NEWS & NOTES

ArtsWatch Weekly: Great Graham

Revisiting Martha Graham's potent power of the past; a Wanderlust Mother's Day; Michael Curry's "Perséphone" with the Symphony; Brett Campbell's music picks

Martha Graham created her legendary American modern dance company in 1926, and it’s difficult to imagine, more than 90 years later, just how earth-shattering her early works must have seemed. Graham carved legends out of time and space: intense, pristine, pared to the bone. She created a hyper-expressionist, essentially American style of dance, built on the works of Denishawn and other pioneers but reimagined in the movement possibilities and theatrical impulses of her own body.

She collaborated with many of the great composers and visual artists of her time, which was long and artistically fertile: born in 1894, she created her final dance in 1990, the year before she died at age 96. Her bold, emphatic approach to dance can seem overstated to contemporary audiences. Yet it carries the intensity and hyper-expressionism of the great silent movies, and if you just give it a chance, something of the pure rawness of her glory years comes through, as if it were new all over again.

Martha Graham in “Dark Meadow,” 1946. Reproduced with permission of Martha Graham Resources, a division of The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, www.marthagraham.org. Library of Congress.

No company built by a daringly original dancemaker – not Graham’s, or Balanchine’s, or Alvin Ailey’s, or José Limón’s – can survive on memories of its founder alone, and it can be a tricky business to balance the tradition of what was once radical with the need to remain in the contemporary swim of things. The Graham company, under current artistic director Janet Eilber, mixes things up boldly. When the company performs Wednesday evening in Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall as part of the White Bird dance season the program will include works by a couple of high-profile contemporary dancemakers: the Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato, who now runs the Berlin State Ballet, and the Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. But the core of the program will be two of Graham’s own works, 1948’s Diversion of Angels and Dark Meadow Suite, a distillation of an ambitious 1946 work that ran 50 minutes in its original form (the suite is much shorter).

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ArtsWatch Weekly: bohemians & other artists

"La Bohème" at the opera, George Johanson & other gallery shows, Brett Campbell's music picks, Miss Julie and Satchmo onstage

Here they come again, those tragic bohemians. Rodolfo with his poems. Marcello with his paintings. Musetta with her songs. Mimi with her consumption. All of them as poor as church mice. Fortunately they can also sing like angels, or like the devil himself, who seems to have it in for them. It’s been eight years since Portland Opera last produced La Bohème, Puccini’s 1896 grand musical potboiler (Toscanini conducted the world premiere in Turin), which is one of opera’s greatest weepers and most enduring hits. Now Portland Opera’s brought it back again, beginning on Friday at Keller Auditorium and continuing for three more performances through May 13. It’ll feature Vanessa Isiguen as poor doomed Mimi, and the young Italian tenor Giordano Lucá, in his American debut, as Rodolfo. Let the singing, and the dying, begin.

Vanessa Issiguen, Mimi in Portland Opera’s “La Boheme,” performing in the opera’s Big Night special in April. Photo: Cory Weaver

 


 

THE MAY FIRST THURSDAY ART GALLERY OPENINGS are this week, and one of the shows we’re looking forward to is at Augen, where George Johanson has an exhibition of recent paintings going up. If we gave artists the sort of titles we used to hand out, Johanson would be a Portland Old Master: Born in Seattle in 1928, he came to Portland in 1946 to attend the old Museum Art School (now Pacific Northwest College of Art), and with some breaks in New York, London, and Mexico he’s mostly been here ever since.

George Johanson, “Studio with Bunce Mask,” 2016, acrylic and oil on canvas , 40 x 60 inches.

Adept as a printmaker and a painter, he’s chronicled pretty much everything from the city’s rivers to its music to his own studio to other artists (in his 2002 book of quick portraits Equivalents: Portraits of 80 Oregon Artists) to Mt. St. Helens blowing its stack, often with a rabbit or a cat streaking across the image. As he approaches 90 he seems as active and creative as ever. His show opens Thursday and he’ll speak at the gallery at noon Saturday, May 13.

