Beating a new path to success. “‘All my family has passed away because of drugs and alcohol, but with my music I am staying on a positive road,’ says Henry Rondeau, a 17-year old member of the Klamath Tribes. “My goal is to use my drum and my voice to bring the tribes together. BeatsLyricsLeaders gives us Native youth the opportunity to get out, to try new things, and to bring these skills back to our community to show everyone else.” Jana Hanchett writes about an innovative Portland musical program.

25: Puppet film ‘Lessons Learned’ – what now? “This was our first glimpse of the first movie from Toby Froud, the son of Brian and Wendy Froud, co-creators of the cult puppet classic The Dark Crystal. Already long-famous for his infant role beside David Bowie in another of his parents’ projects, Jim Henson’s The Labyrinth, Toby now lives in Hillsboro, sculpting for LAIKA’s BoxTrolls. But last year, Heather Henson—Jim Henson’s daughter—approached him with a question: Would he like to make his own puppet movie? “I said ‘yes!’” quipped Froud at a post-film talkback, “then realized I’d said ‘yes…’” It’s a short work, A.L. Adams reports, just five puppets and 15 minutes – but it’s a pretty cool 15 minutes.

28: Chamber Music NW review: Pièces de Résistance. Jeff Winslow gives some mighty context to his review of an all-Debussy program: “A hundred years ago today, a shot heard around the world killed the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and within weeks Europe plunged into World War I. Long-simmering resentments and rivalries erupted all over the continent, and its greatest ever flowering of artistic optimism withered and collapsed. The leading French figure of that flowering, and the first musical modernist, Claude Debussy, who had wrestled with the rampant Wagnerian esthetic of his day, and won, found in himself a streak of fervent patriotism. … At first he could not compose, but in the summer of 1915, Debussy was seized with a sudden determination to make a contribution only he could make. In short order this most painstaking of artists nearly doubled his catalog of mature piano music and wrote two chamber sonatas. A third was written over the next two years as he struggled against the cancer that would ultimately kill him. On each, the title page was emblazoned, ‘Claude Debussy, musicien français.’ ”

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Mattew Kerrigan as Caliban, Linda Alper as Prospera in "The Tempest." Photo: David Kinder

Matthew Kerrigan as Caliban, Linda Alper as Prospera in “The Tempest.” Photo: David Kinder

 

JULY

1: Centuries of art of a French garden. “(T)he sleeper hit of Tuileries is this historical timeline via photographs. Photography was invented in Paris in 1837, so it is fitting that some of the earliest images ever created document the splendor of the royal gardens. As a city of multi-layered aesthetic history, Paris built upon its artistic past; the new camera technology justified itself by capturing the city’s past glories.” Graham W. Bell reviews the Portland Art Museum’s expansive artistic tribute to the Tuileries Gardens and finds the photographers, well, shooting to the top of the heap.

14: The Bard’s great American play. “(I)n addition to its undeniable place as a masterwork of the English dramatic literary canon, The Tempest has long struck me as a peculiarly American sort of work, the Shakespearean play that most clearly draws from early seventeenth century European acknowledgment and limited understanding of the so-called ‘new world.’ ” Bob Hicks finds a Yankee spin on Portland Shakespeare Festival’s highly satisfying production.

27: Chamber Music NW review: seeking new listeners in new places. “A vibrant chatter fills the air at Jimmy Mak’s, Portland’s premier jazz venue. People are happily eating and drinking, gaily greeting friends from across the room, holding eagerly anticipatory conversations of the evening’s imminent music. Is this the night of a Mel Brown Quintet or Bureau of Standards Big Band show? No! Surprisingly, it’s the opening night of Chamber Music Northwest’s Club Concert series.” Oregon Symphony violist and smart music blogger Charles Noble writes for ArtsWatch about CMNW’s effort to “break down the barriers between performers and audience.”

