Oregon ArtsWatch


Cascadia Composers fall concerts: Spanning the spectrum

Quartet of concerts reveals rich diversity in contemporary Oregon classical — or is that 'classical' ? — music

Cascadia Composers can’t put on a boring concert. The organization of composers based primarily in the Northwest is only halfway through its 2016-17 season and already I’ve seen:

  • e-bow-generated harpsichord drones played on a dark stage, with the composer draped in blue LED lights and projections of cymatically stimulated beads of blue water dancing in time to the music;
  • a stack of toy pianos played by five composers crammed all together, music clutched in their hands or squinched in between the tiny wooden legs;
  • duets between cello and doumbek, between clarinet and electronics, between pianists wearing flamboyant wigs and chasing each other around their instrument, screeching like wild cats;
  • a simple pastoral song about barnyard animals turn into a horrifying depiction of slaughter;
  • a choir imitating an alarm clock, a forest, a goddess, a rose.

Jennifer Wright performs her ‘You Cannot LIberate Me…’ Photo: Matias Brecher.

This is what happens when Oregon composers get together and make music. Taken together, the concerts presented a snapshot of contemporary Oregon’s surprisingly rich and diverse contemporary classical music scene.

A Cuba con Amor

The first Cascadia concert of the season, October’s A Cuba con Amor, featured works written for the group’s first-ever composer exchange: the concert’s six composers traveled to Cuba the following month to have their works performed there by local musicians in the 29th Annual Festival de La Habana. This was the concert with the toy pianos (Jennifer Wright’s semi-aleatoric X Chromosome), the doumbek and cello (Paul Safar’s Cat on a Wire), the clarinet and electronics (“synth wizard” Daniel Brugh’s Fantasia), and an evening’s worth of lovely music. I was especially pleased to hear so much music written for strings, including Brugh’s Reticulum for tenor and string quartet and no less than three pieces for piano trio (Safar’s A Trio of Dances, Art Resnick’s Images of a Trip, and Cascadia co-founder David Bernstein’s Late Autumn Moods and Images).

Wright, Brugh, Clifford, Safar, and Max Weisenbloom play with toys on Wright’s ‘X-Chromosome’ at Cascadia Composers’ Cuba concert.

One particularly memorable moment was Ted Clifford’s melodica solo during the middle movement of his composition Child’s Play. As the newest composer in the Cascadia stable, seeing this family of composers at work on and off stage (and afterward at a nearby watering hole) made me feel fantastic about joining up.


Appropriation, Information, and Cyborgs: An Interview with Michele Fiedler

Curator Michele Fiedler talks about the third show in her residency at Disjecta


This past Sunday, January 15, amid Portland’s latest snowpocalypse, I had the pleasure walking through the current exhibition, “Oh Time Your Gilded Pages,” with Michele Fiedler, Disjecta’s sixth Curator-in-Residence. Fiedler is a curator and writer based in Mexico City, where she is the Curator at Sala de Arte Publico Siqueiros. Born in Puerto Rico, she received an MA in Curatorial Practice from California College of the Arts.

Guided by the artwork of Adriana Minoliti and Bobbi Woods in the exhibition, we discussed media representations, marketing, appropriation, posters, and porn. We also talked about the thread connecting Fiedler’s four Disjecta exhibitions, information, and what to expect from the remainder of her year in residence. Midway through our conversation, artist Adriana Minoliti walked in and topics turned toward installation, cyborgs, sex, and science fiction.

Exhibition: Oh Time Your Gilded Pages
(magazines, posters, adds, porn, interior design, perfume, jewels, movies, and cyborgs)
Disjecta: 8371 N Interstate Avenue
Artists: Adriana Minoliti and Bobbi Woods
Curator: Michele Fiedler
Showing: through February 26, 2017
Gallery Hours: Friday–Sunday, 12–5pm

The golden glow of the gilded works and the warmth of the rose-colored wall suffused our time together with a little special magic, perhaps felt most in contrast to the cold outside.


Reading into Tahni Holt’s ‘Sensation/Disorientation’

The Portland choreographer shifts the burden of movement interpretation to the audience


On an unsurprisingly rainy and cold November night in Portland, I am sitting next to the heaters in a large dance studio, trying to keep warm while I wait to watch a rehearsal of choreographer Tahni Holt’s Sensation/Disorientation.