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Among the many openings and continuing gallery shows, a few other likely bets:

Yoonhee Choi and Roya Motamedi at Blackfish. Choi’s installation Sift uses bright colors and recycled plastic cups, straight pins, and the like to contemplate consumption and detritus. Motamedi’s Aptitude of Kindness includes collages of fabric and birch on paper.

James Allen’s Northwest Bound at Russo Lee. Allen “excavates” books in search of history and image – in this show, including a large altered set of bound newspapers from the old Oregon Journal in May 1914. Also: Michelle Ramin’s takes on tourists exploring architectural ruins; Amory Abbott’s charcoal drawings.

Mar Goman and Dayna J Collins at Guardino. Goman’s highly crafted, outsidery images (she calls it “curious art”) have a folk art feel and are made from just about anything she can get her hands on. Collins paints abstract images emerging from the waterlines of rivers and ocean.

Alex Lilly’s Razor Blade Rain at Michael Parsons Fine Art. May Day turned into a pitched battle in downtown Portland, and that’s an extension of what Lilly’s vivid and disturbing paintings are about. This new show is based on drawings and photographs he made while watching earlier Portland protests.

Margaret Lindburg’s Resolution at Karin Clarke Gallery. The veteran Salem artist has a new show of paintings at Clarke’s gallery in Eugene, and Randi Bjornstad has this interesting profile of Lindburg in Eugene Review.

Alex Lilly, “Riot Cops – 3rd and SW Madison,” 2017, oil on composite block, 6 x 6 inches, Michael Parsons Fine Art.

 


 

BRETT CAMPBELL’S MUSIC PICKS OF THE WEEK:

 

The four-time Grammy-winning ensemble, one of the top performers of contemporary American classical music, joins the quirky indie folk singer/songwriter (real name Will Oldham) in his own songs, plus Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang’s learn to fly and Frederic Rzewski’s fierce 1971 American classic Coming Together, which sets a heart-rending text by an inmate killed in the Attica prison uprising. The centerpiece, Murder Ballades, is a fascinating mashup of ancient English/Appalachian folk tunes like “Pretty Polly” along with original music inspired by them, all put together by Bryce Dessner, best known to rock music fans as the guitarist in The National but recently emerging as a formidable contemporary classical composer with music for Kronos Quartet and others. Wednesday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
Why, when performers today sing the so-called “American Songbook,” do they seem to stop in about the late 1950s — just as they did when those numbers were actually new? It’s not like they stopped making musicals then. Eugene singer and a cappella music titan Evynne Hollens’s project has been bringing the hits from today’s musical theater — including the hottest new Broadways shows like Hamilton, Waitress, Kinky Boots, School of Rock, and more – to the Shedd and beyond for three years. Performers include professionals from LA & Portland as well as Eugene talent, including a multi-racial chorus of local UO & high school students. Thursday, The Shedd, Eugene.
A multiple winner of all the jazz awards on her instrument, the Israeli clarinetist fell so hard for Brazil and its music that she learned Portuguese, formed her own band with Brazilian musicians, and made several albums of both traditional and original music in Brazilian styles. Stay tuned for Angela Allen’s preview of this PDXJazz show. Thursday, The Old Church.
Maybe the leading classic jazz pianist brings back his wonderful trio with Kenny Washington and Peter Washington celebrating their 20th anniversary. Charlap has worked with Wynton Marsalis, Tony Bennett and so many more of jazz and pop’s finest. “The Bill Charlap Trio is a chamber group of a quality customarily found only in equally long-lived classical ensembles,” wrote eminent jazz journalist Doug Ramsey upon their last appearance in Portland. “In their years together, pianist Charlap, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington have achieved singleness of purpose and unity of thought to a degree rare in any musical idiom.”
Friday, The Shedd, Eugene.
The acclaimed Vancouver, B.C.-based men’s choir, now led by Portland’s own Erick Lichte (a co-founder of the terrific American choir Cantus), sings a Baltic-oriented program of some of the hottest choral composers from one of the coldest areas on earth, including Estonian composer Veljo Tormis, Finland’s Jaako Mantyjarvi, Latvia’s Eriks Esenvalds, and American and Canadian composers, including Leonard Cohen. Read Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch previewFriday, First United Methodist Church, 1838 S.W. Jefferson St.
For its 10th anniversary concert, the superb women’s vocal ensemble briefly welcomes back co-founder Tuesday Rupp, but also looks forward by commissioning world premiere performances of new music by Oregon composers John Vergin, Andrea Reinkemeyer and Robert Lockwood, to go with 20th and 21st century music by Kay Rhie, Ivan Moody, and Gustav Holst, plus a Renaissance classic by Perotin.
Friday, St. Mary’s Cathedral, 1716 N.W. Davis, Portland and Sunday, Proto-Cathedral of St. James, 218 W 12th Street, Vancouver.

