Bob Hicks

 

Portland’s Grand Central Station

Everybody comes to Powell's, and photographer K.B. Dixon's new exhibition and book find volumes in the mix of people and place

Photographs by K.B. DIXON

Powell’s City of Books is Portland’s Grand Central Station, the teeming crossroads of the city’s cultural life: not just one of the nation’s great commercial repositories of literature and language, but a busy transit center of people and ideas. Kids, teens, singles, doubles, parents, grandparents. Locals who drop in for an hour and spend the day. Serious scholars doing research. Tourists who treat it like a shrine. Foreign visitors looking for something in their native language, or something to help them brush up on their English skills. People on their way to someplace else. People on their way back from someplace else. Browsers, buyers, passersby. Like Rick’s, it seems, eventually everybody comes to Powell’s.

 

Entering the temple: the south entrance on Burnside.

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IT IS ALSO, LIKE THE MULTNOMAH County Central Library just a few blocks away, one of Portland’s best people-watching places, an almost endless fascination of faces, connections, and enthusiasms. Something about a great bookstore encourages people to be very public and very private at once – lost, publicly, in the obsessions and curiosities of their own minds. Portland photographer and writer K.B. Dixon believed Powell’s was an ideal spot to pursue his own obsession for creating interesting and culturally telling black and white images. He gained permission to spend hours and hours in the aisles, following his eye where it led. The results of his project are now on view in a sort of meta-exhibition: images of Powell’s at Powell’s, in the bookstore’s Basil Hallward Gallery, upstairs in the Pearl Room, through October. Images here are from the exhibition or the larger selection of photographs in Dixon’s accompanying book, titled simply The Bookstore.

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An epic circle, intimately drawn

A classic Brecht circles around to today: Shaking the Tree's personal-sized epic "Caucasian Chalk Circle" spins a funny and pertinent tale

Gather ’round, children, for a long autumn’s tale. It’s epic, and intimate, and small-scale, and so big a whole village could hardly wrap its arms around it. It’s an interlocking set of stories, really, in five acts and a prologue, moving freely from a 14th century Chinese fable, to the Soviet Union sometime near the end of the Second World War, to right here and now. It’s frankly artificial, and lands a few resounding truths, and is funny and cruel and consoling, and very private and very political. It is not, as one artistic director recently described the contemporary theater scene with a slight whaddya-gonna-do shrug, “ninety minutes, no intermission.”

It’s a Brechtian world, round and round. Photo: Gary Norman

It is, in fact, a little over three hours, one intermission. But that’s OK: It’s Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and some things are worth a little extra time. Shaking the Tree’s new production of this 20th century classic is binge-watching in a single seating, and it somehow manages to feel both classic and contemporary without diminishing either. It delivers an old-fashioned wallop of vivid, simply staged theatricality, and the ensemble has so much energy to go with so few props in such a small space that in its expressionistic fervor it sometimes overdoes things: words get lost in the rafters as they overlap; actions tumble helter-skelter. Not very often, though, and when they do it seems a matter of epic style overwhelming the space, without the distancing that gives epic its most potent effect. Consider this a minor and almost inevitable drawback. The payoff is that the intimate is truly intimate, and sweeps the audience not just into its embrace, but also into a kind of active partnership. As the tales spin out things become clearer and clearer. The quieter moments take precedence, and an emotional gravity grabs hold.

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The Complexion of the times

Bach, Bowie, and Maya Angelou: White Bird kicks off its 20th season of dance with the contemporary ballet company Complexions

The mood was festive in the Newmark Theatre in downtown Portland Thursday night: a new White Bird dance season was beginning, and Complexions Contemporary Ballet was in the house. The lobbies were bump-into-you bustling, the seats were almost all filled in, and though the jeans and casual shirts that so define Portland sartorial style were on plentiful display among the audience, plenty of fine plumage was on show, too. Dressed up or dressed down, the crowd was pumped to get this thing going again.

White Bird was embarking on its 20th season of presenting contemporary dance from around the world to Portland audiences (Thursday night’s program repeats Friday and Saturday), and Complexions, which was founded in 1994 by a pair of Alvin Ailey dancers, was on the program for the first time since 2009. It was, all in all, a welcome return.

The company, in “Star Dust” mode. Photo courtesy White Bird

All three works on Thursday’s program were choreographed by Dwight Rhoden, who founded Complexions with Desmond Richardson, and though the influences range from the purely balletic to jazz and hip hop and the theatrics of the arena rock ‘n’ roll stage, and the movements are often distinguished by a contemporary, deliberately awkward elegance, they are also classical in their centered balances and line.

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Tuesdays at the Theatre Guild

Flying under the radar, the venerable Portland Civic Theatre Guild keeps some civilized traditions alive (and raises money for new things)

Walking into The Sanctuary on Northeast Sandy Boulevard for one of the Portland Civic Theatre Guild’s monthly play readings is a little like walking into a town meeting in Miss Jane Marple’s St. Mary Mead, minus the lurking murderer. Cookies and coffee and no doubt some tea are being served. A clubby camaraderie inhabits the proceedings, an understated festive air. Little histories are here: Most everyone seems to know, or at least recognize, most everyone else, and while the attendees might be mostly outside the target parameters of corporate marketing metrics, they are active and inquisitive and in good humor, and no doubt value common sense. A feeling persists of something civilized and basically good, a small pleasure: a bulwark on this past Tuesday morning, barely more than a day after the evil of the Las Vegas massacre, against the bleakness of the outside world.