Lights are low and raindrops trickle down the inside of a drainage pipe in the corner, soon to be drowned out by the music of composer Luke Wyland, who has just finished setting up his equipment. Holt is preparing the dancers—Tracy Broyles, Muffie Connelly, Carla Mann, Eliza Larson, Suzanne Chi and Aidan Hutapea—to run through a section of the piece. “I’m not going to give any prompts, because I just want to see what happens,” she says.

I know Holt through the Portland dance community. We co-facilitate an ongoing movement practice at FLOCK, the dance center she founded and currently serves as Executive Director. I have had glimmers of insight into her creative process; yet, in this moment, I have no idea of what to expect.

“Let it go,” She tells the dancers. “I’m not interested in it looking super clean. Really get into it.”

Sensation/Disorientation could be said to offer a nuanced framework for witnessing and considering female-identifying bodies. If this does not make any sense, that is OK—just expect it to be a vivid dance experience that is entirely available for your own interpretation. Those who plan to attend the debut at Reed College, January 18-22, may do well to assume that Holt’s invitation—to let it go, to really get into it—also extends to audience members.


Though Sensation/Disorientation has roots in Holt’s solo practice and previous collaborations, this dance was created after the venerable Portland dance presenter, White Bird, awarded Holt the Barney Creativity Prize in 2014. The prize, funded by the Dorothy Lemelson Trust and the White Bird/MKG Financial Group New Works Fund, commissions evening-length works that are included in White Bird’s season of performances.

Tahni Holt’s “Sensation/Disorientation”/Photo by Kamala Kingsley


White Bird’s co-Founders Paul Jaffe and Walter King spoke with me about commissioning Holt, whom they have been following since she began creating professional work 18 years ago. They look forward to what Jaffe described as “a different experience” for White Bird audiences.

“She [Holt] has always been true to her own voice [. . .] She is an artist that we feel is on caliber with any artist performing in North America or the rest of the world,” “We’ve co-commissioned 35 works in 19 years,” King added, “but in the case of Tahni, we’re especially excited.”

With the funding and faith of the most prominent dance presenter in the Northwest, Holt made the decision to hold off on presenting the commission for a year, which is why Portland audiences will see her new work this season. She also opted to present Sensation/Disorientation in Reed College’s Diver Studio Theatre, instead of Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, traditionally used by White Bird for its Uncaged series. The Diver Studio offers the possibility of performance in the round, more appropriate for Holt’s dance than Lincoln Hall’s proscenium stage.


Sensation/Disorientation emerged as a dance during Holt’s year-long collaborative process with a multigenerational cast of six female-identifying dancers (ages 15-60). Conceptually, the work has been steeped in her investigation of the material nature of bodies, their sensation, emotion, and feeling. Its origins also extend back to her time researching ‘70s-era feminist artists and their decision to incorporate activities generally associated with women in their art. “​Weaving, quilting, domestic life, labor, motherhood [. . .] all of these things became fodder for artistic expression,” notes Holt.

However, do not anticipate an exploration of any of these subjects in Sensation/Disorientation. “Womanhood” does not take center stage; female-identifying bodies do. This is an important distinction to make, and for good reason: “The piece itself is very permeable. It isn’t asking you [viewer] specifically to project something onto these bodies,” Holt shared. “It actually is insisting that you do whatever you do to them. And hopefully it holds up in a way that makes you reflect on why you do that.”

In my conversation with Holt, we also discussed how her work might sit in relation to the current socio-political climate. She reminded me that the piece debuts the week of the 2017 Presidential Inauguration and that audiences can even join the January Women’s March downtown and then attend Sensation/Disorientation later the same evening if they want. In the space of friction where identity politics rubs up against both individual and collective lived experience, Sensation/Disorientation may prove timely for considering such disorienting questions as: What do you see when you see what you see? And what does that say about how you think?

Tahni Holt’s “Sensation/Disorientation”/Kamala Kingsley

Or, maybe Sensation/Disorientation will do no such thing. Holt leaves the interpretation to the audience, and her work has historically opened itself to multiple readings of movement, sets, and costumes.