Everybody knows The Four Seasons, but Italy’s greatest Baroque composer, Antonio Vivaldi, wrote literally hundreds more concertos than just that quartet of them for violin, and so did his Italian contemporaries. Violin virtuosa Monica Huggett leads her band in Vivaldi concertos for lute, bassoon, and more, along with concerti by Pergolesi (best known for his Stabat Mater) and Giovanni Mossi.
Portland Baroque Orchestra, Friday & Saturday, First Baptist Church, and Sunday, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College.
New York composer Debra Kaye’s Ikarus Among the Stars was commissioned in memory of former PYP musician Benjamin Yaphet Klatchko by PYP and his parents. Based on Klatchko’s own melodies, Kaye’s 16-minute electro-acoustic composition takes its shape from the Ikarus and Daedalus myth about the boy who flew too close to the sun and plunged to his death in the sea. In this world premiere, clips of Klatchko’s music are woven into the finished composition, with the orchestra sometimes imitating, sometimes accompanying, and at one point resting while a recording of him singing alone plays. The concert also features Dvorak’s popular Symphony No. 8 and the excellent youth orchestra’s concerto competition winner, Annie Zhang, performing Elgar’s Cello Concerto.
Sunday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway.
The Portland new music ensemble’s Young Composers Project, which connects budding composers ages 10-18 with professional musicians to play their music, is one of Oregon’s most valuable musical education ventures. The only program of its kind in the country brings students from all over the United States to work with director Jeff Payne and five professional musicians in a yearlong series of workshops. Over the course of nine months, the young composers complete a piece for the ensemble which includes clarinet, violin, cello, percussion and piano. You might be surprised at how accomplished and appealing many of them can sound. Sunday, Eliot Chapel at Reed College.

 

CURTAINS UP: NEW ONSTAGE

Satchmo at the Waldorf. Salim Sanchez stars as the great Louis Armstrong in the Oregon premiere of Terry Teachout’s drama. Opens Thursday, through May 27 at Triangle Productions.

Miss Julie. Samantha Van Der Merwe directs Craig Lucas’s adaptation of Strindberg’s taut and explosive drama at Shaking the Tree, with Beth Thompson as Julie, Matthew Kerrigan as Jean, and Kelly Godell as Kristine. Friday through June 3.

Pinkalicious. Oregon Children’s Theatre brings back its musical hit about a girl who seems to have eaten too many pink cupcakes. Well, haven’t we all? Saturday through June 4, Newmark Theatre.

The Martha Graham Company. The modern exemplars of the legendary American modernist choreographer come to Schnitzer Hall next Tuesday, May 10, in the White Bird series.

“Miss Julie” in rehearsal at Shaking the Tree. Photo: Megan Nanna

 

 


 

ArtsWatch links

 

Gerald Clayton, family man. Angela Allen talks with jazz pianist Clayton, who plays The Old Church on Wednesday, and is carving his own place among a family of jazz bluebloods.

Mary’s Wedding: a retro refuge. A.L. Adams reviews this Canadian romance, a “refuge from the tempests of modern complication,” at Portland Center Stage.

Fire and Ice: accessible adventure. Brett Campbell talks with three woman composers (Stacy Philipps, Jennifer Wright, Lisa Ann Marsh) who are shaking up Portland’s music scene. “We’re all up for anything,” Wright says. “We found each other because we wanted to do things that don’t look like the traditional thing.”

