Nim Wunnan


Portland artists create space for galleries

Portland artists fight the rental crunch with Williamson Knight, Chicken Coop Contemporary and Grapefruit Juice

The changes in Portland’s population, zoning, and real estate have rippled through every aspect of our local culture. There’s more to come for sure, but as the dust settles on our nation-leading rental increases the arts community has been finding new places and new methods to carve out a space for their projects and their people. What follows is a brief overview of three of the more interesting spaces to emerge in the past year.

Chicken Coop Contemporary

As the name might suggest, Chicken Coop Contemporary is housed in a spacious, white chicken coop that stands next to the studio of painter Srijon Chowdhury in his backyard in deep Southeast Portland. An accomplished artist, Chowdhury splits his time between Portland and Los Angeles. In the tradition of apartment galleries and can-we-fit-a-gallery-here galleries, Chowdhury used the space he has as an opportunity to engage the sometimes-diffuse art community of Portland, and as a place to have a dialogue with some of the artists he’s interested in. As his show at Upfor last year proves, he’s able to bring the rich and considered touch he shows in his paintings to curation and collaboration as well.

The Chicken Coop Contemporary stands next to the studio of painter Srijon Chowdhury in Southeast Portland.

Most of the shows so far have featured small, intense paintings such as the haunting work of Dustin Metz, but the last two shows have included multimedia and site-specific work. The current show directly addresses the venue with text and sculptural pieces reflecting on the lives and ways of chickens and other animals. “Collection Sites by Jesse Stecklow draws on writing about livestock handling, including the work of Temple Grandin, to focus consideration on the lives of the gallery residents—the chickens.


A film festival takes a stand against Islamophobia

The Seventh Art Stand film festival explore the many strands of Muslim and Muslim-American experience

The Seventh Art Stand, a nationwide screening and discussion series that focuses on the many facets of the contemporary Muslim and Muslim-American experience, comes to Portland’s Open Signal at 7 pm on June 21. The series has been part of a multi-platform effort that is intended “as an act of cinematic solidarity against Islamophobia,” according to organizers. Through Q&A sessions at the screenings and social media campaigns such as #sharemuslimfacts, the series seeks to challenge and humanize the discussion around the lives and beliefs of members of the nationalities and ethnicities under attack by the current administration and Islamophobic currents in the media.

By the time it’s over, Seventh Art Stand will have shown in more than fifty theaters, museums, and community centers in more than half the states, with prominent shows in Honolulu, Detroit, Milwaukee, Houston, Harlem, and Minneapolis. As part of the collaborative nature of the project, each venue curates its own selection of films and runs its own public discussions, often tailored to the surrounding Islamic community. Previous screenings have featured Queens of Syria by Yasmin Fedda, A Stray by Musa Syeed, American Arab by Usama Alshaibi, and The Salesman by Asghar Farhadi, which won the Oscar for 2017 Best Foreign Language Film.


Summer Splendors: The ‘Chopin Project’ returns with an ambitious new Sarah Slipper dance

The NW Dance Project's Summer Splendors brought back the delights of "Chopin Project" and explored the dense possibilities in relationships with a world premiere

This year’s version of NW Dance Project’s Summer Splendors, which concluded its run Saturday at Lincoln Performance Hall, featured the premiere of director Sarah Slipper’s inventive, ambitious new piece, Tell me How it Ends and the welcome return of Chopin Project” from 2015.

For Slipper’s world premiere, two distinct sets fill the stage—on the left a stripped-down interior with a wall, a door, and a table, and on right, an empty space, save for a large backdrop for ambient projections. There is a sense of gravity on the left, the “real world,” while the open space on the right is a view into another dimension of that reality, and the interplay between the sides is a looking-inward rather than a comparison.

Andrea Parson and Elijah Labay are the couple who live on the left, and Julia Radick and Franco Nieto inhabit the dreamier space on the right, dancing at a more pensive, lyrical pace. The piece begins with Parson and Labay attempting to enter their simple home side-by-side, but they’re unable to both go through the door while holding their props—a vase of flowers for Parson and a cardboard box for Labay.

