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Hank Willis Thomas: How to unmake race

The Portland Art Museum has staged the first retrospective of Hank Willis Thomas, who addresses the complexity of race in America in "All Things Being Equal..."

The neon above the main entrance of the Portland Art Museum reads “LOVERULES.” Illuminated in different combinations, it reads both “love overules” and “love over rules.” The neon work, loaned by Jordan Schnitzer, sets the tone for Hank Willis Thomas’s show All Things Being Equal… that opened October 12 and will run through January 12, 2020. 

Hank Willis Thomas (American, born 1976), Loverules, 2019. Neon. Courtesy of Jordan D. Schnitzer. © Hank Willis Thomas, photo courtesy of Portland Art Museum

Thomas is a photographer and conceptual artist whose work explores race, the language of advertising, and the power of images to shape culture and historical narrative. All Things Being Equal… is his first major retrospective. It brings together 15 years of the artist’s work and cements Thomas’s role as an artist who asks questions and poses answers about American history and the American present.

The show is a big moment for the Portland Art Museum and co-curators Julia Dolan and Sara Krajewski. To host this sort of retrospective for an artist of this status establishes the museum as an important venue for contemporary art. The show has been written up in the New York Times, Artnet, and the Observer, which stated “this show unequivocally places the Portland Art Museum in Oregon on the contemporary art map.” It is the culmination of several years of work for Dolan and Krajewski, who, in addition to curating the show, secured funding from multiple prestigious sources and co-authored a handsome catalog with Aperture. It is equally an opportunity for viewers to consider images and race in a different way.

Though his work deals with race and Thomas contends that there is no stronger power in the universe than Black joy, he is equally adamant that race is an invention or myth designed to justify inequality and to propel stereotypes into widespread assumptions about how people are. Thomas says of race, “it is only real because we were taught to make it real.”

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The Meanings of Music, Part Three: Community grooves

In part three of three, we consider the meanings of instrumental music and community with Third Angle's "Back in the Groove"

Several questions haunted this journalist’s mind during a series of fall concerts put on by three of Portland’s most excellent classical groups: Fear No Music, Resonance Ensemble, and Third Angle New Music. The music was all good, but was often upstaged by the concerts’ messages and the questions they raised. These questions ended up being so big we’ve decided to dig deep and interrupt your Thanksgiving weekend with a three-parter.

We started our investigation of music and meaning on Thursday with FNM’s “Hearings” and continued yesterday with Resonance’s “Beautiful Minds.” Today, we conclude with Third Angle New Music’s “Back in the Groove.”

Third Angle Artistic Director Sarah Tiedemann carried her flute up onto the Jack London stage and asked the dimly lit, comfortably tabled audience: “any Jethro Tull fans in the audience?” A lone, enthusiastic “woo!” made Tiedemann raise her eyebrows and chuckle. ”Really?” She went into a little rap about Tull’s Ian Anderson, something of a maverick hero to flutists who admire his wild, chaotic energy and his contributions to discovering, inventing, and road-testing a toolkit of useful extended flute techniques.

Tiedemann didn’t get up on one foot, but she did take her shoes off: “to manage my ipad.” Pulling up the score for Ian Clarke’s Zoom Tube, she said, “I encourage you to have a very relaxed time–applaud when you like!” She then proceeded to shoelessly stun the audience into silence with an angular, effects-laden, transparently difficult, insane flurry of strangely melodic modern flute music.

It was the sort of thing that, if someone like Anderson (or Rahsaan Roland Kirk, or Eric Dolphy, or whoever) were to be discovered on some old French TV show busting into something like this it would be all over the damn internet with comments about how “outside” it is. On the other hand, compared to something like Varèse’s Density 21.5 or Babbitt’s None but the Lonely Flute–that is, to coming at it from the other side of complexity–it was commendably smooth, accessible, melodic, groovy. Such is the joy of crossing the streams.

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Farewell, my sweet gibassier

After 23 years the Pearl Bakery's ovens are shutting down, and a small but vital slice of Portland's culture is disappearing with them

EARTH-SHATTERING NEWS ARRIVED JUST AFTER THANKSGIVING – at least, shattering on my little slice of Oregon turf: Pearl Bakery, a 23-year mainstay on a tucked-away corner of close-in Northwest Portland that feels not quite Old Portland but not quite Pearl District, either, announced that it was shutting its doors immediately. Deliveries of baked goods to wholesale outlets will continue through Dec. 10.

The glorious gibassier: Thanks for the memories.

Pearl Bakery might’ve been known for its breads and sandwiches and pastries and a pretty good cup of coffee, but it also held a small yet special space in the city’s cultural fabric. Settled onto a quiet edge of comfort a block north of Burnside and a block west of the North Park Blocks, it was part of a quick-stroll triangle that stretches from Powell’s City of Books, to The Armory (home of Portland Center Stage), to Waterstone Gallery on the same block as the bakery, to the gallery row of Augen, Froelick, Charles A. Hartman, Blue Sky, and the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, with several other leading galleries just a slightly brisker walk away. It wasn’t unusual to see someone with a fresh stack of books from Powell’s sitting at a table with a cappuccino and a sandwich and a loaf to go, or a little clutch of artists stopping in for coffee and a pastry and a chat. 

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DramaWatch: Sarah Ruhl’s Almond Joy

"Melancholy Play" is a whimsical reminder that sometimes you feel like a nut. Plus: holiday treats and many helpings of Christmas stuffing.

 “There is a basic emotional spectrum from which we cannot and should not escape, and I believe that depression is in that spectrum, located near not only grief but also love. Indeed I believe that all the strong emotions stand together, and that every one of them is contingent on what we commonly think of as its opposite.”

— from The Noonday Demon: an Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon

Melancholy Play, by the MacArthur Foundation fellow and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Sarah Rurl, is in one sense an hilariously misnamed work. The overall tenor of the piece, far from dour or downbeat, is playful, verging on farcical, with absurdity within its reach. In fact, in its original iteration, circa 2001, it was titled Melancholy Play: a Contemporary Farce. A decade or so later, Ruhl revised the work to incorporate music — for string quartet and piano — by composer Todd Almond, calling for much of the dialogue to be sung, and calling for a new subtitle. This version, Melancholy Play: a Chamber Musical, is the next production from Third Rail Rep, opening Saturday at CoHo Theater.

