News & Notes: Arts for kids, Art Beat, Nico Muhly, SF Ballet, NW Dance Project

A survey of arts education in Oregon, behind the scenes at 'Foxfinder', classical music and ballet disputes, New Now Wow!

Joachim in a Federal Art Project class in Brooklyn, 1940/Wikimedia via the  Archives of American Art

Joachim in a Federal Art Project class in Brooklyn, 1940/Wikimedia via the Archives of American Art

The key context of the passage of the Arts Tax in Portland almost a year ago (62 percent of voters registered a YES vote) was local: Portland Public Schools had eliminated instruction in the arts from it elementary school curriculum, and the arts’ return was unpredictable at best, given the school board’s priorities and the state school funding process.

An Oregon Department of Education study of arts education across the state widens that context, and the overall picture in 2011-2012, when the survey was conducted, isn’t much better. Oregon does not offer arts instruction of any kind to many of its students (nearly 65,000 statewide), and almost none have instruction available in all of the arts disciplines (music, visual arts, dance, media, theater).

Even a cursory look at the survey results is alarming: 23 percent of all public schools did not offer any arts instruction as stand-alone courses; 12 percent attended a school with no access to instruction in the arts; 45 percent of schools offered coursework in one artistic discipline. Just 2% of schools offered instruction in all five disciplines.

“This is a clear call to action,” wrote Christine D’Arcy, Executive Director, Oregon Arts Commission, in the introduction to the survey findings.  In response, the Oregon Arts Commission is in the process of creating an Oregon Arts Education Partnership to strategically address this issue. Knowing definitively that nearly 65,000 students attend a public school in Oregon without access to any arts coursework taught by a licensed arts teacher, there is an opportunity for a targeted investment to make an impact on schools with a demonstrated need.”

The passage of the Arts Tax by itself is going to reduce the numbers of those completely without arts classes considerably, of course, though that’s just a beginning. As D’Arcy also wrote, the arts are important for  “improved academic achievement, greater leadership and social skills, enhanced critical thinking and sharper problem solving skills.” We also know that they can be crucial especially for at-risk students, and they fit extremely well in the “project-based curriculum” that many educators now favor.


On Oregon Art Beat tonight: Damaso Rodgriguez and the cast of "Foxfinder"/courtesy of OPB

On Oregon Art Beat tonight: Damaso Rodgriguez and the cast of “Foxfinder”/courtesy of OPB

This season’s third episode of Oregon Art Beat airs tonight at 8 pm for the first time, and it includes a behind-the-scenes look at Artists Repertory Theatre’s upcoming production of “Foxfinder.” Artistic director Damaso Rodriguez is directing Dawn King’s futuristic parable, which was a hit in the UK, and theater fans will be watching to catch a glimpse of his rehearsal process (though some discounting because of the Observer Effect will be in order). The show has three screenings and will be available online.

  • Thursday, October 24 at 8:00 pm
  • Sunday, October 27 at 1:00 pm
  • Sunday, October 27 at 6:00 pm


In classical music circles a debate rages about programming. Traditionalists argue that the efforts by symphonies to update their concerts to include more modern and even some contemporary music is driving away patrons. Progressives, led by Greg Sandow, counter that symphonies need to be far more aggressive at commissioning and scheduling the newest music, which often contains sonic strands of more popular kinds of song, if they want to attract the new audiences that will guarantee their survival. The context (speaking of contexts) for this is the continuing struggle that mid-sized and even larger orchestras have in making ends meet.

Actually, traditional and new music have coexisted on the programs of the most successful orchestras in the country for a long time, as one of the more recent contributions to the debate, by Marc D. Ostrow of Score Street, points out.

Ostrow’s post closes with Nico Muhly’s new opera, “Two Boys,” which opened at the Metropolitan Opera earlier this week. Muhly’s music stitches together many influences (the New York Times’ Anthony Tommasini in a mixed review detected “[Benjamin] Britten, Meredith Monk, Steve Reich, his mentor Philip Glass and even certain complex modernists”) to tell a story about an internet crime.

Ostrow observes that Tommasini and other mainstream critics were lukewarm to Muhly’s opera (at 32, he’s the youngest composer the Met has ever commissioned), but it received a rapturous ovation from the audience.

“It helps that Muhly’s palette incorporates many of the more accessible styles of new music. And also that he’s out there in the blogosphere.  But regardless of whether the opera is a critical success, people are buying tickets and liking what they hear.”


San Francisco Ballet dances Wayne McGregor's "Borderlands."/Erik Tommason

San Francisco Ballet dances Wayne McGregor’s “Borderlands.”/Erik Tommason

The traditionalist (“Swan Lake,” “Coppelia,” “Nutcracker”) versus progressive (almost any contemporary choreographer) debate also extends to the ballet world. And again, many companies try to both. San Francisco Ballet under Helgi Tomasson has become a major force by keeping its traditionalists happy with dances from the repertory impeccably danced and new works by top choreographers also impeccably danced. The progressive wing is attracted to the latter, of course.

The company is almost finished with its New York City season, two programs full of new dances by the likes of Christopher Wheeldon, Alexei Ratmansky, Wayne McGregor, and Mark Morris, and Deborah Jowitt, free of the space limitations she once faced at the Village Voice, luxuriates in them as only Jowitt can.

“Since 1985, when Tomasson took over SFB  as artistic director, the company (founded in 1933 as part of the San Francisco Opera) has grown into an enterprise that boasts an international roster of dancers and an international reputation. He is also charged with maintaining good relations with his board of directors, making sure the company’s Balanchine ballets are in good order, and polishing up the annual Nutcracker. Above all, he has to keep in mind the company’s living, breathing capital: the dancers. Stocks being traded on the market do not get sick, injured, complain, or strain to become more valuable before the year is out. Headaches along the way (and maybe this very minute) are inevitable.”


Northwest Dance Project's "New Now Wow!" is our Event of the Day.

Northwest Dance Project’s “New Now Wow!” is our Event of the Day.

New Now Wow! at Lincoln Performance Hall: Would it be impolite to point out that ALL the dances in the San Francisco Ballet’s two programs in New York were choreographed by men? No, actually that’s a problem. Northwest Dance Project under the direction of Sarah Slipper doesn’t have that problem in its fall show, which features world premieres by three young, talented choreographers, two of them women:  Loni Landon, Danielle Agami, and James Gregg. All of them are accomplished dancers with important signs of choreographic ability. Typically at Northwest Dance Project, the sparks fly from a company of fine young dancers bearing down on brand new work, a formula that’s hard to top.

Loni Landon – Northwest Dance Project World Premiere sneak peek from Northwest Dance Project on Vimeo.

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