Andrea Parson and Elijah Labay in the world premiere of NW Dance Project Artistic Director Sarah Slipper’s “Tell Me How it Ends”/Blaine Truitt Covert

The chemistry between Parson and Labay is intense and finely honed. It’s clear that they have studied and imagined the relationship between the characters they play, not just the choreography that brings them together. They show a remarkable fluidity of tone as they move through the squalls, doldrums, and currents of their relationship, once entering the “house.” The most successful sequence involves an apple held between them, each biting down on one side. Starting with a crisp bite that is hard enough to be heard in the audience, the tactile memory of the resistance, flavor and lightness of biting into an apple fleshes out the space between the two, and gives their movements and their opposing bodies’ weight a sharp immediacy.

We can imagine how careful and in sync they have to be not to tear out another bite from the apple or damage their teeth, as they move together. The device is successful because it’s more than a gimmick—it’s a simple, insightful hook of personal experience with the audience on which to hang the dancers’ immediate, physical concerns.


New Expressive Works: The tension builds

Subashini Ganesan's resident choreographer program features Stephanie W. Schaaf, Jessica Kelley, Dora Gaskill and Michael Galen

New Expressive Works’ current residency program shows that this dance community is as strong as ever. Founded in 2012 with the mission to support dancers of diverse backgrounds in developing original work, N.E.W. also provides accessible practice space and a variety of movement classes in a centrally-located, well-equipped studio.

Annually, the space serves 4500 audience members and students, and more than 200 independent performing artists have used the facilities for some aspect of their practice. The residency program has supported 32 choreographers to date, with four more on the way. In short, it’s exactly the kind of program that artistic communities in this city need in order to survive all the closures and changes to the spaces where they can work and live.

Every six months, four choreographers are chosen for the residency program. They receive 144 hours of free rehearsal space, a modest stipend, and moderated, critical feedback in the form of Katherine Longstreth’s Fieldwork program. The works, whether they are finished or in progress, debut as 20-minute pieces at the end of the residency, as they did last night for the 8th session. The show continues at 7:30 pm through Sunday, May 28, at New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont, Ste 2, in the WYSE Building (use building doors located on the south side of the building).

The program moved with a steady momentum, held together by themes that emerged though the individual works. These conceptual threads that ran through the performances seemed to indicate a zeitgeist of shared concerns among the resident artists rather than enforced curatorial decisions. One could easily imagine the questions and ideas bouncing off of each other during the Fieldwork sessions to recombine later in the residents’ individual practice.


Tahni Holt’s ‘Sensation/Disorientation’ reveals the heart of dance

White Bird's world premiere of a dance by Tahni Holt gives us a glimpse into the deep structure of dance

Tahni Holt Dance’s Sensation/Disorientation at Reed College this weekend is the result of some truly heartening collaboration and mutual support in the Portland dance community. Holt, who has been making original work in and out of Portland for 20 years and is the founder of the dance center Flock, was recently awarded White Bird’s Barney Prize, which involved a commission for this project. Given Flock’s dedication to providing the resources for local dancers to make original work, it’s very satisfying to see Holt herself get such tangible support. Likewise, the piece has garnered a lot of attention from local critics, so you have many well-written opportunities to indulge your curiosity about the show.

Holt’s last major piece, Duet/Love, demonstrated her ability to gather major players in Portland’s contemporary dance community and push them to create something intimate, dense, and confrontationally enticing. The dancers’ unfiltered experience as artists, bodies, and people comprised much of the material of the piece, with Holt sculpting and directing its flow more than diagramming it with conventional choreography. Holt has clearly taken the space afforded to her by this commission to cultivate this approach further with Sensation/Disorientation.

Tahni Holt’s “Sensation/Disorientation”/Photo by Kamala Kingsley courtesy of White Bird

In the Q & A after the show, Holt reminded the audience that her main inquiry is how perception differs between perspectives. How one person can see or experience something in a completely different way than another can. For this piece, Holt focuses on the “…the material nature of [female-identifying] bodies, their sensation, emotion, and feeling,” as Hannah Krafcik says in her preview for Artswatch. The community of dancers that have been gathered for this show reflects a rich number of perspectives on that experience, and, like Duet/Love, showcases many facets of Portland’s dance community. While this is the debut performance for dancer Aidan Hutapea, age 15, she shares the stage with local dance veterans Tracy Broyles and Reed professor Carla Mann. Fellow dancers Muffie Connelly, Eliza Larson, and Suzanne Chi are also all active members of different, occasionally overlapping segments of the local dance community. Chi, whom audiences might recognize from Holt’s Sun$hine, is not the only former collaborator with Holt on the bill, as the prolific Luke Wyland of AU, who composed music for Duet/Love, performed his original score live.

