Oregon ArtsWatch


A new ‘Snow Queen,’ part 3: Cooking up a fresh new score

For Eugene Ballet's upcoming production, Portland composer Kenji Bunch takes on the biggest project of his musical career


Editor’s note: Eugene arts journalist Bob Keefer is tracking Eugene Ballet’s creation of a new version of The Snow Queen.  ArtsWatch will reposting the series here after each installment appears on Keefer’s Eugene Art Talk blog.

When Eugene Ballet premieres its new full-length interpretation of The Snow Queen at the Hult Center next spring, its dancers will perform to all-new music by Portland composer Kenji Bunch.

That’s a giant leap forward, both for the ballet – which has never before commissioned a full-length musical score – and for Bunch, who has never before composed such a long piece of music.

Kenji Bunch and Coffee.

Kenji Bunch on a Coffee break. Photo: Bob Keefer.

“I have never done a full-fledged, evening-length orchestral ballet score,” he said in a recent visit to his home studio. “That is definitely a bucket-list item for a composer.”


Profile Theatre artistic director Josh Hecht: Focusing the lens

Newly appointed artistic director broadens Profile's scope to include new plays, new collaborations, and a new emphasis on theater as a lens on society


Profile Theatre carved out a unique niche in Portland’s theater scene by focusing narrowly and deeply. Each season showcases only a single venerated playwright, affording audiences a deeper understanding through experiencing several plays from throughout the writer’s career.

Josh Hecht takes over as artistic director at Portland's Profile Theatre.

Josh Hecht takes over as artistic director at Portland’s Profile Theatre. Photo: Thomas Grady.

With newly hired artistic director Josh Hecht, though, Profile hopes to broaden its scope in several ways: chronologically, by adding emerging young playwrights to the mix; collaboratively, by partnering with other Portland theaters and cultural organizations of all kinds; and thematically, by adjusting what Hecht sees as the goal of its unique mission, from putting playwrights under the microscope to using their plays as a telescope pointed out at 21st century.

“Along with other members of Profile’s search committee, I was impressed by Josh’s credentials as an educator and award-winning director with broad and deep experience in American theatre — in NYC and across the U.S.,” Profile board chair Steve Young said in announcing Hecht’s hiring. “I am also impressed by his communication, collaboration, and leadership skills and by his passionate belief in theatre’s responsibility to contribute to the civic life of our community.”


Renée Fleming review: Queen of the Night

Star soprano’s concert with the Oregon Symphony covers a wide range of vocal riches


During the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Renée Fleming worked her way, in part, through State University of New York at Potsdam, and later at the Juilliard School, by singing jazz gigs. Saxophonist Illinois Jacquet thought she was good enough to tour with his big band when she was a student at Eastman School of Music. He invited her but she stuck with Eastman.

Good choice. The first opera singer to perform at the Super Bowl, Renée Fleming is called the “people’s diva.” But really?

She is quite the queen.

Fleming and Kalmar take their bows.

Fleming and Kalmar take their bows.

Decked out in dazzling evening gowns (she changed her wardrobe once, and the second blush-beige bejeweled dress drew more applause than the first), she commands the stage. So she did Saturday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall when she opened the Oregon Symphony’s 120th season and belted out, microphone in hand, “Happy Birthday” to commemorate it. Oregon Symphony’s David Miller composed this arrangement with twists and turns and minor chords. It’s not your traditional birthday song, and mercifully, you can’t sing to most of it, even though the audience was itching to get in on the last act of the show.

It was obvious that Fleming, 57, pretty much planned the program, mixing up genres to a much greater extent than conductor Carlos Kalmar does when presenting classical repertoire. Just like her student days singing jazz, she does not confine herself to opera or classical music, and certainly she doesn’t put herself in a musical box when headlining in Portland.


Arts Sampler: Eugene by train for a car free, arts-stuffed weekend

Eugene offers arts lovers a walkable bazaar of music, theater, dance and more

Story, video and photos by GARY FERRINGTON

As the fall arts season opens, arts-loving Portlanders and other Oregonians seeking a relaxed, car-free weekend exploring dance, music, theater, and the visual arts can look 100 miles up river from Portland. Visitors arriving by train from Portland or points north will find most of Eugene’s cultural activities within walking distance of downtown lodging options — a healthy alternative to driving. If motor transportation is needed, the nationally award-winning LTD bus system and numerous taxi companies provide reliable travel about the city.

Eugene at the headwaters of the Willamette.

Eugene at the headwaters of the Willamette.

Amtrak Cascade train service makes rail passenger travel along the corridor between Eugene and Portland, with connections to Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., a comfortable coach or business class option for sitting back and watching the scenic Willamette valley roll by as sleek modern Spanish designed Talgo trains pass through a rural countryside not easily seen from the ever increasingly congested I-5 freeway.

The coming arts season offers some excellent opportunities for visitors to enjoy an arts-saturated weekend in Eugene. Read on for a guide to venues, dining options, exhibitions, performances, and discover some historical architecture along the way.


