Bob Hicks

 

Wolf Tales: Howl about it?

NW Dance Project goes deep into the mythological woods with a loose and lightly fractured show of tales choreographed by the dancers

Hey, there, Little Red Riding Hood. What’s goin’ down in the neighborhood?

Wolf Tales, the droll and sweetly macabre new program from NW Dance Project that ends its brief run at Lincoln Performance Hall on Saturday night, is something of a case of mistaken self-identity. Nobody seems to know who anybody is at any particular time, even and perhaps especially themselves, since the characters in this mythic wood seem to be going through some downright werewolfian transformations. Joseph Campbell might call what’s happening a Hero’s Journey, but no need to get all hoity-toity about it: Let’s just call it a collection of fractured fairy tales.

A passel of Hoods: William Couture, Franco Nieto, Kody Jauron, Anthony Pucci, and Kevin Pajarillaga in Andrea Parson’s “Little Red Riding Hood.” Photo: Brian Truitt Covert

This is the slot in NDP’s season that’s usually turned over to the dancers to create, and in this case, rather than making a series of independent short pieces, they’ve stitched the thing together to create a narrative arc. A lot of dance companies do dancer-created shows, either on their seasons or as side projects, and good or bad, it’s usually an interesting and revealing sort of program to see. What might the dancers do on their own? Who has interesting choreographic ideas? How might it differ from the company’s usual style?

On those counts, Wolf Tales delivers a pretty high payoff. I wouldn’t call it high art. I would call it a kick in the pants. The show has a looseness, a frivolity, that doesn’t always show up in the company’s more earnest works. Freed from being the vessels of someone else’s choreographic imagination, it seems, dancers just want to have fun. And if the show could be a little tighter, the fun’s infectious.

Katherine Disenhof in Kody Jauron’s “Snow White,” with Andrea Parson in the shadows. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Each of the five linked pieces is based on a well-known folk tale adapted and choreographed by one of the dancers. Company veteran Andrea Parson sets the table with a Little Red Riding Hood inhabited by multiple Reds, multiple Wolves, a fair amount of howling, and a soundtrack built around Li’l Red Riding Hood, Laura Gibson’s catchily pensive 2012 cover that skips the leering and captures the yearning in Sam the Sham and the Pharaoh’s 1966 hit. Colleen Loverde prowls the stage as a sort of neo-Grimm narrator, introducing characters and bringing home the evening’s theme: Things are not as they seem.

Snow White follows, in nicely turned choreography by Kody Jauron that features Parson as a wind-up mechanical toy of a heroine, Katherine Disenhof as a manipulating witch, and, of course, a shiny red apple.

Colleen Loverde in Anthony Pucci’s “Chicken Little.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Then it’s off to Anthony Pucci’s high-camp, farcical Chicken Little, in which Disenhof, Loverde, Parson, and Franco Nieto (as the cool-operator, Snidely Whiplash-style manipulator) squawk about the stage like, well, chickens with their heads cut off at the possibility of a natural (or unnatural) disaster. It segues into Nieto’s The Three Little Pigs, a piece built on bricks and huffs and puffs and yearning and desire: can a young pig and a young wolf find true love and happiness, or will society keep them forever apart? There are echoes here of that infamous wall in The Fantasticks.

Jauron returns to choreograph the rousing and satisfying finale, The Ugly Ducking, which brings the entire company onstage and, browbeaten duckling slowly revealed in all his swanlike glory, completes the transformation. Goodness, Little Red Riding Hood, how did we get from there to here?

Katherine Disenhof, William Couture, Andrea Parson and Kevin Pararillaga in Kody Jauron’s “Ugly Duckling.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

After some retirements and movings-on and a couple of additions, NW Dance Project’s company has emerged as a tight-knit, talented group of eight – Jauron, Parson, Nieto, Loverde, Disenhof, Pucci, William Couture, and Kevin Pararillaga – who know each other’s styles and possibilities and work easily together. They’ve emerged, you might say, from something similar but not quite the same.

Some lovely design work helps pull the whole thing together: costumes by Alexa Stark, a silken-white forest of mystical trees conceived by the choreographers and executed by production manager Thyra Hartshorn, and some spectacular lighting by Jeff Forbes that shifts seamlessly with the seasons and moods.