Holt is a native Portlander, and Sensation/Disorientation represents an exciting next step in her uncompromising body of work. When I asked Holt why she continued to create work in Portland, as opposed to basing herself in another city, she responded that, for a time, she had “​one foot here and one foot in other places.” Portland offered something vital to her early career, though: “​There was something about Portland that was generous enough, that truly allows me to fail, and I think that’s incredibly necessary for artists.”

“If you can find a place that allows you to fail,” she continued, “then you’re going to get to succeed sometimes.”


Sensation/Disorientation will be presented as part of White Bird’s Uncaged 2016-17 Series, January 18-22, 2017, at Reed College’s Diver Studio Theatre.

Hannah Krafcik is a writer, dancer, and recent transplant from Brooklyn, New York, where she spent the past five years working in nonprofit arts and community-based organizations. She holds a Master of Art in Performance Studies from New York University, and her curiosities lie with the potency of artistic process. She has been an organizer and performer in Fleet Moves Dance Festival since 2011. Her research continues to be guided by the structures and depth of communities around her.

This story originally appeared on Artslandia.

Seattle Opera’s ‘La Traviata’: Stripped-down tragedy

Shorn of lavish accoutrements and other inessentials, revelatory 21st century production gains force and focus


There is nowhere to hide in this Traviata. Running only an hour and 50 minutes, German director Peter Konwitschny’s spare version, playing through January 28 at Seattle Opera, focuses keenly and persistently on its characters, on Giuseppe Verdi’s lush and ever-building music, and on the extreme emotions surrounding dying Violetta. She has struggled, against all odds, to change her “fallen” life, where she is kept as a courtesan in snarky Parisian society, to one of true love with the naïve and pure-hearted Alfredo.

Verdi created a tragic heroine out of a whore, and in 1853, when the opera was first performed in Italy, that was a revolutionary artistic move. The company has staged eight productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s popular perennial since 1967. This one is worth fitting into your repertoire.

Corinne Winters as Violetta in Seattle Opera’s 2017 ‘La Traviata’ at McCaw Hall. Photo: Philip Newton.

Konwitschny’s version has no intermission and almost no scenery or props other than Alfredo’s pile of books and layers of red curtains, where characters pass in and out of scenes, and finally out of life. The blood-red curtains and Violetta’s red dress whisper and sometimes scream tragedy, drama, fallen woman, la traviata! But if the characters try to hide behind the curtains, and the chorus representing Parisian society behind its hypocrisy, they can’t.

Without the distractions of lavish costumes and scenery seen in most major productions, it’s easier to feel the piece as timeless, place-less and yes, in the moment. We’re right there with Violetta. From the opening party where she is hypocritically “welcomed” back after a bout with illness to Parisian high society, through her love affair with the bookish Alfredo and her sacrifice of her true love thanks to the persuasive Germont to her final fade away, we’re there. The simple contemporary costumes ground us. (Alfredo even has patches on the elbows of his baggy jacket.)

From beginning to end, the opera is all Violetta’s, sung on opening night by Corinne Winters and performed on alternate dates by Angel Blue. The SO no longer features “gold” and “silver” casts; performances alternate with two gold casts, new general director Aidan Lang says.

Winters sang Violetta in the original Konwitschny production at the English National Opera in 2013, and her familiarity with the role allowed her to perform it with full-blown confidence. With so many arias and duets – many when Violetta is taken down by her worsening consumption and sings on the floor or in other compromised positions – her secure strong soprano resonates. She does everything right in the role.

Winters embraced Violetta so thoroughly that we don’t pity her. We are sad that she has to die, that she loses her true love, but she goes out with dignity, backing away triumphantly into those red curtains.


Shakespeare experiments for modern times

When can we experiment with Shakespeare and how far are we allowed to go?


In late October 2016, London theatre—and the world of classical theatre beyond it—was in an uproar: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre abruptly announced the departure of its newly installed and dynamic artistic director, Emma Rice, who had just concluded her very popular first season. The accepted but unofficial narrative formed quickly: Rice had been forced out because the stodgy Globe board was infuriated by her use of electronic music and colored lights. Also, she was a woman. Also, she gave the plays diverse companies and contemporary settings. (Full disclosure: I interned at the Globe for a season, but not while any of this was taking place.)