Sadness never looked so fun: Sarah Ruhl’s Melancholy Play in a Third Rail Rep production at CoHo Theater. Photo: Owen Carey.

However, the play — the musical, whichever — is about melancholy. It concerns a woman named Tilly whose wistful, romantically melancholic affect is so alluring that the folks she encounters — her therapist, her tailor, her hairdresser and so on — fall all over themselves falling in love with her. Until, surrounded by all that love, Tilly has what’s either a sudden recognition or a true transformation: She’s happy.

And, well, that doesn’t go over so well.

Perhaps you’ll consider this a spoiler, but the news is out there: One of Tilly’s admirers is so undone by the change that she, too, changes — into an almond. As the website  DCMetroTheaterArts wrote of a production back east: “Not a metaphorical almond, mind, but an actual small brown nut, carefully displayed on a delicate white pillow. (One review I saw of a college production quite seriously urged people with tree nut allergies not to attend the show).”

Absurdity reached, absurdity grasped.

And yet, this is Sarah Ruhl, in whose theatrical world whimsy counts almost as a tool of philosophical inquiry. Even more so than in such later, celebrated works as The Clean House and Dead Man’s Cell Phone, she’s being thoughtful in a goofy way.

“It’s an odd little concoction,” admits Rebecca Lingafelter, who directs the Third Rail production with what she describes as vaudevillian style of staging and an emphasis on what Ruhl calls the “sincere melodrama” of the piece. 

Lingafelter notes that Ruhl first wrote the play as a graduate student at Brown University — where fellow students and future Third Rail regulars Kerry Ryan and Darius Pierce were involved in its early development. (Ryan performed in it back then and will do so again for Third Rail.) “You can see a lot in it about how she grew later on, some of the styles and the themes that she’d develop,” Lingafelter says. “There’s a lot that she’s exploring and working out that in her later plays she’s simplified and focused in on. And there are some of the fundamentals of who she is as an artist. Something I like about her work is that it can only work in the theater; she understands that we’re in a place of poetry and metaphor. There’s a very theatrical quality to it all that can be really fun.”

Ruhl’s point here, the meaning behind the mad method, is to make a case for an out-of-fashion notion of melancholy, both differentiating it from the much-bemoaned modern ailment, depression, and extolling it as a special kind of emotional sensitivity. 

Tailor-made for love: Leah Yorkston and Nick Ferrucci in Melancholy Play. Photo: Owen Carey.

“Melancholy can be active, yearning, hopeful, nostalgic, sexy even, and offers the possibility of communing with others,” Ruhl wrote in a 2015 foreward to the script. “Melancholy makes us contemplate the inevitable passage of time — the transience of things — and in that sense, it’s not neurotic, but rather part of the human condition.”

Depression she describes as “hermetic, sealed off, inert, hopeless,” worthy of the eradication so many seek. But might we be, she wonders, “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”? Which suggests another question: What to do about those who’ve slipped from hopefully yearning to hermetically sealed? 

“The fundamental theme, for me,” Lingafelter says, “is that she thinks that community is an overlooked way to address isolation and loneliness, to keep people from slipping too far into depression.” 

In its nearly 500 pages about the history, manifestations and treatments of mood disorders, Solomon’s Noonday Demon doesn’t say just where melancholy lands on humanity’s “basic emotional spectrum.” But on its final page, Solomon writes, “The opposite of depression is not happiness but vitality.”

By which reckoning Ruhl’s Melancholy Play might serve as a grinning middle ground.
 

The flattened stage (Thanks-taking edition)

Thanksgiving is a time of tradition. And for me, there is no tradition more hallowed at this time of year than watching my favorite video clip of the Apple Sisters.
I fell in love with the Apple Sisters in 2008, when the trio performed in the Best of the Best Sketch Fest, which I reviewed for The Oregonian: “Like a crisp, sweet McIntosh with a razor inside, the act is a 1940s radio variety show that revels in its homespun innocence (‘Heck’s bells!,’ one of the sisters exclaims) and cornpone humor (Seedy Apple: ‘You’re so dumb.’ Lusty, busty blonde Cora Apple: ‘I ain’t dumb! I can hear just fine!’), but sneaks in shards of political and sexual commentary. Facing the prospect of joining the war effort, Seedy remarks, ‘We know that war isn’t all raindrops on roses and whites-only drinking fountains.’ And then there are the references to Candy Apple’s mysterious husband, Cheryl (‘It’s not like I’m hiding Cheryl in a closet,’ Candy says.)”

Yet somehow that review neglected to mention their greatest bit, an incisive and hilarious pocket history of North American (re)settlement, “Pilgrim/Indian Song.” 

Opening (Brutal Xmas Onslaught Edition)

A cozy “Carol”: Portland Playhouse has filled houses and warmed hearts for the past several years with its production of “A Christmas Carol.” Photo: courtesy of Portland Playhouse.

In the early years of Portland Playhouse, artistic director Brian Weaver was the serious-minded sort who didn’t take the rote route of programming a Christmas-themed show at the end of the year. But his brother Michael (or, as I like to call him, Weaver the Younger) argued that there was nothing wrong with giving the people what they like. Eventually Weaver the Elder was won over, and scheduled a production of the most obvious choice possible, Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Directed that first time by Cristi Miles, it was a huge hit, boasting such a fidelity to Dickensian virtues that audiences talked of seeing the old familiar play anew. These days, Weaver the Elder  directs the show — an adaptation by Rick Lombardo, with songs by Lombardo and Anna Lackaff — himself, and year after year it’s a reliable seasonal treat. And really, with such performing talents as Michael Mendelson as Scrooge and Ben Tissell as Bob Cratchit, how could it be otherwise?

