CULTURE

PHAME: The Dignity of Risk

The innovative school of arts and performance for adults with developmental disabilities embarks on new horizons with Portland Opera

“I used to voice a tentative I’d like; now it is a firm I want.” This statement, told to me by Anne-Marie Plass during a conversation about the challenges of living with developmental or intellectual disabilities, registered deeply. The difference in wording might appear slight to you and me. The distinction is a world apart for people whose daily experience is governed by fear of being judged, deemed insufficient, and being rejected. The young woman credits her shift from hesitant hopefulness to assertive requests to her 10-year exposure to the education and demands by PHAME, an organization that exposes adults like her to arts and performance, and where she now serves as a member of the board.

Anne-Marie Plass, PHAME student, performer, and board member. Photo: Friderike Heuer

I first met Anne-Marie during rehearsal and performance of a concert that marked the beginning of a collaborative effort between PHAME and Portland Opera. The 18-month-long collaboration is geared toward teaching all aspects of creating a rock opera, from writing librettos for this subgenre of opera, to costume and prop design, to creating music with an iPad orchestra and, most importantly, performing the piece themselves, with choir and soloists trained all year long.

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Tripping on Memory Lane

Turning points in a life of dance: Eric Skinner moves on, Balanchine's grave, Paul Taylor's passing, Pacific Ballet Theatre days, 'Napoli'

A visit to Balanchine’s grave (and my mother’s).

The departure of Eric Skinner for a new life in Chicago.

A reunion of Pacific Ballet Theatre’s dancers.

The death of Paul Taylor.

These are the happenings of the past five weeks that have sent me tripping on Memory Lane, making me realize that the personal and the professional are, in my case as in many, inextricable from each other.

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George Balanchine, who died on April 30, 1983, is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Sag Harbor, Long Island, one of this country’s oldest whaling ports, and now, for better but more often worse, one of the Hamptons. He made no stipulation in his will about his final resting place, and some, according to Bernard Taper, his first biographer, thought he should have been buried in Venice, with Stravinsky and Diaghilev, or in Monte Carlo. But Balanchine detested Venice, was charmed by Sag Harbor on his visits there when he was in residence at his Southampton condominium (he reportedly told someone it reminded him of the South of France). And while he remained firmly rooted in Russian culture, he was without question the principal creator of American ballet style – an American citizen, and proud of it.

George Balanchine, right, with New York City Ballet dancers, in Amsterdam, August 26, 1965. Dutch National Archives, The Hague / Wikimedia Commons

Which made it entirely appropriate to bury him in this historic American cemetery, which contains a monument to whalers lost at sea, a marker for a soldier of the Revolutionary War who, and I quote, “Did not run away,” and the graves of novelists Nelson Algren and William Gaddis, playwright Lanford Wilson, writer and actor Spalding Gray, pioneering site-specific artist Gordon Matta-Clark, and, across the path from Balanchine, dual pianists Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, who were longtime friends of his. Close by as well lies Alexandra Danilova, his muse and common law wife, whose impact as ballerina and teacher on American dancers was nearly as powerful as his.

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High Tide in Astoria

Can extremely thoughtful, attentive urban design be art? The Tidal Rock project in Astoria may have some answers.

Tidal Rock—a green space in Astoria, Oregon, formerly overgrown and obscured from the public eye—has received a makeover courtesy of three artists, Agnes Field, Brenda Harper, and Jessica Schleif, who have rallied their community to create a space for public art in an unlikely spot. Known for its role in marking the water level for its coastal community, Tidal Rock is officially designated as a historic site. Since late 2017, the three artists have been hard at work cultivating the space as a place for temporary public art installations and community gatherings. A public art event at the site, taking place Saturday evening, September 8, is the sort of thing they have in mind.

Oddfellows dance collective at Tidal Rock; photo by Brenda Harper

When I connected with the artists to speak about Tidal Rock, I was shocked to learn that Field had severely broken her leg less than two weeks before this big event. “It’s just one of those crazy things that happens when you don’t expect it,” she said. “I was helping my friends with their new roller skates.” At this point, I let an unseemly pun slip out about rolling with the situation, to which she kindly replied, “I think that the truth. It’s the only choice you have.”

“I’m like, ‘gosh, how is she doing this?’” Schleif remarked of Field’s predicament. “She’s chipper and looks great.”

Field’s high spirits bodes well for Saturday’s event, and this pervasive positivity has likely had an impact on the progress of the project thus far. The artists talked me through some of the details surrounding how they were able to convince Astoria City Council to allow them to adopt the Tidal Rock site.

“I don’t think they had experienced anything like this before,” said Schleif. “It was a leap for them to start picturing what might happen.”

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DramaWatch: Season’s greetings!

Portland's 2018-'19 theater season kicks into gear at Artists Rep, CoHo and elsewhere; and it's time to experiment with TBA.

We’ve survived the heat. Now comes the harvest.