Rice said nothing to dispel these impressions, and the Globe’s board’s somewhat tepid insistence that the decision was based simply on questions about lighting struck many British critics as just a pretense.

Now that the initial furor has passed, it is easier to accept that the most likely version of the Rice/Globe saga is also the most boring; that it stems, ultimately, from a failure to communicate. The Globe did not adequately express the importance of the shared lighting rig and other elements of their image of the Globe’s as an ‘authentic’ Elizabethan playing space, and likely Rice did not make perfectly clear her intention to challenge that vision.

That’s not to say that the outcry didn’t raise a lot of interesting questions about the state of Shakespeare in Britain. Rice’s work had not been as universally positively received as the horror at her dismissal suggested; more conservative members of the British press had their fair share of pearl clutching over her use of the aforementioned lights and music, not to mention filling her casts with women and brown people and queer people and the odd soap opera star.

In the end, however, Rice’s supporters had the last word (or at least, I wasn’t able to find any major publication crass enough to celebrate her departure), albeit a word of mourning for the bright theatrical future, the revitalization of Shakespeare that might have been.


It’s fascinating to set these manifestos in defense of Shakespearean experimentation beside the horror and vitriol inspired by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Play On! project. When the project was announced in September 2015, and in periodic bursts of fury since, one might have thought OSF had announced their intention to burn Shakespeare in effigy and ban his work from their campus. The program, proposed and funded by a single donor, pairs playwrights and dramaturgs to create a “translation” of a Shakespeare play. Commissioned artists include award-winning playwrights Jeff Whitty, Taylor Mac, and Naomi Iizuka. The whole canon has been assigned, and a few of the translations even have productions planned, though none at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival itself.

These adaptations will also, apparently, be singlehandedly responsible for the eradication of Shakespeare and all other literary culture from America and possibly the world. At least to hear the critics talk about it—like Professor James Shapiro, one of the most prominent American Shakespeare scholars, who recently called the project “a deal with the devil.

So there’s experimenting and there’s experimenting. Play On’s critics appear to be most worried that someone will read or see one of these adaptations and thus experience Shakespeare incorrectly. It’s hard to tell what they fear most about this scenario: That someone will see one of the adaptations and decide that Shakespeare is bad (even though the text isn’t really Shakespeare’s), or that they might see one and like it better. Or maybe it’s just horror that someone would dare to tamper with The Bard—as if that’s not what directors are doing every time the plays are performed.

Emma Rice’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Globe had Bollywood inflections./Courtesy Shakespeare’s Globe

This echoes the divide between the pro- and anti-Rice camps. Most of the debates centered around just two productions in the Globe’s 2016 summer season, only one of which Rice actually directed: Her production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Matthew Dunster’s production of Cymbeline, which he retitled Imogen. The former took on a fantastical Bollywood-inflected aesthetic, with crazy lights, pounding music, and a male Helena (in this case, Helenus) whose love was rebuffed by a closeted Demetrius. Dunster’s production was set in contemporary London, similarly peppered with music and dance, and starring Maddy Hill, famous for her role in the British soap opera EastEnders, as an Adidas-clad Imogen.

On the one hand, dynamic and diverse Shakespeare that looks and sounds like contemporary Britain, and, perhaps more importantly, gets contemporary Britons excited about Shakespeare—as the box office records for that season suggests they did. On the other hand, the view (correctly or otherwise) imputed to the Globe’s board and implied by the critics who derided the productions: Sure, the shows have people flocking to see Shakespeare, but to the wrong kind of Shakespeare.


There is another camp of Play On! detractors, who will insist that they having nothing against the project per se, but they just don’t see the point. As Shapiro wrote for The New York Times, “However well intended, this experiment is likely to be a waste of money and talent, for it misdiagnoses the reason that Shakespeare’s plays can be hard for playgoers to follow.”