***

This Carol, of course, is known for having multiple personalities. For instance, A Xmas Cuento Remix at Milagro, in which playwright Maya Malán-González gives A Christmas Carol a modern Latinx twist. In this version — which has productions this season in Portland, Cleveland and Chicago as part of the National New Play Network’s Rolling World Premiere program — hip, shapeshifting carolers serve as a mythic chorus, performing remixed Spanish and English Christmas songs, guiding the story and helping a woman named Dolores Avara to learn forgiveness and embrace holiday traditions. Triangle Productions, by contrast, gives the story a bawdy, Victorian music hall treatment, via Scrooge in Rouge, a spoof in which an outbreak of food poisoning reduces the available cast to just three hearty/hardy/foolhardy folk. The resulting requisite crossdressing, quick-change approach should be a comedic blank check for Dave Cole, Jeremy Anderson-Sloan and the always-vibrant Cassi Q. Kohl. (Stumptown Stages also has a more determinedly musical adaptation coming up, but that won’t open until Dec. 5.) 

***

If Dickens is an example of the culturally specific elbowing its way into universality, then maybe Black Nativity is on its way there too. Langston Hughes’ spirited re-telling of the Christian nativity story though black gospel singing and “traditional” Christmas carols has both a strong character and a broad appeal — enough so that PassinArt will present the show for a fifth consecutive year.

***

Around this time last year, critic-turned-playwright John Longenbaugh — whose Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol did well for Artists Rep earlier this decade — presented a one-night reading of his new play The Christmas Case: A Lady Brass Mystery. Now he’s back at the Chapel Theatre in Milwaukie with a full production of the story, about a lady detective and her daughter whose quiet country-house Christmas Eve turns instead into the mystery and intrigue of a jewel heist.

***

Fred Bishop (left) and Jennifer Goldsmith star in It Happened One Christmas, a new holiday musical revue from Broadway Rose. Photo: Sam Ortega.

“Grimbles” sounds like a blend of “Gimbels,” the famed but now-defunct department-store company, and “grumble,” which you might be inclined to do if forced to be in a department store during December. In any case, it’s the name of the store that’s the setting for the story of It Happened One Christmas, a new original musical by Broadway Rose stalwarts Dan Murphy and Rick Lewis. As a cleaning lady and a security guard make their nightly rounds, the magic of Christmas Eve begins to take effect. The too-seldom-seen Jennifer Goldsmith stars as Frances, the cleaner, alongside Fred Bishop as Walter the guard.

***

The distinguishing feature of The Hullabaloo! Alice in Wonderland, British-panto-styled offering from the company known as Jane — or at least one thing that makes it stand out — is the price. Tickets are free. (I sometimes think that Portland citizenship should be contingent on whether someone knows who popularized the phrase “Free is a very good price!”) But there’ll be no citizenship tests for these freebies, just email info@janetheater.org to reserve yours.

Closing

One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite bands is the observation in a Husker Du song: “Expectation only means you really think you know what’s coming next — and you don’t.”
So I won’t pretend to really think I know quite what’s coming to the Performance Works NorthWest under the title Funeral for Expectations. Glancing at an email from the show’s creator/performer Julia Brandenberger, I first noticed the phrase “immersive and participatory ceremony of disposition,” and thought, “They’re going to bury the audience?!?”

Er…maybe not. Brandenberger, whose training is in ballet and theology, instead intends to put to rest such things as “struggles with body…toxic judgements and the stresses of achievement culture and perfectionism.”

***

La Ruta, Artists Rep’s powerful production of Isaac Gomez’ play about mothers and daughters and the harrowing experiences of those working along the U.S./Mexico border, closes its run on Sunday.

Second-hand news (theater journalism worth reading)

Long ago, early in my time as an arts journalist, I walked into a rock club one night and a friend of mine approached me. “Have you been feeling OK lately,” she asked. “Fine. Why do you ask?,” I replied. “You haven’t been mean to anyone in your column the past few weeks,” she said.
What she meant was that she liked, and missed, the barbed comments I slung at bands I didn’t like. But I found the exchange disheartening. Granted, it was fun to be snarky. My favorite line of mine from that era came as a brief mention of a laughable hair-metal band called Rex and the Rock-Its: “If the worst thing a critic can do to a band is to ignore it entirely, why am I being so nice?” Yet I didn’t I want to be seen as being mean, and I believed that writing criticism was about much more than taking pot shots — or even really about passing judgment.

That incident came to mind while reading recently about the death of John Simon, long a notoriously negative critic for New York Magazine, famous for both his erudition and his viciousness.
As a general matter, criticism has become a toothless monster since Simon’s late-20th-century heyday. But his passing presents an opportunity to consider what criticism can and should — or shouldn’t — do. 

In the obituary at Vulture, New York mag’s culture website, Christopher Bonanos, one of Simon’s later editors, outlines how sharp and colorful Simon’s writing could be, and how egregiously he could stray outside the lines of fair play. Bonanos also closes his piece on an especially apt note: “I don’t think it’s cruel to say this, because John himself would undoubtedly have turned it into a gleeful anecdote: When he had the stroke that killed him, he was at a local dinner theater. Hell of a review.”
American Theatre magazine chipped in with twinned commentaries, one by Michael Feingold, a former critic for the Village Voice, and one by Jack O’Brien, former artistic director of the Old Globe Theatre.

Interestingly, it’s the fellow critic who registers disappointment and disapproval, while the theater artist presents a case for the defense.

The best line I read this week

“Love is the last and secret name of all the virtues.”

— from A Fairly Honourable Defeat by Iris Murdoch


It’s Thanksgiving, so I’ll give thanks for Barry Johnson, one of the Northwest’s very finest thinkers and writers about the arts, for creating Oregon ArtsWatch and providing a chance for a former daily-paper hack like me to keep writing.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll try to do better the next time.

December DanceWatch: Rhyming couplets rule!

December dance around the state and especially Portland has its fair share of Nutcrackers and yet more

‘Twas the month of December and all through the state, 

Not a dancer was sleeping. They hardly could wait!