29: JAW new works fest: a play-by-play. Portland Center Stage’s summer festival of works-in-progress famously frowns on the expression of opinions, arguing that it’s too early in the plays’ process for that sort of thing. So A.L. Adams, who took in 10 works, used her horse sense: “(L)et’s not call this a review; let’s call it a ‘re-cap’—of plays still in progress, still in flux. And let’s not call the ideas expressed here ‘opinions,’ but rather ‘a sense.’ ArtsWatch spent all weekend at JAW, catching the four featured plays and the six shorts by Promising Playwrights, and came away with ‘a sense’ of each show. How could we do otherwise?”

30: With female Hamlet, these 10 lines change meaning. A.L. Adams observes Anon It Moves’ leading-lady version of the Danish play – “Erica Turpening-Romeo (hey, I have an idea for her next role, huh huh) plays an intensely human Hamlet, with all of the dash, wit, and angst the role demands, irrespective of her gender” – and realizes that a few passages take on whole new meanings.

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Dan Donohue and RJ Foster battle for the crown in RICHARD III at Oregon Shakespeare Festival/Jenny Graham

Dan Donohue and RJ Foster battle for the crown in “Richard III” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival/Jenny Graham

 

AUGUST

7: At ‘Three Sisters’ we laughed, we learned. Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble and translator/director Stepan Simek served a cocktail of Chekhov with a rare twist, Barry Johnson reports: “(T)he wonderful first act of this production might do for you what it did for me: Turn my thinking about The Three Sisters upside down in the most unexpected, telling, clever, and hilarious ways.”

21: Dan Donohue is a sublime Richard III at OSF. Hailey Bachrach digs deep into the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s production and finds in its star an ideal match of performer and role: “He strikes all of the contrasts that make Richard so endlessly compelling and so unlike any version that had come before: the hilarious charm with which he courts the audience from his first moment and the blithe, remorseless recourse to murdering his own family; the fantastic confidence and profound self-loathing.”

29: William Byrd Festival review: To the Next Generation. Forget weird. For the seventeenth year in a row, this unlikely event – a scholarly and musical tribute to a 16th century English composer – kept Portland fascinating. Bruce Browne wraps things up: “It is a special treat to hear genius at work.”

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Young Boxtrolls hero “Eggs” leads the unwashed masses out of oppression. No, seriously.

Young Boxtrolls hero “Eggs” leads the unwashed masses out of oppression. No, seriously.

 

SEPTEMBER

8: Remember this: the price of drones. “The planes in Sabina Haque’s drawings are rendered crudely, as if in a kid’s scrawl, and they look like bombers but also a little like crosses, or even swastikas: looking at them, I’m riveted, but my mind also wanders, making little connections with wayward yet pertinent thoughts. The drawings stand in for drones – pilotless robot planes, modern soldiers in the technology of war, outlines filled in with blood-red. Now and again the video I’m watching marks, in red-splattered letters, some of the people at the wrong end of the drone strikes: “CHILDREN IN SCHOOL.” “A GRANDMOTHER IN HER GARDEN.” “A WEDDING PARTY.” Bob Hicks talks with the Portland artist and Pakistan native about her compelling performance and film Remembrance, in which the steady drum of drone warfare over her native country rains death on victim after victim.

16: ‘Tick, Tick … Boom!’ is the bomb. Jonathan Larson will forever be known as the creator of Rent. But this earlier musical, and Triangle’s production of it, have their own charms, A.L. Adams writes: “Its simplicity, sparseness, and self-referential humor help it transcend one time or place—with the notable but forgivable exception of the song 30/90, which makes direct reference to the year 1990. Otherwise, it must be as fresh now as ever.”

19: Eisa Jocson dances beyond exotic. A.L. Adams was on the scene at PICA’s annual TBA festival for Jocson’s technique-baring solo Death of a Pole Dancer: “She rotated in a circle so all sides could take in her lithe body and tortured expression. She was at least trembling, possibly sobbing as she slipped down the pole, catching herself with her hands and finally collapsing face-down as a bright light swept in diagonally to cast her image as a shadowy, high-contrast noir comic-book graphic.”

26: Viva la animation: ‘The Boxtrolls’ gets political. As Hillsboro’s LAIKA animation studio released its third feature (following Coraline and ParaNorman), A.L. Adams traces the studio’s history and discovers a scrappy social awareness: “The boxtrolls are a literal underclass, speaking broken English, living underground, and eking out a makeshift existence with leftovers they scavenge from their city’s trash.”