But Shapiro misinterprets Play On’s stated mission: to ask, as project leader Lue Douthit said, “What if we looked at these plays at the language level through the lens of dramatists? What would we learn about how they work? Would that help us understand them in a different way?” Shapiro and other critics substitute OSF’s question (“What if?”) for a statement of their own making (“OSG wants to pointlessly ‘fix’ the plays”), and in doing so, I believe, raise a version of the same question asked above. Is there a sacred core to Shakespeare that we have to be sure the masses experience? Does that make Shakespeare’s plays too delicate to experiment with? If we start prodding at the structure, do we fear it will collapse?

Just as no single production ever claims to be the definitive, ultimate, perfect version of a Shakespeare play (or at least it shouldn’t, and if that’s the goal, it will fail), Play On! does not aspire to supplant or ‘improve’ upon the works of Shakespeare—only to undertake an experiment and see what happens. One single experiment cannot put even a dent in the massive cultural edifice that is Shakespeare. But it can potentially add one more facet to our understanding of his works, and why they endure.

When I heard the word “experiment” in relation to theatre, I always used to think of weird East Village performance art, non-narrative movement pieces or confessional one-person shows. But this quotation from Professors Christie Carson and Farah Karim-Cooper broadened my understanding:

“The methods of theatrical experimentation are not taken from the science laboratory but from centuries of theatrical practice. The workshop, the staged reading, the rehearsal process, the design process, all have established methods that take a creative approach to the practical, yet critical, problem of developing a theatrical interpretation of the plays. To negate this history of practice by eliding it, as funding bodies have, with the scientific method, is to misunderstand the tradition that is under discussion.”

That quotation comes in the introduction to Shakespeare’s Globe: A Theatrical Experiment. And that, in turn, is the same language that was used in board director Neil Constable’s statement about Rice’s departure: “The Globe was reconstructed as a radical experiment to explore the conditions within which Shakespeare and his contemporaries worked, and we believe this should continue to be the central tenet of our work.”

Emma Rice’s Globe experimented with diverse casting of all sorts, including a gay Helenus./Courtesy of Shakespeare’s Globe

Shakespeare’s Globe has the right to perform explorations that they are quite literally uniquely equipped to undertake—and, as unfortunate as it is that they and Rice could not come to an accord on that topic, that desire need not be seen as inherently conservative. The Globe was conceived as a laboratory for a certain kind of theatrical experiment, and something will be learned from continuing to pursue it.

(Though I will also say that from the first cast of her first show, Rice completely transformed the look of the Globe company. The casts were immediately more diverse in terms of gender and race, and it’s an admirable example of the kind of changes a determined artistic director can instantly effect. I hope whoever the Globe hires next follows in her footsteps in that regard.)

And the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is undertaking an experiment as well, though of a very different kind. It may be that nothing much will come of it, but if we always assumed results rather than testing them, nothing would ever get discovered. And if one of Play On!’s adaptations leads one person closer to appreciating Shakespeare, isn’t that good? And if one person even decides they like the adaptation better, is that bad?


No matter how great the writer it’s based on, a theatrical culture that is unwilling to say “Why not?” seems doomed to stagnate. I’ve seen settings and adaptations of Shakespeare that I’ve absolutely hated, that made me wish someone would institute laws to protect innocent theatregoers. Such a law would be patently absurd (not to mention elitist and creatively stifling), and it’s equally ridiculous to try and impose the same restrictions ideologically. You can’t draw a line around experimentation with the plays and insist that only the kind you like is allowed.

All of these visions—the Globe’s experiments with space; Emma Rice and her collaborators’ play with casts, setting, and design; Play On!’s investigation of the language itself—spring from the same source: a love for and fascination with Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s plays are not the antique porcelain doll that’s too delicate for the grandkids to play with. He may be 450, but he’s plenty strong. And if your cultural icon is too fragile to survive a little experimentation, if the play can’t stand being played with, maybe it does need to be put back on the shelf.

Pacifica Quartet review: Four is enough

Despite the unexpected absence of an extra cellist, quartet reaches highest level of performance


It was a dark and stormy night.

But that didn’t keep an avid crowd from filling Lincoln Hall auditorium at Portland State University on Monday, January 9, even though the featured guest artist had phoned in sick and wouldn’t be appearing in this Friends of Chamber Music concert. Because this audience knew.