Dance shoes of all kinds were readied with care,

In hopes that big audiences soon would be there.

Choreographers were restless and pacing all night,

With visions of slip-ups creating a fright.

While ArtsWatch’s writers got set to review,

The dancers lined up and awaited their cue.

With music beginning and growing intense,

The curtain rose softly, without a pretense. 

The dancers all flew from the wings with a flash,

They tore up the stage and gave it a thrash!

The dancers’ excitement gave rise to new hope, 

That in this new year, we may cheerfully cope.

With so much to see we can say without fear,

Happy winter to all, and a Happy New Year!

Dance Performances in December

Week 1: December 1-8

The Cirque Dreams Holidaze, spectacle! Photo courtesy of Cirque Dreams Holidaze.

Cirque Dreams Holidaze
6:30 pm December 1
Hult Center, Soreng Theater, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene

In this larger than life, Las Vegas-meets-musical theatre-meets- nutcracker-spectacle-blowout, Cirque Dreams Holidaze celebrates Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s all in one! 

The performance features over 300 costumes and 20 acts. Singers, dancers, and circus artists bring holiday characters to life and waltz the night away to seasonal favorites like Deck The Halls, Winter Wonderland, and Jingle Bell Rock.

Dora Gaskill and Stephanie Lavon Trotter in, Split Chorus, shared concert.
Photo courtesy of Dora Gaskill and Stephanie Lavon Trotter.

Split Chorus
Dora Gaskill and Stephanie Lavon Trotter
Performance Works NW Alembic Co-Production
December 6-7
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave

Sharing an evening of new work are interdisciplinary performance artist and lighting designer Dora Gaskill and vocal performance artist and composer Stephanie Lavon Trotter.

Gaskill presents, Graphical Optical Black Out (GOBO), a work that utilizes theatrical lighting, anatomy, and dance to play with perception. 

Trotter presents, Nothing’s really easy about the end of the world, an opera in process, in collaboration with trombonist and vocalist Annie Gilbert. The composition ritualizes the mundane using electro-acoustic voice, movement and video, to situate us in the chaos and comforts of a dying planet.

Lewis and Clark College dancers working it out.
Photo courtesy of Lewis and Clark College.

Dance Extravaganza
Presented by Lewis and Clark College
December 6-7
Lewis and Clark College, Fir Acres Theatre Main Stage, 0615 S.W. Palatine Hill Road MSC 54 

Dance Extravaganza features an eclectic mix of new choreography from Lewis and Clark College dance students, alumni, BodyVox Artistic Director Jamey Hampton, and Portland Hip Hop artist Mariecella Devine. 

Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Sridharini Sridharan.
Photo courtesy of Sridharini Sridharan.

Melattur Margam Bharatanatyam
Artistic Director: Sridharini Sridharan
Performed by students of Kala Shiksha
Hosted by HECSA Portland Balaji Temple
3pm December 7
PCC Rock Creek Campus, 17705 NW Springville

Comprised of nine pieces in the Melattur style of Bharathanaityam, this margam (or program) accompanied by a live orchestra, is choreographed and directed by international Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Sridharini Sridharan. Sridharan, originally from Chennai, is a student of Guru Srimati Revathi Ramachandran and is formally trained in Nattuvangam and carnatic music, and has a diploma in Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music. In 2016 Sridharan founded her own school in Portland called Kala Shiksha.

The traditionally ordered program includes 25 dancers and begins with a Mallari, an invocation dance, and concludes with a mangalam which calls for the blessings of the audience. The dances are in a conversation between the dancer’s ankle bells (Padha Paatas) and the accompanying percussion instrument (the Mridangam) and strike a perfect balance between the mind, body, and soul with the purpose of leading us to moksha, liberation or enlightenment. 

Oregon Ballet Theatre in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. Photo courtesy of Oregon Ballet Theatre.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
Oregon Ballet Theatre, artistic director, Kevin Irving
December 7-26
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay Street

To Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, little Marie parties hard, fights with her brother because he broke her new toy, sees a tree grow to the size of a building, fights off rats and travels to the Land of Sweets where she meets the Sugar Plum Fairy, witnesses dancing delicacies from around the world, and takes off in the end to places unknown with the Nutcracker Prince.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker was first performed on February 2, 1954, an adaptation of an earlier version that Balanchine had danced back in Russia. It is now synonymous with the holiday season here in America and is performed by ballet companies nationwide, including OBT’s large-scale version.

Week 2: December 9-15

Dancers of the Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company. Photo courtesy of the Disability Art and Culture Project.

Do Good Showcase
Hosted by Disability Art and Culture Project
6:30 pm December 10
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont 

Dancers of the Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company will perform to raise funds for the Disability Art and Culture Project, CymaSpace, Friends of Noise, Portland Street Art Alliance, and Vibe.  There are pre-and post-show activities and live DJ in the lobby! The event is FREE and a donation to participating nonprofits is recommended. ASL interpretation, live audio captioning, and audio description will be provided. 

Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company, founded in 2005 by Kathy Coleman (current director), Erik Ferguson (co-artistic director of Wobbly Dance), and Jody Ramey, is a mixed-ability, mixed-age dance company that aims to further the artistic expression of people with apparent and non-apparent disabilities, by providing dance, choreography and performance as an artistic outlet.

NW Dance Project dancers Noelle Kayser and William Couture. Photos by Michael Slobodian

Winter Wonders
NW Dance Project
December 12-14
Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave

Celebrating its 16th anniversary, NW Dance Project presents its annual holiday extravaganza and warm wassail for all! Five NW Dance Project dancers have joined forces to conceive, create, and produce an evening of new, contemporary dance works. Interspersed throughout, will be short whimsical interludes created by Resident Choreographer, Ihsan Rustem for the company’s 10 dancers and the Young Creatives student performing group.

Inspired by fairytales of yesteryear, fables, snowy scenes, and winter wonders, this holiday mashup includes, but is not limited to, appearances by The Snow Queen, The Grinch and his dog Max, and many more madcap characters.

