When Grant Turner accepted his Special Achievement Award at the Drammy ceremonies Monday night, he advised the theater crowd to keep its ears tuned for an announcement “soon” about his future.
It didn’t take long.
On Tuesday morning, Portland Shakespeare Project announced that Turner will join the company as co-artistic director with co-founder Michael Mendelson. Turner founded Northwest Classical Theatre Company in 1998, and is resigning from that post because he’s moving to LaGrande in eastern Oregon, where his wife has taken a job, and Northwest Classical needs a full-time artistic leader in Portland. But he wanted to continue to do projects in Portland, and the Shakespeare Project, which Mendelson founded with Karen Rathje in 2011 as a summer program in the Artists Rep complex, seems a good fit.
Mendelson, who is also a core company member at Artists Rep, continues to be one of the busiest actors in town. And he credits Turner with some of the inspiration for founding his own company. “His inviting me to play Shylock in 2009 was a re-awakening of my passion for classic work and I have Grant to thank for that,” Mendelson said in a statement. “We have like minds in our faith in the words and the power of the text, and our different approaches to the material complement one another beautifully.”
Turner will help Northwest Classical make its transition to new leadership through the end of this year.
Which came first, the dancer or the choreographer? Friday through Sunday, Conduit Dance will host Co/Mission, an intriguing program of dance that flips the tables on the ordinary way of doing things. Four soloists will present a new work each – and each soloist chose a choreographer to set the piece on her, rather than the usual other way around. The show is produced by dancers Suzanne Chi and Jamuna Chiarini (a contributing writer to ArtsWatch), who’ll be joined by dancers Jen Hackworth and Rachel Slater. Choreographers taking up the challenge include veteran contemporary dance makers Linda Austin and Linda K. Johnson, plus Lindsey Matheis and Franco Nieto, performing mainstays at Northwest Dance Project. Will the flip-flopped nature of the dancer/choreographer relationships make a difference? Let’s find out.
Matheis and Nieto, meanwhile, will be busy performing in the final weekend of Northwest Dance Project’s appealing and very strong season-ending program, Summer Splendors, at the company’s Mississippi District studios. If all goes as planned, it’ll be the company’s last program in that space before a projected move to a much bigger home on the close-in East Side. Final performances are Wednesday through Sunday; Saturday night’s show is sold out. I reviewed the program after last weekend’s opening.
Also finishing its two-weekend run will be Polaris Dance Theatre’s choreographers’ showcase, Homegrown. Artistic director Robert Guitron wanted to emphasize the work of local artists, so he charged each of his choreographers – himself, Gerard Regot, former Oregon Ballet Theatre star and interim artistic director Anne Mueller, and company dancers Kiera Brinkley, Briley Neugebauer, M’Liss Stephenson, and Blake Seidel – with finding a Portland musician or sound designer to create work for his or her new dance. In some cases, the search stopped close to home. Guitron wrote his own music, an easygoing, danceable piece called Moot. Regot wrote music for his own piece, and also for Brinkley’s nervous, edgy Post-Op, a down-in-the-trenches dance punctuated with hospital beeps. The most interesting soundtrack on the program may well be playwright Claire Willet’s memoir-like taped monologue One of Everything, for Neugebauer’s dance of the same name. Choreography and story are about growing up in a family of four siblings, and the attendant pleasures and pains of wherever you happen to land in the chronology. It made me think of Sibling Revelry, the sweet but pointed cabaret act of the singing sisters Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway: all things equal, much better to have a sister than not.
The level of dancing at Polaris is less sophisticated than what you’ll find at the likes of BodyVox, Oregon Ballet Theatre, or Northwest Dance Project. But the company’s developed a true sense of community (in addition to a lot of work: Guitron says it’s introduced 304 new works, including pieces by 37 guest choreographers) and ways to connect with its audiences that other companies might emulate. Part of it is Guitron’s low-key, genuine friendliness in his brief talks with the audience. Another is the company’s simple acceptance, with utterly no sensationalizing, of all sorts of people as dancers. I first saw the terrific and wheelchair-using Yulia Arekelyan and Erik Ferguson of Wobbly Dance at a Polaris show. Current Polaris dancer Brinkley is a quadruple amputee, and she can be an electrifying performer. Another plus: Homegrown demystifies the dance process and pulls audience members into the company fold highly effectively by screening short video interviews (by Mike Dawson/Soulplay) with each choreographer before her or his dance takes the stage. It’s a humanizing, stress-relieving technique: audience members get to know a little bit about the dance makers and the dances, and it helps them relax and enjoy what follows.
Homegrown finishes its run with performances Friday through Sunday, June 13-15. Ticket and schedule information here.
What are Jerry Mouawad and Imago Theatre up to these days? Fresh off of Allen Nause’s best-actor win at the Drammys for his Mouawad-directed performance in Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker, Imago’s unveiling a very short run of an intriguing-looking double feature: Thornton Wilder’s rarely performed one-act metaphysical comedy Pullman Car Hiawatha; and Mouawad’s own Pimento, which features, in his words, “three clowns in innocent yet ‘accidentally’ lewd encounters.” We can only imagine – or catch the show, which runs Thursday through Sunday, June 12-15. One way or another, Mouawad’s experiments tend to be highly interesting. Ticket and schedule information here.
One of last year’s most audacious shows, Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s satiric political comedy Invasion!, reopens Wednesday night right where it left off, onstage at Miracle Theatre. Director Antonio Sonera and his original cast – Gilberto Del Campo, Chantal DeGroat, John San Nicolas, and Nicole Accuardi – are back in the saddle, rocking the horse of expectation until it darned near tips over. Invasion! was the debut show of Badass Theatre Company, and as word of mouth grew it became a hit. A.L. Adams reviewed last year’s production for ArtsWatch, declaring, “I went from wanting to punch the actors, to wanting to hug them.” That’s quite an arc. The run continues through June 27. Ticket and schedule information here.