That is to say, summer is ending soon and the boon of fall arts season is upon us. Unlike, say, baseball, there’s no official Opening Day, but this weekend is as good a time as any to mark the start of the 2018-’19 season. Labor Day has passed and Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland’s second-largest theater company, is getting things underway, as is the small yet vital CoHo. Soon enough, Portland Center Stage, the big player, will begin not just its new season but its new era under recently named artistic director Marissa Wolf.

So, what is it we want out of a theater season — either company by company or considered as a city-wide whole?

To be entertained? OK, sure. Whatever that means. Diversions and delights are great, as far as they go.

But should we be looking for more? The things we might want out of an individual play — insight into something about the human condition, an expansion of empathy for those we may have discounted, a mirror on our own foibles or desires, a call to arms about a cause celebre… — we might get more of out of a smartly programmed season.

Profile Theatre’s focus on particular playwrights lends itself to the accretion of meaning. And I rather like what the small Twilight Theater is in the midst of — a 2018 calendar-year season with plays that examine the interweaving of theater and life, plays within plays and/or about plays and such. But for the most part, especially in a time where the season-subscription model continues to fade from popularity or maybe even plausibility, the big houses seem to value stylistic variety and box-office potential, while small companies mount too few productions to draw out broader themes and ideas.

Perhaps these are musings for a different moment, though. For now, the schedules are set.

So, again: What do we want out of this theater season — not the one out of our stage-nerd utopian dreams, but the one we’re going to get?

Speaking only for myself, I’ll say: Tell me more, please, about life and how to live it.

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For the past decade, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s American Revolutions program has commissioned playwrights to examine turning points in U.S. history. Playwright Idris Goodwin has heeded the call with his new play, The Way the Mountain Moved, a revisionist look at a supposedly well-known piece of American history: how the West was won.

Not your typical white cowboy heroes, Julian Remulia (from left), Maddy Flemming, Sara Bruner and Al Espinosa represent other figures of the American West in “The Way the Mountain Moved” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Photo: Jenny Graham.

Specifically, The Way the Mountain Moved — which continues through October 28 — is set in Utah in the 1850s. The cast of characters is made up primarily of people who have long been ignored by the American Western: There are African-American Mormons (yes, they exist), Mexican immigrants, single women and their daughters, Native Americans. With this play, Goodwin, OSF, and director May Adrales point out the hypocrisy inherent in American Westerns (not to mention in this country, in general), with their singular focus on the white cowboy as hero, when we all know the white cowboy character (and, in fact, our country) were built upon the backs of people of color and women, so long and largely ignored.

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VizArts Monthly: The past lingers, the future beckons

A month's worth of possibilities at local galleries and museums

September is upon us, with programs for TBA descending like early, unusually chunky autumn leaves. This year’s lineup looks as exciting as ever, but don’t forget the visual arts, whether they’ve snuck into TBA or not. Of note this month, new independent gallery Carnation Contemporary opens its inaugural exhibition in one of the small street-facing spaces in Disjecta. Besides these new events, the last days of a few good shows linger on like the occasional remaining warm days. Ann Hamilton’s Habitus will be open through September 16, as the final part of Converge 45. Amy Bay’s lovely painting show will be hanging at Melanie Flood Projects until September 8, and while you’re downtown you can still catch or Richard Diebenkorn at PAM until the 23rd and R.B. Kitaj at the Oregon Jewish Museum until the 30th.

 

Joe Feddersen, Aggressive Attitude, 2018. Image Courtesy of Froelick Gallery; Photo by Rebekah Johnson

 

CCNA: Not Fragile

September 1-June 9, 2019
Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Avenue

Presented by the Center for Contemporary Native Art at the Portland Art Museum, a fantastic range of glass work by contemporary Native artists. The Northwest is lucky to have such a thriving scene of glass art. Artists such as Joe Feddersen and Dan Friday are distinctive employ innovative techniques and Native imagery in their glass objects that, far from the fragile associations most of us have with glass, radiate strength, resilience and resistance.

 

Unwalking the West

September 6-October 20
Pacific Northwest College of Art, Center for Contemporary Art & Culture, 511 NW Broadway

Curated by Signal Fire co-director Ka’ila Farrell-Smith, this annual project is based on “the symbolic act of retracing segments of European settler exploration and conquest in the reverse direction, as a way of interrogating assumed histories and connecting the legacy of colonialism to the present day challenges in the American West,” including climate Change. Signal Fire is a non-profit organization that connects artists with wildlands through programs like expeditions and residencies, which this exhibition draws from. Artists include Sarah Farahat, Tanja Geis, Joe Hedges, Garrick Imatani, Emmy Lingscheit, Rachelle Reichert, Rick Silva, and Ilvs Strauss.

 

Render capture from 3D environment

Utopia Without You – Tabitha Nikolai

September 6 – October 13
Williamson Knight, 916 NW Flanders St

This solo show by local artist and curator Tabitha Nikolai promises futuristic visions as disquieting as they are beguiling. Nikolai, who describes herself as a “trashgender gutter elf and low-level cybermage” will show a variety of new sculptural works including a custom gaming PC with a custom controller made in collaboration with Matt Leavitt, a wargaming diorama borrowing materials from the show at Killjoy that Nikolai curated earlier this year, and digital 3d environments with original score by Rook. Nikolai will also lead a conversation about the exhibition at the closing on October 13 at 1:00 pm.