ZooZoo
Imago Theatre, Carol Triffle and Jerry Mouawad
December 13-January 5
Imago Theatre, 17 SE 8th

ZooZoo is back! This longtime, audience favorite magnifies the quirkiness in our everyday life with an expert composition of elaborate costumes, masks, dance, music, physical comedy, and anthropomorphic humor. ZooZoo features a zany cast of characters like playful polar bears, firefly eyes, hippos with insomnia, arrogant anteaters, introverted frogs, acrobatic worms, self touting accordions, and tricky penguins, in this carnival of the absurd. 

Founded in 1979 by Carol Triffle and Jerry Mouawad, Imago presents original productions using masks and elaborate costumes making the humans disappear and the imaginative creatures appear.

Ballet Fantastique dancers in, Babes in Toyland.
Photo by Bob Williams.

Babes in Toyland
Ballet Fantastique
December 13-15
Hult Center, Soreng Theater, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene

It’s Christmastime in Candyland with Ballet Fantastique! Babes in Toyland, which debuted in 2018, is a contemporary ballet danced to Duke Ellington’s jazzy rendition of The Nutcracker Suite, played live by the Swing Shift Orchestra. This retro-glam ballet, choreographed and produced by the mother-daughter artistic team of Donna Marisa and Hannah Bontrager, is a reimagining of the original Babes in Toyland operetta that Victor Herbert composed as a Christmas-themed fairy-tale mashup; it debuted in 1903.

Reed College dancers taking flight. Photo courtesy of Reed College Dance Department.

Winter Dance Concert
Reed College Dance Department
December 14-15
Reed College, Greenwood Theatre, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd

The end of the semester is here and with it the result of many hours of hard work by Reed dance majors. This performance features choreography by students and faculty-get a glimpse of future Portland dancers and dance makers.

Northwest Dance Theatre’s Nutcracker and Mouse King, dueling it out.
Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

A Nutcracker Tea
Northwest Dance Theatre
Artistic Directors June Taylor-Dixon and Gretta Murray-Marchek
December 14-22
Sylvania Campus, PCC Sylvania’s Performing Arts Center, 12000 SE, SW 49th Ave

An abridged Nutcracker, this version follows Clara and her prince through the Snow Kingdom and the Land of Sweets, showcasing beautifully crafted sets and costumes with choreography by June Taylor-Dixon and Gretta Murray-Marchek.

NWDT is a youth ballet company in its twenty-seventh season.

The Bolshoi Ballet’s Evgenia Obraztsova as Marie, and Vladislov Lantrtov as the Nutcracker-Prince, in The Nutcracker. Photo by Damir Yusopov.

The Nutcracker
The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, Fathom Events
12:55 pm December 15
Check local theater listings for more information

Broadcast all the way from Moscow to a movie theater near you, the Bolshoi Ballet will perform Yuri Grigorovich’s 1966 version of The Nutcracker (after E.T.A. Hoffmann and Marius Petipa). 

In this version, our heroine’s name is Marie instead of Clara, Drosselmeyer turns into a wizard, the Nutcracker-Prince fight mice not rats, Marie and Nutcracker Prince sail in a magic boat through the Christmas tree kingdom not the land of sweets, Marie vanquishes the mice with a lighted candle instead of her shoe, and in the end, Marie wakes only to realize that it was all just a dream. 

Photo by Michael Miyahara. Poster design by Anthony Tzakis.

Fiesta Flamenca Navideña
Espacio Flamenco Portland
7pm December 15
Aladdin Theater, 3017 SE Milwaukie Ave

Espacio Flamenco Portland presents Fiesta Navideña, a celebration honoring the holidays, Flamenco style. The evening will include performances by Espacio Flamenco Coro Navideño, Flamenco Kids, the Flamenco Guitar class, and the Espacio Flamenco Company.

Week 3: December 16-22

Celebrate the Season 
DOJUMP, 3 Leg Torso, Joan Szymko, and more!
7:30 pm December 20
Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St

DO JUMP! and 3 Leg Torso present a seasonal mashup of theatricality, acrobatics, aerial dance, comedy, beauty, virtuosity and wit that includes comic and singer Pepe Raphael, juggler Charlie Brown, and original music composed by Courtney Von Drehle, Béla R. Balogh, Ralph Huntley and Joan Szymko.

Pictured: Troupe Vertigo. Photo courtesy of Oregon Symphony.

Cirque Nutcracker
Presented by Oregon Symphony
December 21
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway

Los Angeles-based theatrical circus company Troupe Vertigo, founded in 2009 by Aloysia Gavre (Cirque du Soleil) and her husband Rex Camphuis (Pickle Family Circus), join forces with the Oregon Symphony to bring a unique hybrid of cirque, dance, and acrobatics to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.

The Nightmare Before Christmas
Steps PDX, directed by Kathryn Harden,
2 pm and 7 pm December 21
World Trade Center Portland, 121 Southwest Salmon Street

The dancers of Steps PDX embody the pumpkin headed scarecrow Jack Skellington and all of the zany ghoulish characters on an adventure to bring Christmas to Halloween Town in this show based on the Tim Burton film of the same name. 

The choreography is provided by artistic director Kathryn Harden, ballet mistress Olivia Ornelas, and the artistic staff—Tj Yale, Alexander Dones, Lauren Smith and Adrianna Audoma.

Eugene Ballet’s The Nutcracker by artistic director Toni Pimble.
Photo courtesy of Eugene Ballet.

The Nutcracker
Eugene Ballet, Toni Pimble 
December 20-22
Hult Center, Soreng Theater, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene

Already on tour across Oregon and Idaho, Eugene Ballet’s The Nutcracker, will return to Eugene for just four performances. 

In this version, played lived by Orchestra Next lead by Brian McWhorter, The Nutcracker becomes a story of young love. In Clara’s dream, the nutcracker transforms into Hans, a young man who works for Drosselmeyer, instead of a prince. The couple takes off on their journey in hot air balloons instead of a horse and sleigh and encounter more culturally sensitive dances that borrow from the folk dances of each country represented. 