29: Piano, playing a discordant tune. Portland Playhouse’s The Piano Lesson is just the latest in the city’s bonanza of shows by the late, great August Wilson, Bob Hicks writes: “How do African Americans (or anyone, for that matter) move forward without also holding onto their past? Without their shared culture, how can they know who they are? Of what use is the past? If we don’t use it, what have we lost? What tradeoffs are necessary or inevitable to move ahead? In The Piano Lesson, the answers blow through the house like a stalking ghost. And the wonder is, it provides a rollicking good time.”

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The painting's on the wall: Rone’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorns." Photo: Patrick Collier

The painting’s on the wall: Rone’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorns.” Photo: Patrick Collier

 

OCTOBER

14: OBT25: a gala, a reunion, a celebration of ballet. The past met the future as Oregon Ballet Theatre celebrated its 25th anniversary, and Martha Ullman West says both gained from the experience: “Wearing his opening-night purple tie for his pre-curtain speech delivered from the floor of the orchestra, artistic director Kevin Irving dedicated the performance to three OBT artists who are no longer on the planet: Dennis Spaight, the company’s first resident choreographer and associate artistic director; Mark Goldweber, who as ballet master was instrumental in instilling the company’s strong work ethic; and Michael Rios, an impeccable and mischievous classical dancer.”

15: I want my wall back! “That was the day a mural broke my heart.” Patrick Collier laments the loss of an excitingly blank wall – “every evening as the sun reaches a certain point, the windows on the north side of Washington reflect light back onto that wall” – to a busy painting by an Australian muralist.

18: Orchestra Next and Eugene Ballet: Creating the total dance experience. Music and dance go together like, well, music and dance. But hiring a professional orchestra can be a stretch for regional ballet companies. In Eugene, Gary Ferrington writes, two vital companies are making it work. “The opportunity to have the full artistic experience of the ballet with live music is the ultimate performance for any ballet company,” the ballet’s Toni Pimble declares.

25: In ‘The Word Hand’ dance leaves its mark. You’ve heard of performance art. Dancer Linda Austin and artists Pat Boas and Linda Hutchins made it literal in this piece, the artists drawing on the walls while Austin performed. “What is most satisfying about this performance for me is that it takes dance out of the ephemeral and makes it concrete. Dance normally exists in the moment and then it’s gone,” Jamuna Chiarini wrote. “But creating paintings from movement puts it in the here and now, and we have a sort of record of it forever.”

30: Cooking up a French feast for the ears. “Once at the Paris Conservatoire when a professor was late, a young Claude Debussy filled the time by sitting down at the piano in front of class and improvising all manner of colorful music including a generous helping of ‘forbidden’ sounds. His fellow students were afraid of what would happen when the professor walked in, but Debussy was unperturbed. With the proverbial French appreciation for pleasures both culinary and musical, he called it ‘a feast for the ear.’ ” Jeff Winslow reviews a “multi-course all-French feast” of a concert by the chamber group The Ensemble.

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Portland drag clown Carla Rossi (aka Anthony Hudson) has some serious issues to discuss.

Portland drag clown Carla Rossi (aka Anthony Hudson) has some serious issues to discuss.

 

NOVEMBER

6: ‘The Late Now’: Portland’s avant-variety-talk-show. “Freestyle rap and cookie frosting, clown drag and criminal piano. All this and more charge into the latest episode of The Late Now, ‘the thinking mammal’s avant-variety-talk-show.’ ” Claire Sykes unravels the insides of Leo Daedalus’s “experiment in controlled anarchism.”

18: ‘As You Like It’: Post5’s home at last. The rambunctious Post5 settles into its new permanent home in Sellwood, and Bob Hicks is on hand for opening night of its first show there: “Post5 approaches Shakespeare with a reckless verve, putting the pedal to the metal and emphasizing the nowness of the thing rather than its antiquity. [Director Ty] Boice’s As You Like It is built for speed, made for audiences who come not to worship Shakespeare but to enjoy him.”