Luckily, you have your choice of thorough previews and reviews to consult for a sense of what this show will be like, and whether it is for you or not. So I’d like to focus on the particular intentions of this piece, and how they are realized through a structure that may seem obtuse at times to some viewers.


Orchestra Becomes Radicalized reassembles for a new composition

Composer and drummer John Niekrasz presents a second installment of Portland avant-garde supergroup Orchestra Becomes Radicalized playing 'Five Hundred and Two'

This Wednesday night, a veritable supergroup of members of Portland’s avant-garde music scene will form for one night at Holocene.

Instigated and composed by drummer, writer, and composer John Niekrasz, Five Hundred and Two unites a fantastic roster of many of the leading musicians and artists producing experimental and new music in Portland.

That orchestra includes Luke Wyland on keyboards, coming from rave reviews for leading the Camas High School Choir collaboration with AU at this year’s TBA Festival; violinist Maddy Villano, the newest member of Smegma, an outsider sound institution performing since 1973; Sage Fisher, on harp and voice, performs as Dolphin Midwives and directs the 26-member Dröna Choir, and singer Holland Andrews has just returned from a European and US tour with her solo project “Like a Villain.” They’re joined by Brian Mumford on guitar, Jonathan Sielaff on bass clarinet, Andrew Jones on the double bass, and Ben Kates on alto sax. And if that wasn’t enough, the accompanying video was done by Portland institution Vanessa Renwick, recipient of RACC’s 2016 Fellowship Award. Niekrasz will, of course, be on drums. In addition to the Orchestra, the Ian Christensen Quartet and Visible Cloaks (formerly just “Cloaks”) will be opening the night.

John Niekrasz, center with drum sticks, has assembled another edition of Orchestra Becomes Radicalized, playing at Holocene on Wednesday.

John Niekrasz, center with drum sticks, has assembled another edition of Orchestra Becomes Radicalized, playing at Holocene on Wednesday.

This is the second installment in Niekrasz’s Orchestra Becomes Radicalized project. The series premiered at Holocene last December 8 with /Reward Cycle/. Conceived and composed while Niekrasz was living in Paris just blocks away from the Charlie Hebdo mass shooting, that piece was a cacophonous, energetic response to the climate of violence and political uncertainty surrounding the attacks. The piece drew inspiration from political texts as well as the “macabre palette of sirens and church bells” Niekrasz heard in Paris while writing it.


Choreographer Camille A. Brown asks: ‘What is so uncomfortable about a black girl playing?’

White Bird brings Camille A. Brown & Dancers to town for some playground games—and some sharing of black culture

In the Q&A after the opening night performance of “Black Girl: Linguistic Play,” Camille A. Brown was asked whether she thought it was easier or harder to engage racial issues in her performances in the “current political climate,” a phrase which sent a distressed chuckle through the audience.

She joked that when the title was just “Black Girl,” she assumed she wouldn’t have a tour. She imagined a genteel couple picking what they wanted to do on a Friday night and shying away from the performance called “Black Girl.” Who wants to think about that on your night out? “We live in a post-racial world, anyway,” Brown quipped, to another uneasy chuckle. To answer the original question, Brown asked another, simple question. What, exactly, is so uncomfortable about a black girl playing?

She’s made my job as a reviewer rather easy, in fact, by naming her show after exactly what it is about: the language behind some of the ways that black girls play. The thesis of this show is that there is legitimate language of movement that has been passed down through a rich cultural history that can be found in traditional schoolyard and side-street games played by girls, frequently black girls. Further: That’s worth watching, and it deserves more space.

Camille A. Brown and Catherine Foster in "Black Girl: Linguistic Play"/Photo by Christopher Duggan courtesy White Bird

Camille A. Brown and Catherine Foster in “Black Girl: Linguistic Play”/Photo by Christopher Duggan courtesy White Bird

If you have a sideways, gut feeling that the show will be “racially charged” or “confrontational,” I can tell you that it will only feel that way if you are uncomfortable with the idea of giving this particular form of dance a stage and engaging with it from the perspective of contemporary dance. PICA’s TBA Festival has brought performers from around the world who have done the same thing with the folk dances that informed their upbringing—Brown’s just doing it with a folk tradition that thrives in our playgrounds and city streets.