In the meantime, there’s one final performance of Wolf Tales. If you make it there on Saturday night, you’ll probably laugh. Who knows? You might even howl.

*

NW Dance Project’s Wolf Tales concludes with a performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at Lincoln Performance Hall on the Portland State University campus. Ticket information here.

Colleen Loverde in Anthony Pucci’s “Chicken Little.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Cranberries and the art of thanks

Maybe generosity of spirit (and an ability to take the tart with the sweet) is at the heart of the holiday and the arts. Happy Thanksgiving.

It’s Thanksgiving, and I hope, if you’re reading this, you’re giving yourself a little break in your day: waiting while the sweet potatoes are baking, maybe, or pausing before you pack hot dishes in the car and head out to break bread with friends. It’s a day for friendships and family and connections. And a day for rituals. We all have them.

One of mine is making the cranberry sauce, which I do two or three days in advance so the flavors meld and settle. My method is both improvisatory and familiar. Take a good-sized orange, peel it well and scrape off all the pith, dice the peel small and toss half or two-thirds of it in the pot. Cut the orange itself into slightly bigger chunks; add them and the juice. A generous dash of nutmeg, half a cinnamon stick, no more than half the amount of sugar that recipes generally call for: a satisfying sauce calls for a touch of sweet, but as with rhubarb, if you don’t like the tartness, why are you bothering? A little water to give the thing some liquid, stir and boil, add the fresh berries and cook ’em until they pop.

Gratitude in a pot: making the cranberry sauce.

Well, that’s one way. That’s one tradition. And Thanksgiving’s very much about tradition.

Continues…

Coos Bay’s Everybody Biennial

The Coos Art Museum's big biennial of Oregon art is a come-one come-all affair, with no gatekeepers. How's that work? You'd be surprised.

COOS BAY – What if they gave a Biennial and invited everyone to join in?

That’s not, of course, the way biennial art shows ordinarily work. From Venice to São Paulo to Shanghai to Sydney to Istanbul to Havana to Berlin to the Whitney in New York, biennials tend to be ambitious, careerist, elbow-throwing affairs, intent on one-upping the art world with the biggest names, the newest trends, the deepest scent of money, and the even deeper desire to shape the next chapter in the shifting story of global contemporary art. Competition is fierce, and acceptance into one of the big-name biennials can make an artist’s career.

Coos Art Museum’s Biennial 2018. In the center: Alan Bartl’s funkified bike trailer “Pork Slider.” Photo: Laura Grimes

Or you could just invite any and all artists in the state of Oregon to drop by with up to three works, and then fit them all onto your museum’s walls. That’s the way it works at the Coos Art Museum on the southern Oregon coast, where since the 1990s a “come one, come all” approach to its biennial has prevailed and, perhaps astonishingly, largely succeeded. In a way, it can’t get more daring. The show has no gatekeepers. Museum officials don’t know who or what’s going to walk in the door. You trust that it’ll be good, or at least not embarrassing. And what you get, you show. If ever there was a People’s Biennial, a purely democratic approach to the state of the art, this is it.

Continues…

Short takes: Broadway to Reed

From Portlanders on Broadway to Reed Arts Week to the Marvelous Stan Lee and power for Native artists, news and notes for a new week

Here, there, and everywhere:

*

BROOKS ASHMANSKAS, the busy Broadway actor who grew up in Beaverton, has a new show in previews, and the New York Times has taken note. The four-hander musical comedy The Prom, which opens Thursday in the Longacre Theater, is a sendup of theatrical egotism, in which “an out-of-work Broadway troupe,” in The Times’s words, “descends on an all-American town to support a teenage girl who wants to pin a corsage on her girlfriend.” Ashmanskas stars as Barry Glickman, “who reminds everyone in earshot of his Drama Desk Award.”

Brooks Ashmanskas

Ashmanskas started out doing shows with the late James Erickson, the legendary razzle-dazzle director at Beaverton High School, and moved on to musicals at the old Portland Civic Theatre and elsewhere before heading for New York, where he landed as a replacement in a Broadway revival of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 1995, and just kept going, in shows ranging from Little Me to The Producers to Gypsy, Present Laughter, Something Rotten!, Candide, Sunday in the Park with George, and more. Along the way he’s been nominated for a Tony and (like his character in The Prom) a Drama Desk Award, both for his featured role in Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me.

