oregon ballet theatre

ArtsWatch Weekly: a Will and a way

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

The first thing we do, let’s count all the layers. He’s been updated, squeezed down, rethought, rewritten, cleaned up, dirtied down, worshipped unabashedly, reviled occasionally, shrugged off as a front man for some more sophisticated writer (Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is the latest in a long line of contrarian candidates), quoted out of context ’til the cows come home.

Shakespeare's funerary monument, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Wikimedia Commons

Shakespeare’s funerary monument, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Wikimedia Commons

And still, four hundred years after his death, old Will Shakespeare’s a survivor. In a lot of ways, it seems, he’s never been healthier. He’s translated into pretty much every language of any size on Earth, and adapted into everything from ballets to symphonic musical scores to teen-movie comedies. And he’s an economic powerhouse: towns from Ashland, Oregon to Stratford-upon-Avon, England are built on the sturdy foundation of the money and visitors he draws in.

So, happy anniversary, Will. No one’s absolutely sure of the precise date he was born, but he was baptized on April 26, 1564 (probably three days after his birth), and died on April 23, 1616, and April 23 – this Saturday – is the day that much of the world will be celebrating his legacy. In Portland, the biggest party might be Shakespeare at 400, an all-day event (8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.) at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall. It’s presented by PSU, the Portland Shakespeare Project, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s “Play On! Project” of contemporary “translations” of the plays (that word’s caused a lot of ruckus in the Church of Shakespeare), with input from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s The Wonder of Will celebration. There’ll be lectures, and readings, and a sonnet slam, and excerpts from three of OSF’s controversial translations by contemporary playwrights. Come see and hear for yourself what Amy Freed’s done with The Taming of the Shrew, Ellen McLaughlin with Pericles, and Douglas Langworthy with Henry VI: fresh approaches, or sacrilege?

Everything’s free, but organizers want to know how many people will be showing up, so click that link above and send in your RSVP.

"Oberon, Titania, and Puck with Fairies Dancing," William Blake, ca. 1786, watercolor and graphite on paper, 18.7 x 26.6 inches, Tate Britain, London / Wikimedia Commons

“Oberon, Titania, and Puck with Fairies Dancing,” William Blake, ca. 1786, watercolor and graphite on paper, 18.7 x 26.6 inches, Tate Britain, London / Wikimedia Commons

 


 

Once upon a time the woods were mighty, and so were the men who worked in them. Paul Bunyan could clear-cut a hillside with a single swing of his ax (such activities are frowned upon these days) and hard-working, hard-living woodsmen were memorialized in folk songs: I see you are a logger, and not just a common bum, for nobody but a logger stirs his coffee with his thumb.

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Age before (and beside) beauty

Nicolo Fonte's "Beautiful Decay" for Oregon Ballet Theatre eloquently reflects on youth and age

“Crabbèd age and youth cannot live together,” a poem attributed to William Shakespeare tells us.

That may be, but they sure as hell can dance together, and damned well, as sixtysomething guest artists Gregg Bielemeier, Susan Banyas and the energetic, fleet members of Oregon Ballet Theatre showed us Thursday night in the company premiere of  Nicolo Fonte’s  lovely ballet Beautiful Decay.

The evening-length work, originally made for Philadelphia’s BalletX, concludes the company’s twenty-sixth season with an eight-performance run at the Newmark Theatre, this weekend and next.

Guest artist Susan Banyas and Gregg Bielemeier in "Beautiful Decay." Photo: Yi Yin

Guest artist Susan Banyas and Gregg Bielemeier in “Beautiful Decay.” Photo: Yi Yin

From Act III of Bournonville’s Napoli, which was the second half of OBT’s fall opener,  to Balanchine’s Nutcracker and James Canfield’s Romeo and Juliet, this has been a season of story ballets, and Beautiful Decay not only carries a narrative thread tied to the life cycle and the (expletive deleted) aging process, it also includes some of the conventions to be found in what ballet historians often refer to as the big three: Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and The Sleeping Beauty, all with music by Tchaikovsky. Beautiful Decay is set to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, contemporary composer Max Richter’s The Four Seasons Recomposed, and a few pop songs composed by Iceland’s Ólafur Arnalds.

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Gregg Bielemeier and Susan Banyas talk about aging artfully

Oregon Ballet Theatre's Nicolo Fonte is working with two Portland dance legends on "Beautiful Decay"

Beautiful Decay, choreographed by Oregon Ballet Theatre’s new resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte, features veteran Portland dancers Susan Banyas and Gregg Bielemeier as it explores the inevitability of time and its changes on the human body.

This piece seems like a significant step forward in the discussion of age in ballet, specifically, and in the culture, more generally. Our obsession with youth, I think, is hindering the full expression of the dance art, something that develops with age.