18: 11 questions: Anthony Hudson talks about the end of the world. Sarah Sentilles talks with Hudson, aka the exquisite drag clown Carla Rossi, about theater, comedy, and the end of the world: “I’m interested in the edge – that line between satire and sincerity, between critique and reification – as a site where transgression and transformation occur. That’s why I’m drawn to drag as artwork.”

26: A brief taste of the last two Apples. Sometimes, some of the best things in life don’t catch on. Such as Third Rail Rep’s planned four-year cycle of Richard Nelson’s plays about the quintessentially American Apple family, which was cut short after the first two. In November the company did a staged reading of the two plays it won’t produce, and Marty Hughley was on hand: “(S)ound business decisions aside, it was a loss. The Apples were an entertaining bunch to watch. Well, more so to listen to, since the action in the plays amounts to little more than eating and clearing the table.”

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Elizabeth Malaska’s “You Will Become Me”/Courtesy Nationale

Elizabeth Malaska’s “You Will Become Me”/Courtesy Nationale

 

DECEMBER

7: Three hands of art: why it matters. “(W)hatever Facebook and the National Security Agency know, there is a different kind of privacy, and that is the privacy of the mind; and the mind, in its full sense that includes that emotional state of being we call heart, is the domain of art. The time you spend contemplating a painting, reading a novel, immersing yourself in a piece of music: it’s irreducible to numbers. It can’t be measured. It’s yours. Even if you try to give away its secrets, in the end you can’t, because at the core of the transaction between human being and art is something ultimately unexplainable. That is the precious thing.” Bob Hicks considers the bigger picture of what art is all about.

8: Elizabeth Malaska’s post-apocalyptic protest. “For her newest show at Nationale, When We Dead Awaken, Elizabeth Malaska imagines the aftermath of a catastrophe–and presents the viewer with urgent, mysterious paintings that are unlike any post-apocalyptic images I’ve seen before.” Sarah Sentilles dives deeply into Malaska’s paintings of rupture and rapture.

17: Dance review: the politics of body-mapping. “With this mix of perspectives and in the context of the United States and the current world political climate, I was expecting a highly charged, controversial conversation onstage. Instead, the hour-long performance was a mindful and carefully sculpted, visually and aurally beautiful, humorous conversation among the men, both as individuals and as representatives of their respective countries. Humor is disarming and it keeps people’s minds open.” Jamuna Chiarini considers the White Bird presentation of BodyLand, choreographed by Israelis Yosi Berg and Oded Graf and performed by five men from four countries.

20: Frogz at 35: the mime still boggles. “Today, the cast of characters includes two more frogs, alligators, orbs, a baby, penguins, sloths, paper bags, string, and a cowboy, performed by a troupe of five quick-change artists, with very different training, who are willing to travel the world. Never cute, and never patronizing, Frogz can be hilarious or poignant, satirical or sad, whimsical, or magical. It is family entertainment, to be sure, but with a highly sophisticated edge.” Martha Ullman West traces the history and artistic wallop of Imago Theatre’s enduring gift to the world.

30: Falling victim to history. Brett Campbell reports from Seattle on Robert Schenkkan’s two-play bio of Lyndon Baines Johnson, both of which premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the first of which went on to Broadway acclaim and a best-play Tony, and both of which are now playing in rep to sold-out houses at Seattle Rep. Campbell sees conflict and sprawl: “Unfortunately, instead of a moment, Schenkkan chose to explore an era. The battle over delegates at the 1964 Democratic convention during the Freedom Summer turmoil, Johnson’s desperate dance with the equally torn King, his confrontation with racist/opportunist Alabama Gov. George Wallace, his duel with the Kennedys, the passage of the landmark 1964  civil Right Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act (two of the greatest legislative triumphs in American history) and above all, his wrestling with the Vietnam War (and the larger geopolitical struggles it exemplified) … each of those and many others would make for more coherent dramas. But trying to cram them all into the confines of a single, relatively conventional dramatic structure predictably produces a similar outcome to President Johnson’s attempt to handle them all at once in real life. As a result, Schenkkan’s cycle succeeds better as history than as theater.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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