Week 4: December 23-31

Dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre waltzing it out with the Oregon Symphony. Photo courtesy of the Oregon Symphony.

A Viennese New Year
Presented by Oregon Symphony with guests from Oregon Ballet Theatre
7:30 pm December 30
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway

Transport yourself to the imperial palaces of Austria and live out your fairytale dreams as the Oregon Symphony celebrates the golden age of Viennese music with operatic melodies and Strauss waltzes, while dancers from Oregon Ballet Theatre give visual form to the sounds. 

Upcoming Performances

January 
January 16-25, a world, a world, Linda Austin Dance
January 26, Cirque Flip Fabrique, Presented by Portland’5
January 26, Giselle, The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, Fathom Events
January 30-February 9, Fertile Ground Festival of New Works

February 
February 2, Holy Goats!, Performance Works NW
February 5-9, Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor, White Bird
February 8-9, Alice in Wonderland, Eugene Ballet
February 12, Grupo Corpo, White Bird
February 15-23, The Sleeping Beauty, Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 21-23, ORIGIN: Humble Beginnings, PDX Contemporary Ballet
February 22, Interplay, Eugene Ballet and The University of Oregon School of Music and Dance
February 23, Swan Lake, The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, Fathom Events
February 27-29, Cirque Alfonse, White Bird

March
March 5-7, Rennie Harris Funkedified, White Bird
March 6-8, Dragon and The Night Queen, Ballet Fantastique
March 13-15, Alembic Resident Artists Performance: Sarah Brahim, Maggie Heath, and Cat Ross, Performance Works NW
March 29, Romeo and Juliet, The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, Fathom Events

April 
April 2-4, Camille A. Brown and Dancers, White Bird
April 4-5, Heaven and Earth, Eugene Ballet
April 9-12, Beautiful Decay, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 15, ChangMu Dance Company, White Bird
April (dates TBA): Linda Austin & Allie Hankins ║ The Traveler & the Thief
April 19, Jewels, The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, Fathom Events
April 23, Drum Tao 2020
April 23-25, The Rite Of Spring, NW Dance Project
April 25-28, X-Posed, Polaris Dance Theatre
April 30-May 2, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox

May
May 1-2, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox
May 8-9, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 8-10, Luna Mistica, Ballet Fantastique
May 12-13, Dance Theatre of Harlem, White Bird
May 3: Holy Goats!Plus, Performance Works NW
May 22-24, ARISE: What Dance Could Be, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 28-31, Portland Tap Dance Festival, Portland Tap Alliance

 June
June 5-13, The Americans 2.0, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 11-13, Summer Splendors, NW Dance Project
June 12-14, Up Close, The Portland Ballet

The “humble regality” of Lauren Hare’s portraits

Sebastian Zinn considers the artist's work and win in the triennial Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition

by SEBASTIAN ZINN

An immaculate glass windowpane separates us from a woman in a flaxen dress, seated in a small diner at a booth with lemon-yellow upholstery. Her dress gives the brown veneer of the table a golden tinge. Reflections play across the windowpane, challenging our ability to establish what’s inside or outside the diner. A sliver of baby-blue sky in the upper left-hand corner signals that it is a bright, cloudless day. Five glazed, American-style donuts are stacked in a tower of confection on the table in front of her. She is taking the first bite from a sixth donut with her right hand. Her left forearm rests on the table, shielding her meal from the other diner-goers whose backs are turned at the bar behind her. Her eyes are focused on the window sill. If she were to raise them 45 degrees she would be looking into the camera’s lens. This is, after all, a photograph, created by the Portland-based portrait photographer, Lauren Hare. This photograph, entitled Secrets, was awarded a prize in the National Portrait Gallery’s triennial Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. The competition received 2675 entries for the 2019 cycle, and 46 finalists were selected from that pool. Two of this cycle’s six prize winners, including Hare, are women.

Lauren Hare, Secrets (2017). Courtesy of the artist.

 
The goal of the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition is to “celebrate excellence in the art of portraiture.” The competition pairs three National Portrait Gallery curators with four guest jurors, who are tasked with selecting artworks which “reflect the compelling and diverse approaches contemporary artists are using to tell the American story through portraiture.” This year’s prize winners and finalists submitted work in an eclectic range of media, including stop-motion drawing animation, inkjet prints, oil paint, video, acrylic, and ceramic.

Hare’s Secrets captures more than an individual likeness; it speaks to the contemporary American story. The image has a subtle allegorical quality to it, rendering a sober vision of consumerism. Portrait traditions ranging from Egyptian sarcophagi to Baroque portraits have long served to memorialize members of the social elite. Many of the works in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection, such as portraits of contemporary celebrities including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Spike Lee, and Jeff Bezos, fulfill precisely this role. Secrets, however, captures not the likeness of a known or revered cultural figure, but the ennui, desire, dissatisfaction, and isolation familiar to many young Americans. The figure in the diner booth is an “everyman;” anyone living in 21st century America, trapped in the cycle of binge and ‘self-care’ consumerism can identify with this situation. By synthesizing these complex feelings into a single image, Hare, and her fantastically expressive model, Madison, allow viewers to confront them head on.

The woman in Secrets looks like she is engaging in (or resigning herself to), a deeply personal ritual, and her downcast expression and slumped shoulders tell us that she isn’t much enjoying it. Her body language seems guarded, subsumed within her own interiority. Perhaps she is dissatisfied with her reflection in the glass in front of her (an experience anyone with a front-facing camera can relate to). Secrets is almost an anti-advertisement for a donut chain. Rather than a jovial, American nuclear family indulging in a spontaneous trip to the donut shop on a sunny afternoon (“Daddy likes bear-claws, but mommy prefers chocolate with sprinkles”) we see one woman, alone in a public space, outnumbered by consumer goods without anyone to share them with. Somehow, Secrets seems to parody this experience without diminishing it.

Lauren Hare, Portrait of my Mother from Still Life Portraits (2017). Courtesy of the artist.