Medea brings new meaning to catharsis. A.L.Adams reviews Imago Theatre’s fresh take on the ancient Greek classic, whose precarious balances are measured on a constantly tilting stage.

Cascadia Composers: lights, poetry, music. Composer Matthew Andrews takes readers inside the works of some recent contemporary concerts.

Talented. But are they universal? Hailey Bachrach reviews the world premiere of Yussef El Guindi’s The Talented Ones at Artists Repertory Theatre.

Pop goes the Oregon Symphony. Claire Sykes looks at all that “other” programming on the symphony season. Pops concerts? They’re not Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops anymore.

It’s another busy week on Portland stages, so let’s just jump into the thicket:

Oye Oyá at Milagro. With a book by Rebecca Martinez based on a treatment by Rodolfo Ortega, who also wrote the music and lyrics, the world premiere of Milagro’s new Spanish-language musical play has good bloodlines. Estafanía Fadul directs this tale about a boat, a storm, and the beaches of Cuba, based loosely on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Thursday through May 27.

“Oye Oyá” at Milagro: a world premiere. Photo: Russell J Young

Contact Dance Film Festival. The Northwest Film Center and BodyVox collaborate on this cinematic exploration of the world of dance, with screenings at both locations. Thursday-Saturday.

The Talented Ones at Artists Rep. The world premiere of a dark comedy by Yussef El Guindi, whose last show in town, Portland Center Stage’s co-premiere of Threesome, went on to a successful Off-Broadway run. Saturday through May 21.

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The Oregon Visual Arts Ecology Project: Examining the culture

The Ford Family Foundation and the Oregon Arts Commission have founded a new website that focuses on art in the state

At this moment, any effort to preserve our shared culture is a noteworthy event. This is especially true of the arts parts of the culture. As Oregon Arts Commission’s Meagan Atiyeh noted at a symposium that introduced one such effort, the Oregon Visual Arts Ecology Project, the state’s media has abandoned its commitment to full-time critics writing about the arts. And that means that both contemporary conversations about the arts and future investigation of our culture are/will be limited. What happens to a culture that doesn’t understand its past or its present? We are perilously close to finding out.

Backed by the considerable resources of The Ford Family Foundation and the Oregon Arts Commission—more than $50,000 since early 2014, according to Atiyeh, not including lots of staff time—the project intends to be an informal archive and an online magazine that takes the measure of the visual arts in the state. “The partners’ shared wish is to create an accessible, permanent, virtual collection documenting Oregon’s visual arts landscape,” the mission statement says, “and, to continue the metaphor, the interconnected realms of artist, institution, patron, curator, arts writer… which become that ecology.”

Ryan Pierce, From the Pockets of the Wanderer, 2014. Flashe on canvas over panel. Courtesy of the artist and Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland

According to Atiyeh (in an email interview), the website hopes to reach a broad public. “We designed a site that I hope can be rewarding for a highly invested artist or a curator who is looking for research materials and also a casual arts viewer in Oregon (or any spot on the globe, honestly).”

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ArtsWatch Weekly: full-tilt boogie

Imago tilts the action in a topsy-turvy Greek classic, Brett Campbell's best music bets, "Jersey Boys" croons into town, new theater & dance

The question echoes down the centuries from the Greek myths and Euripides’ play, which was first set on stage in 431 B.C. and just keeps coming back: was Medea balancing the scales of justice when she murdered her husband’s new wife and her own children, or was she falling off her rocker? People have been arguing the point ever since (Medea shocked its original audience, coming in dead last in that year’s City of Dionysia festival), and the question of teetering out of control remains foremost, right down to Ben Powers’ recent adaptation of Medea for the National Theatre in London.

The ups and downs of rehearsal: Imago’s tilting stage for “Medea.” Imago Theatre photo.