A new ‘Snow Queen’ part 2: Building an ice palace from scratch

Second in a series: Eugene artist and designer Nadya Geras-Carson fashions a fairy tale edifice for Eugene Ballet's upcoming new production of 'The Snow Queen'

Story and photos by BOB KEEFER

Editor’s note:Eugene arts journalist Bob Keefer is tracking the creation of a new version of The Snow Queen by Eugene Ballet.  ArtsWatch will be reposting the series here after each installment appears on Keefer’s Eugene Art Talk blog.

The walls of the palace were of driving snow, and the windows and doors of cutting winds. There were more than a hundred halls there, according as the snow was driven by the winds. The largest was many miles in extent; all were lighted up by the powerful Aurora Borealis, and all were so large, so empty, so icy cold, and so resplendent!

That’s Hans Christian Andersen’s description of the Snow Queen’s palace in his popular fairy tale “The Snow Queen.”

Now just imagine designing and building that same palace from scratch – on a theater stage.

Nadya Geras-Carson, set designer for Eugene Ballet's new 'Snow Queen.'

Nadya Geras-Carson, set designer for Eugene Ballet’s new ‘Snow Queen.’

That’s exactly what Eugene artist and designer Nadya Geras-Carson is doing. The results will be on view at the Hult Center next April, when Eugene Ballet premieres its all-new ballet version of Andersen’s eerie and redemptive story of Gerda, Kay, a magic mirror, and an icy queen. Geras-Carson will also, of course, be designing sets for the rest of the tale, including a village scene and a forest.

So, we asked her, how do you go about creating a fairy tale world on a real-life stage?


Zorá Quartet review: A program that tells a story

Chamber Music Northwest concert shows European classical music's range of expression

There’s something quite charming about a well-programmed concert. I love it when the different elements all work together to tell a coherent story, or present familiar compositions from a new perspective. A July Chamber Music Northwest concert at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre, performed by the Zorá Quartet and other CMNW artists, did just that. The concert featured compositions by Béla Bartók, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Ludwig van Beethoven, in performances by CMNW alumni and Protege Project Artists, and the selection was just right: from light-hearted violin duos to a bitter 20th-century quintet for piano and strings, ending on the profound final string quartet of one of the tradition’s giants.

Ani Kavafian. Photo: Bernard Mindich.

Ani Kavafian. Photo: Bernard Mindich.

Teacher and student duo Ani Kavafian and Benjamin Hoffman began the evening with selections from Béla Bartók’s 44 Duos for Two Violins, composed in 1931. It is always nice to see teachers performing with their students, passing the torch and revitalizing traditions (even relatively new traditions) for the next generation, and Bartók wrote these duos with just such a pedagogical purpose in mind; as with his Mikrokosmos, Bartók’s identity as a composer cannot be separated from his identity as an educator and as a champion of folk music. Teacher Kavafian and student Hoffman (a student at Yale in his first season with CMNW’s Protege Project) performed a well-balanced selection, covering a fair portion of the vast range of Bartók’s quirky and profound musical personality. Performers and audience alike were visibly, audibly enthusiastic, chuckling and toe-tapping at the delightful neo-folk miniatures, which made it feel more like a village gathering than a formal classical music concert.

Now in her 22nd season with CMNW, Kavafian’s joyful demeanor during her brief time on stage felt like a homecoming—a performance for friends and peers in a familiar space, showing off her pupil and generally having a good time. Although any of Bartók’s many chamber pieces could have made for a good first act, the decision to open with such life-affirming and humanistic music started the concert’s story on just the right note.


Stop Motion: Eugene dance world’s shrinking borders

Eugene arts and political leaders must broaden the city's dance horizons


Choreographer David Parsons’ signature piece, Caught (1982), features more than 100 leaps in six minutes by a solo dancer who is repeatedly trapped in mid-motion by the strobe lights he controls, creating an illusion of flight. Seen live, the work is unforgettable; I saw it once here, in Eugene, at the Hult Center’s Silva Hall, danced by Parsons himself.

David Parsons's "Caught." Photo: B. Doctor.

David Parsons’s “Caught.” Photo: B. Doktor.

Caught seems an apt metaphor for dance: vital, powerful yet ephemeral, almost fragile. Dance requires a nutritive base to thrive, constant support and a collaborative spirit. Any dance venture is a leap of faith.

Although Parsons’ company made four visits to Eugene from 1992-2000, it’s unclear when we might see a national or international touring company here again. Dance in Eugene is varied and diverse, yet the community is acutely missing the kinds of opportunities it used to enjoy.

In this city, I can go to the museum and see masterworks on display. I can attend a concert and hear a variety of music from around the globe, played to perfection. I can sit down at the theater and see premiers from playwrights from across the country.

And yes, I can see dance — I try to see everything local — and the talent and verve our community has to offer continually amaze me. But what I can’t see with any regularity is choreography from beyond this valley, or dance from beyond this region.

Eugene once hosted stellar out-of-town companies, artists with worldwide and historical significance: Martha Graham Dance Company, David Parsons, Bill T. Jones, Pilobolus, Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE, Nrityagram, even the Bolshoi Ballet — all played the Hult, some making repeated visits to our leafy college town.

Exposure to contemporary dance increases awareness, not just for dance but for other art forms, too. Looking at dance helps people learn to see, to observe, to relate. And looking at dance builds audiences for theater, music and art, for now and for future generations.

So where did the national and international touring companies go? And will the stars align to leverage their return?


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