Continues…

Kill a painting, save a world

Like Banksy, Portland's Elisabeth Jones Art Center plots to destroy a painting. Unlike Banksy, its goals are global and environmental.

On November 1, the day after Halloween and roughly three weeks after the titillating shredding of the Banksy painting Girl With Balloon during an auction at Sotheby’s in London, a large blue and green painting will be destroyed at the Elisabeth Jones Art Center. The painting, Danger, Little One, features a large pair of bears in the polar lights looming over a small polar bear on a melting ice floe. It faces a grisly ending: It’ll be pierced, jabbed, sanded, attacked with power tools that whine like dentists’ drills, smashed to smithereens.

Banksy see, Banksy do? To be fair, the Portland art center got there first.

“Danger, Little One”: to be terminated November 1.

In early August, two months before The Shredding That Shook The Art World (although Banksy had planned it earlier), the Elisabeth Jones center had destroyed another large painting, Peaceable Kingdom, which also depicted polar bears, these ones swimming happily along with fish and sea mammals in a dream of non-imperiled status. And John Teply, the center’s director, has done this sort of thing before. In the 1980s, in Santa Cruz County, California, he created a 30-foot-long outdoor painting, Wingspread, and then had it bulldozed as onlookers watched, aghast.

Continues…

A new museum in Chinatown

"Descendent Threads": An evening at the Portland Chinatown Museum with artists Roberta May Wong, Ellen George, and Lynn Yarne

The Portland Chinatown Museum, a new cultural center in Old Town Chinatown not far from the Chinatown Gateway at West Burnside and Fourth Avenue, has been having what the restaurant industry calls a “soft opening.” Set to open its doors officially on December 15, when the nailing and hammering and painting and installing in its main gallery spaces will be completed, it’s been putting on shows and other events in its smaller but still spacious finished galleries just beyond its entry at 127 Northwest Third Avenue.

The museum’s permanent galleries will be devoted to the historical exhibition Beyond the Gates: A Tale of Portland’s Historic Chinatowns, which originated in 2016 at the Oregon Historical Society, where it ran for three months, and is now being given new life. The smaller galleries that are already open are planned for work by contemporary artists and occasional performances, providing a vital link between the present and the past.

Opening night of “Descendent Threads,” October 4. Photo: May Chang

On a recent Thursday evening the galleries were bustling with visitors to Descendent Threads, an exhibition of work by three contemporary Asian American artists –– Roberta May Wong, Ellen George, and Lynn Yarne. The show opened on October 4 and continues through November 9. The draw on this particular evening was the announcement that George and Yarne would be on hand to mingle and talk about their work, and as it turned out, Wong was there, too, happy to chat with anyone who wanted to talk. Also milling around were artist Horatio Law, guest curator for this show, and Jacqueline Peterson-Lewis, executive director of the new museum, who created Beyond the Gate for the Oregon Historical Society along with the talented designer Carey Wong, associate curator Jennifer Fang, and the Portland Chinatown History Association.

Continues…

Antarctic journey: Waters on ice

A new frontier for Oregon painter April Waters, known for her waterscapes and large-scale portraits: a research station in Antarctica

The view to the west out the expansive windows in April Waters’ studio is a rolling landscape of woods, farmlands, habitations and foothills stepping up toward the Coast Range. Against one wall a giant bare canvas stretches 72 by 108 inches, almost as wide as and considerably longer than a king size bed. A commissioned portrait in process is visible, and several giclee prints of her landscape paintings are slotted in a folding stand. As the sun moves across the studio, which is built on a hillside to the south of downtown Salem, her easel rolls with it, catching the light the way she likes it.

April Waters with portraits of two of her Sheroes: marine biologist Sylvia Earle (left) and water-rights activist Maude Barlow. Oregon ArtsWatch photo

The vista is rich and fertile, vastly different from the edge of Antarctica, where she’ll travel in November to take part in the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. The NSF program places artists in one of three United States Antarctic research stations to observe the world at its extremes, and help explain through their art the significance of the life and landscape of the southernmost continent and what changes there mean to the world as a whole. Both the Willamette Valley vistas that Waters paints and the Antarctic ice shores she is about to visit are places intimately involved in the shifts and balances and warning signs of climate change.

Continues…