Enter Jerry Mouawad of Imago Theatre, whose own theories of balance reach back to his mentor Jacques Lecoq, the French mime and movement master who advocated a “balance of the stage.” In 1998 Mouawad and Imago took the advice literally, creating a large movable stage, suspended three feet above the floor, that tips and leans as the actors shift position on it. They used it for an acclaimed production of Sartre’s No Exit, in which the constantly shifting balances became a metaphor for the play itself. The show was revived several times and traveled to theaters across the country.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Berlin stories

Andrea Stolowitz's "Berlin Diaries," world premiere at the ballet, new on stage, Brett Campbell's music picks, lots of links

The corner of culture, art, and politics is a busy intersection these days, when suddenly each seems to have something significant to say about the others, and so Andrea Stolowitz’s new play Berlin Diary, although it deals with events three-quarters of a century ago, also seems very much of the current moment.

Stolowitz, the Portland playwright and Oregon Book Award winner, spent a year in Berlin on a Fulbright scholarship retracing the steps of her “lost” Jewish family, those stuck in the archives after her German Jewish great grandfather escaped to New York City in the late 1930s. Shortly after, he began to keep a journal to pass along to his descendants, and it’s that family book that prompted Stolowitz’s sojourn in Berlin and the construction of this play.

Playwright Andrea Stolowitz, creator of “Berlin Diary.”

The past comes forward in recurring waves, touching futures as they unfold. “It’s not easy to get a Berlin audience to laugh at jokes about the Holocaust,” Lily Kelting of NPR Berlin wrote when Berlin Diary premiered there last October. “But American playwright Andrea Stolowitz manages to do just that in her latest premiere at the English Theater Berlin.” Kelting continues: “She says that writing the play has helped her realize that the guilt of surviving the Holocaust was a secret that ultimately tore her family in the States apart — even generations later.”

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What’s jazz got to do with it?

Darrell Grant: Art, environment and politics in the Elliott State Forest

By LYNN DARROCH

On April 1, pianist, composer and Portland State University Professor Darrell Grant led a collaborative performance with fellow Oregon-based musicians to celebrate the Elliott State Forest and advocate for keeping it in public ownership. Their effort came at the invitation of Forest advocates from Coos County in advance of a vote by the Oregon Land Board, scheduled for May 9, that will determine whether or not to sell the Forest’s 82,500 acres for $202.8 million to help fund public schools.

Grant wanted to find out if art can influence that decision.

Entering the Elliott State Forest/Photo by Lynn Darroch

“I want to publicly acknowledge the land as a source of creative inspiration for so many of us lucky enough to live here,” Grant said, explaining what moved him to haul a piano up and down 15 miles of logging roads. His latest album, “The Territory,” makes explicit that connection in nine movements that capture, in sound, the terrain and shared history from which he believes local art draws its flavor.

He had other reasons for going into the Forest, too. “As a person of color,” he continued, “I want the Land Board to know that this is my forest too … as much my legacy to future generations of Oregonians as anyone’s. And, as much as Oregon’s underserved children deserve a quality education, they also deserve to retain their rights to their forests.”

Darrell Grant – ” The Territory” World Premiere July, 6, 2013, Mvt 9: “New Land” from DGM Media on Vimeo.

In pursuit of those goals, he said, “I am compelled to explore the possibility that there are ways to achieve change other than…protest, resistance and political threat.”

And the Elliott State Forest has generated plenty of those political threats of late. Required by law to manage the Forest to produce revenue for public schools, the state has consistently failed to meet harvest goals—due to environmental and species protections that limited logging, some argue, though larger economic forces may have had a hand, too. In 2015, the Land Board set terms for a sale, hoping to bring in money the state could invest to ensure the Elliott Forest benefits public schools. Such a sale would mean the state would no longer own the land, and, despite protections and good faith efforts by timber companies, the Forest could become a tree farm managed for maximum harvest. Many of the attendees Saturday, on the other hand, believe the forest should be treated as legacy: a habitat for salmon, seabirds and other creatures that thrive in undamaged, diverse ecosystems.

Could a musical performance—and whatever publicity it generates—impact the Land Board’s decision? Could it inspire ideas for mechanisms to fund K-12 education besides selling the state’s remaining forests? Could it create a new way of approaching issues such as these?

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