They knew that the Pacifica Quartet, with or without an extra cellist, is the real thing, a truly first-class — in fact top-of-the-line — string quartet, worthy of mention in the same sentence as the Emerson, Takacs, Tokyo, Borodin and even the classic Guarneri and Juilliard.

Pacifica Quartet triumphed at Friends of Chamber Music. Photo: John Green.

Watching and listening to the Pacifica do their impeccable thing with such remarkable individual and group artistry, one couldn’t help thinking of the rewards and disappointments of string quartet membership. All established string players, with the exception, perhaps, of violists (because of the paucity of soloistic opportunities), begin and continue their musical education in the same spirit as Anne-Sophie Mutter, Pinchas Zukerman, and Yo-Yo Ma began theirs: they aim for the stars. Some make it and become headliners, playing alone in front of orchestras, plumbing the concerto repertoire. Others determine along the line that either they don’t have the chops for the big time or they wouldn’t like the life of the soloist if they did. If they want to continue to play, they will have to play chamber music.

But this is no hardship. The world of chamber music for string players is incomparably more varied and rich than the solo repertoire. There are duos, trios, quintets, septets, sinfonias concertante, and the queen of them all, the string quartet. Here stretches an enormous number of magnificent works, from the baroque period to the present. Tackling this music allows — requires — the participant to be not only a player but also a conductor, setting the pace, the volume, the phrasing. Chamber music, with its necessity for the closest communication among its practitioners, is the most intimate form of classical music. Which is why so many famous string soloists do as much chamber music as they can, both professionally and at home, for fun and musical nourishment.

In addition, chamber music, and especially string quartet music, with its longstanding ensembles, achieves the highest level of performance. Symphony orchestras typically rehearse very little, just enough to do a presentable performance. They can’t afford to do more. The best string quartets, however, who are paid only when they perform, rehearse much more often, well beyond the standard of a merely “presentable” performance, aspiring always to the best they can do. If their members are extremely talented and sensitive individuals, they may reach the level of the Pacifica Quartet.


Fertile Ground: Curtains (almost) up

ArtsWatch speed-dates the makers of 2017's Portland new-works festival. We don't kiss, but we do tell. Here's what's happening.


One thing we’ve learned in life: You can’t date everyone. Even speedily.

Nevertheless, the three of us took a pretty good shot at it on the first Thursday in January, when we set up business at a big table in Artists Repertory Theatre’s upper lobby and braced ourselves for an onrushing tide of producers, writers, directors, and performers in this year’s Fertile Ground Festival, an orgy of new theater, dance, comedy, solo, musical-theater, circus, and other performance works that’ll scatter across the city January 19-29.

The meet-and-greets, which are set up roughly like a speed-dating session (or so we’ve been told), are a cacophony of elevator speeches, and as it happens, all three of us knew what to expect from previous years’ free-for-alls. Theater people line up in front of a confusion of journalists from print, online, radio, and television outlets and work their way to the front, where they get five minutes to pitch their show and explain why that journalist really, really ought to see it and write very, very nicely about it. Then a whistle blows, and everyone moves on to the next encounter. Did you get that phone number/email address/press release/oddball memento? We’ll be in touch. (That little pink-wrapped chunk of Hubba Bubba bubble gum from 1980’s Teen Musical? We’ve tossed it in the drawer with all of our leftover 1982 Easter Peeps to help us make it through Armageddon.)

At the ArtsWatch table, and beyond. Fertile Ground photo

As usual, Fertile Ground boss Nicole Lane kept things on a strict schedule, and by evening’s end we hadn’t got around to talking to everyone. A few no doubt got caught up at other tables and ran out of time. A few just had other priorities. Some, we imagine, didn’t show up at all: they’re not the dating kind. Still, out of seventy-plus acts, we managed among us to talk with people from roughly forty. Add to those the dance productions that ArtsWatch’s Jamuna Chiarini has written about separately, and … let’s just say we played the field.

One of the great things about Fertile Ground, which began as an annual festival in 2009, is that it’s open to new projects at every stage of production, from first readings to staged readings to workshops to world premieres. Theater companies have started to book premiere productions to coincide with the festival, lending the city a sense of freshness and discovery, at least on its performance stages, every January. It’s like a smaller Edinburgh Fringe Festival (and just as unpredictable), but made up entirely of local acts.


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