 

RiverRouge, Christian Mickovic

Summer forever

Through October 7, 2018
Dust to Dust, 3636 N Mississippi Ave

A colorfully-intense group show that takes a close look at the complexity of that thing we love so much in Portland, summer. The show combines love, escapism, dread, freedom, and malaise “in a celebration of summer’s excess and the collective fear of a future, smoke-filled, everlasting summer,” according to the press release. Local painter Bruce Conkle’s painting of skeletons on a boat hangs in counterpoint to the 3D renderings of LA artist Paul Rosas and the sculptural recreations of party drugs by Beverly Fishman (Bloomfield Hills, Michigan). Also from Bloomfield Hills, Christian Mickovic’s optically-dizzying paintings are the stars of the show, rewarding however much time you can spend staring into them.

Gregg Bordowitz: I Wanna Be Well
Through October 21
Reed College, Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, 3203 SE Woodstock Boulevard

This exhibition marks the first retrospective of American artist, activist, writer, and educator Gregg Bordowitz. An early survivor of the HIV virus, Bordowitz created important films in the early days of AIDS activism, working with the direct action group ACT UP and the video collective, Testing the Limits. These films will join rarely-seen sculptures and drawings in this retrospective, as well a books, essays, poetry, personal ephemera, and films of recent performances by Bordowitz.

TBA Picks

Film still from Cocteau’s Beauty and the Best

Fin de Cinema—Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast

Mon Sept 10, 10 pm
The Works, 15 NE Hancock, $5–15

Returning for a second year after its popular TBA debut in 2017, this ongoing series curated by Holocene’s Gina Altamura hand-picks local musicians to compose and perform a newly imagined score to a classic movie. If TBA feels a little overwhelming to you, Fin de Cinema is guaranteed to be a satisfying, soothing break in all the intensity. Cinephiles and experimental music lovers alike can relax and enjoy the combination of an old, subtitled film and live performance of new compositions by local musicians. Well-known improvisors Like a Villain, John Niekrasz, Jonathan Sielaff (the bass clarinet in Golden Retriever), Patricia Wolf (of Soft Metals), Amenta Abioto, and Noah Bernstein perform a new score to Cocteau’s classic, highly-influential masterpiece.

Utopian Visions Art Fair

Friday, September 14 2018, 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Saturday and Sunday September 15 2018, from 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Initiated by Srijon Chowdhury, alternative art fair that provides a platform for artists, gallerists, and curators to present projects that work towards possible, alternative futures. Dozens of artists collaborate in an intimate setting, with visual art, performance, installation, and facilitated conversations around the themes of accessibility, community, and the art world’s reliance on capitalist systems. Collaborators include Institute for Interspecies Art and Relations, Chicken Coop Contemporary, Shawn Creeden, Lisa Schonberg, Institute for Queer Ecology, Lila de Magalhaes and Harley Hollenstein, Williamson + Knight, Midori Hirose & Mia Ferm, and many more.

Connecting art to activism

Besides Whitney Jayne's mixed-media show, Yamhill County eases toward fall with poetry readings, Footloose, and a film about minority winemakers

Something about autumn makes the arts seem an integral part of the season. I’m not sure how or why that happened, but I do know my calendar through November is packed with opportunities — theater, concerts, readings, shows, films. In coming weeks, we’ll get to author Reese Kwon in McMinnville; Metropolis at the Elsinore Theater in Salem; not one, but two, Yamhill County art harvest tours; and a live theater scene that includes Miss Julie, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Night of the Living Dead. Let’s go.

This week, I want to spotlight a young artist who caught the attention of McMinnville’s Dan and Nancy Morrow of The Gallery at Ten Oaks a while back and who has her first show there. Whitney Jayne’s mixed media is on display in the gallery on Oregon 99W across from Linfield College. A reception will be from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, with the exhibit continuing through Nov. 4.

Whitney Jayne

I had coffee with Jayne last month, but before her story, a quick entry from my Department of Full Disclosure (the third in as many weeks): I’ve known the Morrows for many years, and I wrote weekly film reviews for them when they owned and operated a terrific video store, the closest thing to Movie Madness a small town can have. After closing the store in April 2016, they remodeled the 110-year-old, two-story house at 801 S.W. Baker St., and within two months transformed the video store into an art gallery, showcasing both locally produced art and wine.

Jayne’s roots are in the Pacific Northwest. She was born in Seattle, but spent most of her life from age 9 in Utah, where she considered several areas of study that had little to do with art before finally embracing what she loved. She received her Bachelor’s in Fine Art in 2010 with a minor in Women and Gender studies and Psychology from Utah State University, where she had one of those incredible discoveries that artists make when something goes wrong.

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