Donuts are by no means the first props to appear in Hare’s portrait photographs. In one series (Still Life Portraits, 2017) she captured her models striking unnatural poses in surreal environments, surrounded by bizarre props, including fruits, vegetables, flowers, and glassware. The arrangements elicit the impression that the human subjects in her photographs are part of an elaborate still life, establishing an equivocation between animate and inanimate matter. “A lot of times my models will have to be very patient while I figure out where I want to put my props,” she tells me.

Hare thinks of her approach to portrait photography as being situated “somewhere between the biographical and the fictional.” Preferring to create honest representations of bodies, she never photoshops her subjects. The people in her portraits typically look at ease, as if we are encountering them on their own terms. It’s worth noting that smart-phones and references to the internet or social media––key drivers of contemporary culture’s obsession with images and our proclivity towards carefully curating online, image-based identities––are completely absent from her photographs.

Lauren Hare, Grandbaby 1 (2018). Courtesy of the artist.

Hare feels that her ability to coach her subjects is one of her greatest strengths as a photographer: “I like taking photos of people when their faces are relaxed. I try to portray my subjects with what I like to call humble regality––both humility and honor,” says Hare. This approach is particularly successful in her portrait series, “See Her,” which highlights the beauty, confidence, and vulnerability of women “50 years and wiser.” Her sets can also be extravagant, and the poses she has some models assume are meticulous––they aren’t always engaging in banal activities, like navigating the aisles at the grocery store. Still other photographs (like Secrets) possess a cinematic quality, weaving together micro-narratives on the basis of coincident materials and events, such as props, location, and context (See “The Long Drive Home”).

Hare realized that the tone or mood of Secrets has been a through line in her body of work. The ambiguity inherent in portraiture appeals to her: “A portrait doesn’t have to provide an answer, or tell the audience what to think, but perhaps alludes to a new perspective.” She used to travel across North America, working as an art model, and enjoyed discovering the suburbs and micro-communities of the American landscape, because it helped her realize how many different lives there are to be lived. Secrets carries forward and manifests this voyeuristic gaze. It enacts portrait photography’s capacity to open a window into another person’s reality, as if we were passing a restaurant on the street, our attention temporarily drawn to the characters inside. The photographer’s relationship to the woman in the window booth mimics our relationship to the subjects we can discover through portrait photography, especially those of photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, August Sander, and Vivian Maier. As a medium, it provides a window into the life of another person, allowing us to speculate about the extent to which they may be “different from [us] in ways big or small, a lot or only the littlest bit like [us]” (Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker).

Lauren Hare, Laura from See Her (2018). Courtesy of the artist.

It’s difficult to exaggerate the significance of Hare’s achievement as a prizewinner. In 2016, the painter Amy Sherald became the first woman to be awarded first prize in the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. That same year, she was commissioned by Michelle Obama to paint the former First Lady’s official portrait for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. The prize initiated her “rise to fame,” and Sherald and Kehinde Wiley’s portraits of Michelle and Barack Obama have been credited with doubling the National Portrait Gallery’s annual attendance and putting the Gallery “on the international map.

Lauren Hare, Untitled (2018). Courtesy of the artist.

Hare took her first art class––a series of three dark room classes at Portland Community College (PCC)––at age 21, in 2006. It changed her life, and she retook the class four times. “I was never swept away with something before photography, and it helped me develop more of an identity,” she says. She obtained an undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies at Marylhurst College in 2013, focusing on the therapeutic benefits of photography and Imagery-Sustained Healing. Although she enjoyed her psychology courses, she always felt that there was more that she could contribute, but she never knew how or with what.

Lauren Hare, Rodeo Queen from See Her (2017). Courtesy of the artist.

Initially, Hare’s photography took as its subject rural settings, particularly ghost towns and building structures in a state of decay––prominent features of early 20th century American life which had been consigned to the fringes of contemporary society and reabsorbed by the natural landscape. In her latest series, Hare has once again trained her lens on rural America, attending rodeos in Oregon where she photographs strangers. She catches many of her subjects in the golden light of late afternoon. Most striking among these is an image of a cowboy seated in the first row overlooking a rodeo ring, cradling a sleeping baby against his chest. The cowboy’s tenderness is focalized, and the chaos of the proceedings around him blur into the background. Like Secrets, this portrait successfully translates the emotional life of its subject in a snapshot, giving voice not to late-capitalist disenchantment, but the bone-deep bond between parent and child.

Lauren Hare, Grandbaby 2 (2019). Courtesy of the artist.

Hare began to value photography as a non-verbal mode of self-expression while experimenting with self-portraiture early in her career. Today, she aspires to empower her subjects to explore their aspirations and identities through a visual medium. She believes that good portrait photography encourages its subjects to reflect back on their inherent strengths. “Eventually,” she tells me, “you learn that it’s not always about self-discovery, but about self-acceptance.”

Sebastian Zinn has a B.A. in Comparative Literature with an allied field in Art History from Reed College. Since graduating in the Spring of 2018, he has been working as a freelance writer and editor covering a diverse range of topics, including economics, medicine, food, music, literature, film, fashion and visual and performance art.

A century of Leonard Bernstein

An exhibition of mementos, film clips, and other artifacts from the cultural giant's long career at the Oregon Jewish Museum

by EVAN LEWIS

Leonard Bernstein is a complicated artist to reckon with.  Composer, conductor, teacher, activist, father, cultural figure– the word “polymath” seems designed specifically to try and find a small word to wrap all of his roles into one. 

The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education’s exhibit Leonard Bernstein at 100 runs through January 26, 2020.  Curated by the GRAMMY Museum in LA, The New York Public Library, and members of the Bernstein family, the exhibit chronologically illustrates the conductor’s life through photos, documents, mementos, and, most successfully, film clips of his performances. It’s a great exhibit for those who already know a lot about the Maestro (as LB is often referred to, in honor of his amazing conducting career), or those who are learning about him for the first time.  

Installation view of Leonard Bernstein at 100 at OJMCHE. Photo by Mario Gallucci.