As with St. Mary Mead and its inhabitants, it would be unwise to underestimate this crowd and its proceedings. They may not be in the market for the latest exhibitions from the seething swamps of contemporary performance art, but they know their theater (many of them have been, and some continue to be, on the stage), and the pleasures to be had in communing with a style of playfulness that might not be the height of fashion but has not lost its charm. It’s quite easy, and enjoyable, to slip into the spirit of the thing.

The gathering of the Guild: active and involved.

On Tuesday the object of their affections was I Ought To Be in Pictures, the 1979 sentimental comedy by Neil Simon, who is considered something of a ghost of theater past these days but not so many decades ago was the toast of Broadway, and the movies, too, a figure who so dominated the Broadway real estate that younger writers and audiences rebelled against virtually everything about him – his jokiness, his eagerness to please, his devotion to craftsmanship, his middlebrow-ness, his upper-middle-class-ness, his self-congratulatory sentimentality, his sometimes clueless maleness, his unseemly success, his belief that maybe the theater was entertainment and not so much art.

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Brilliant? Let us list the ways

The one-man show "Every Brilliant Thing" begins with an amiable Isaac Lamb and builds its odd-duck case one good thing at a time

Let the record stipulate that the reviewer is not a fan of audience-participation theater.

Let the record stipulate that Every Brilliant Thing, the one-man show that opened Friday evening in the downstairs Ellyn Bye Studio at Portland Center Stage at The Armory, is, is fact, an audience-participation play.

Let the record further stipulate that, notwithstanding his biases, the reviewer found himself to be absolutely charmed, and sometimes moved, and often given to outbursts of immoderate laughter. Let the record observe that the reviewer stands corrected, at least this once.

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Isaac Lamb works the crowd. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

Every Brilliant Thing – performed with intense likability (if that’s a possible thing) by Isaac Lamb, with the smart and nimble collaboration of director Rose Riordan and some on-the-nose sound design by Casi Pacilio – is an odd duck of a play, but then, sometimes the odd ducks are the interesting ones. Written by Duncan Macmillan and original performer Jonny Donahoe, it debuted in 2013 at the Ludlow Fringe Festival in Shropshire before crossing the Atlantic to New York and beyond. It bears a striking affinity to the sort of theater known as standup comedy, which thrives, among other things, on improvisational give-and-take with the audience. Lamb achieves complicity not by bristling aggressively at the audience, as standups often do, but by sweet-talking them, in gee-shucks conspiratorial tones, into helping him out. And help him out they do, even the ones who feel just a little self-conscious about being suckered in.

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Crow’s Shadow’s art of the land

The Hallie Ford Museum's generous retrospective of 25 years at the innovative eastern Oregon print center reveals a vital sense of place

Ghost Camp, a four-piece suite of lithographs by James Lavadour from 2002, all but jumps off the wall as you wander through the generous new exhibit Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts at 25 at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem. Lavadour prints and paintings have a way of leaping like that: they have what curators and dealers like to call “wall power.”

But something else is going on in this suite, too. In that familiar Lavadour way Ghost Camp is partly abstract and partly taken from the spacious hilly land of eastern Oregon and Washington near Pendleton, where he lives. A scrawl of lines seems almost arbitrary until you look a little closer and realize they are deft intimations of shapes on the horizon or buildings breaking up the open spaces. Searing streaks of color suggest trees, red and glowing and perhaps – who knows, in a runaway fire season like this one? – on the way to being charred.

James Lavadour (Walla Walla, b. 1951), “Ghost Camp,” 2002, ed. 16, suite of four, four-color lithographs with graphite pencil on Arches 88 white paper, 34 1/4 x 43 3/4 inches overall, CSP 02-114 a, b, c, d. Photo: Dale Peterson

Oh: and, sticking up from the top right print like a towering forest snag, the jagged teeth of a giant crosscut logging blade grind relentlessly at the sky. The suite is inspired by Lavadour’s memories of a forest he used to wander as a child – a forest that’s since been clear-cut, and essentially no longer exists. The lithographs are at once an honoring of the past, a preservation of history, a documentation of a present state of mind, an act of beauty, and a lament. The more you look the more you see; the more you see the more you feel.

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Bach Fest: the $90,000 solution

After the University of Oregon fires Matthew Halls, it pays him $90,000 – but only if he keeps his mouth shut. And the crisis remains.

And then the lawyers swept in.

The first clue arrived on Tuesday in the form of a statement from the University of Oregon, signed by provost and senior vice president Jayanth Banavar, that the university was “disappointed and saddened that Matthew Halls’ relationship with the Oregon Bach Festival … has drawn to a close.”

Matthew Halls. Photo: Jon Christopher Meyers/OBF

The wording was smooth and soothing and just a little sorrowful – “We appreciate Mr. Hall’s (sic) many positive contributions to the festival … Everyone at the University and OBF sincerely wish nothing but continued success for Mr. Halls” – with no mention that the university had, in fact, fired the festival’s artistic director on August 24, with no stated cause, a mere two months after extending his contract, with a raise, for four years. It was a broken prophylactic of a statement, a reassurance after the unfortunate fact, a monument of untethered platitudes, and it had all the earmarks of having been vetted within an inch of its life by a squadron of administrators and lawyers.

Then, on Thursday, the lawyers’ work ambled into full view in the headline to Saul Hubbard’s news story in Eugene’s Register-Guard: “University of Oregon agrees to pay Matthew Halls $90,000; Halls agrees not to disparage UO.” Translation: You shut up; we’ll pay up. It is a very lawyerly deal, designed to solve an immediate crisis, avoid the courtroom, and let the players move on. With the pay-not-to-play solution, you might almost have thought Halls was a football coach.

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