In the interest of full disclosure: when I lived in NYC 15 years ago, fresh out of college, the first job I got was as the administrative assistant at The Leonard Bernstein Office, the organization that manages his estate; and after that I became the personal assistant to the man who had been LB’s personal assistant, Jack Gottlieb.  So to say that I feel like I have heard a lot of his music, thought a lot about his life, and generally been in a musical world with Bernstein always as a presence over my shoulder is a bit of an understatement. I ended up being asked to write this review without any of this being known; just one of those happy, musical accidents. Portland’s a small town, you always have to be on your best behavior because you never know who you’ll run into!

The exhibit starts with an overview of his early years– letters, photos, childhood in Boston– and then you enter a room where each display focuses on a different part of his music and career. Musically, it’s hard to mentally wrap your mind around the boundaries of his creative output and varied styles. Somehow it seems almost comical to remember one composer was responsible for On The Town, Candide, West Side Story, MASS, Symphony 2: The Age of Anxiety, Clarinet Sonata, etc. etc. etc. Bernstein by all accounts was someone hungry to experience all facets of life– read Jamie Bernstein’s excellent memoir Famous Father Girl for more anecdotes about that– and his catalogue of works shows that character trait in action.  Musicals, operas, film scores, “serious” concert works, rock-inflected works, musical lectures– there is no genre he didn’t dabble in. 

Installation view of Leonard Bernstein at 100 at OJMCHE. Photo by Mario Gallucci.

Last weekend, his daughter Jamie Bernstein was in town to speak about her memoir at the museum, and later that afternoon to introduce Portland’s own Bravo Youth Orchestra in a concert at the museum. Bravo is a proud part of El Sistema, and is dedicated to musical education with the mission to “transform the lives of underserved youth through intensive orchestral music instruction emphasizing collaboration, promoting self-confidence, and creating a community where children thrive.” Ms. Bernstein now, in a surprise to herself, does a lot of music education work in the vein of her father’s Young Peoples’ Concerts, so this musical meeting was a perfect fit. One item in the exhibit is a baton of Bernstein’s that he conducted Mahler with; it was loaned to Gustavo Dudamel, the most famous graduate of El Sistema, for a Mahler performance of his own. Long story short, he ended up snapping the baton at the end of the work, to his great distress. The snapped baton is on display.

In wandering through the exhibit with Ms. Bernstein, I asked her what her favorite item in the exhibit was.  Without pausing, she marched into the first room, planted her feet, and pointed decisively at what looked to be a torture device. “This, this is my favorite,” she said.  

Installation view of Leonard Bernstein at 100 at OJMCHE with Frederics Permanent Wave machine at the left. Photo by Mario Gallucci.

From a distance, it’s hard to discern what this medusa tangle of wires even is, but it is, of course, a Frederics Permanent Wave machine.  Bernstein’s father Samuel had emigrated to the US from Ukraine and got into the beauty product business in Massachusetts, eventually becoming the exclusive seller of this machine of beauty/torture to salons in the Northeast.  The sales of this machine made Sam’s hair and beauty supply business a big success, and Sam always wanted his son to join him and, eventually, to take it over. Sam wouldn’t pay for music lessons for his son, believing that music wasn’t a stable career (I mean…he’s not exactly wrong) and that he should continue on his father’s legacy of providing perms to the women of Boston. After his son had become a worldwide phenomenon, Sam was asked by a reporter why he had refused to pay for piano lessons. The elder Bernstein replied, “Well, how was I supposed to know he’d turn out to be Leonard Bernstein?”

I asked her at the end of the exhibit if she had a favorite piece of music by him.  She said MASS held a special place in her heart since it seemed to have so much of Bernstein himself in the music and staging, but her real answer would have to be “whatever piece I listened to last.”  It is certainly true that he is hard to pigeonhole, and that one moment your favorite could be the Overture to Candide, and then you hear “America” from West Side Story and think that could be your favorite, and then a snippet of Serenade and you think, well….

Installation view of Leonard Bernstein at 100 at OJMCHE. Photo by Mario Gallucci.

Because the Maestro’s biography is so wide-ranging and star-studded, it’s hard for one exhibit to delve too deeply into any one aspect of his life– there really quite literally is not enough space. As a result, some of the sections feel like the CliffsNotes version of his biography– his activism is mentioned in one display, with a printout of his (lengthy) FBI file, and while that facet of him and his wife’s life could have its own exhibit, it does leave you wanting more depth, more detail about that part of his life. It’s a tricky balance to find, considering how much time could be spent on, for example, West Side Story alone, that the exhibit tries to speak to both people who know nothing at all about Bernstein as well as those familiar with his career. For the most part, the exhibit is successful in touching on all the major points of his life, and makes you want to go home and listen to everything.

Installation view of Leonard Bernstein at 100 at OJMCHE. Photo by Mario Gallucci.

In the end, when the exhibit is taken as a whole, all the items and photos and personal effects and printed anecdotes are fun to see and read and have novelty value, but only give you the outlines of the man.  It is the film at the end, showing him in action as a conductor, as a performer (and, most memorably as a composer/performer at the piano playing Rhapsody in Blue) that the hairs on your arm stand up.  It is then he feels most alive and vibrant and in reach–  his whole body making music, coaxing sounds out of an orchestra of old men with sideburns, music that was written hundreds of years ago and performed 40 plus years ago– that draws a crowd in the museum. Everytime I walked past the screen, there were people standing in silence, watching, taking in the Maestro in action.  That’s his true legacy: his ability to make music speak to everyone.

Evan Lewis, born and raised in Portland, Oregon, received his Masters in Music in composition from Mannes College, The New School (NYC) in 2008, where he was a winner of the Jean Schneider Goberman/Alaria Competition and had his orchestral work Alecto premiered at the 2008 Contemporary Music Festival by the Mannes Orchestra under the baton of guest conductor Michael Adelson. He is on the board of Cascadia Composers, and has had his writings featured in the LA Chamber Orchestra newsletter, KUSC’s member guide, and social media and blog posts for other musical groups.