I caught up with Susan and Gregg three weeks ago to talk about their experiences inside Beautiful Decay.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: the rap on ‘Hamilton’ (and other historical horrors)

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

By now you probably know that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, the hottest ticket on Broadway since roughly the War of 1812, is coming to town sometime in the 2017-18 Broadway in Portland season. ArtsWatch predicts a run on the box office rivaling the run on the stock market in 1929.

But wait: what’s this? A front-page story in Monday’s New York Times calls a historical time out. In The Times’s investigative shocker, several historians declare that Miranda’s musical doesn’t get the history right: apparently, Alexander Hamilton couldn’t even rap as well as Pat Boone. Just kidding. There are other complaints: the show views historical events through inappropriately modern eyes; Hamilton wasn’t really such a saint.

"Hamilton" on Broadway. Photo: Joan Marcus

“Hamilton” on Broadway. Photo: Joan Marcus

Here at ArtsWatch we believe this is only the tip of a very large iceberg. Our friends at WikiLeaks are about to blow the lid on a volcano of theatrical and movie scandals, and they’ve given us the inside scoop on a few. Maria von Trapp didn’t actually climb evr’y mountain, though she gave it the old college try. That thing that happened on the way to the Forum wasn’t funny: please stop laughing at other people’s misfortunes. Abraham Lincoln never even met a vampire, let alone slay one. I misremembered Mama. Andrew Jackson was … all right; he was pretty bloody bloody.

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Dance Weekly: Past and future lenses

Keith Hennessy dances himself to death, a new dance film festival is born, Kyle Abraham is in town and audiences now need their passports.

Over the weekend I saw choreographer/performance artists Keith Hennessy perform “Bear/Skin” presented by PICA, and Oregon Ballet Theatre perform James Canfield’s “Romeo and Juliet.” It may seem like an odd pairing, but they were perfect together, each filling in where the other was incomplete, at least for me.

Before he performed, Hennessy “explained” his dance by reading a short essay he had written. Some of the points he touched on: Democracy is founded on slavery, misogyny and genocide; modernism is deeply rooted in racist cultural appropriation; and action films are a bridge between our cop-killing desires and the narrative of “The Rite of Spring,” which exposes gendered roles of the female as sacrificial and the male as protector. I suppose all of those are debatable propositions.

Hennessy danced the “chosen one’s” dance to the death from “The Rite of Spring” while wearing a man-sized teddy bear costume strapped to his back after telling us that once upon a time you could get money for killing American Indians, different amounts for men, women and children. And when they ran out of Native Americans, the bounty changed to grizzly bears until the bears ran out. For me, all of this was an extraordinary lens to view “Romeo and Juliet” through, and at some point during “Romeo and Juliet” I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if ballet audiences went to see Hennessy and Hennessy audience went to see the ballet?”

Arts Watcher Martha Ullman West had a wildly different experience seeing “Romeo and Juliet” and talks about it in her review.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: farewell jazz fest, young lovers, noblesse oblige

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Well, that was quite a week, wasn’t it?

  • We saw Downton Abbey off to that great fox hunt in the sky, with a whizbang final episode that brought babies and pairings-off tumbling into the untaped future and put a stamp on the age of noblesse oblige. All in all it was, we noted (quoting the most excellent Dowager Countess Maggie Smith, for so we tend to think of her), “happy enough.”
  • We wrapped up the latest PDX Jazz Festival, which was dedicated to John Coltrane and his fellow reed players but was at least as notable, Angela Allen writes, for the excellence of its pianists. Allen praised the likes of sax virtuosos Nicole Glover, Sonny Fortune, Ravi Coltrane, and others, then added: “The keyboardists, though, stole my heart — not only the soloists but the sidemen who played in trios and quartets, duos and big bands, alongside the headliners.” The esteemed jazz journalist Doug Ramsey was in town for the festivities, too, and filed several reviews on his excellent site Rifftides, which we’ve reprinted with his permission here. Also, do take a gander at Mark Sheldon’s wonderful photos accompanying both stories of musical moments frozen in time, including this one, of 77-year-old sound explorer Charles Lloyd:
Charles Lloyd © 2016 Mark Sheldon

Charles Lloyd © 2016 Mark Sheldon

  • And we took a multifaceted look at Oregon Ballet Theatre’s newly announced season and its just-closed revival of James Canfield’s Romeo and Juliet, a long-missing company cornerstone: Canfield, OBT’s founding artistic director, brought it into the company with him when OBT was formed in 1990, but until this production it hadn’t been seen onstage here in more than fifteen years. First, in Sweet tragedy: rehearsing ‘R&J’, Martha Ullman West delves into the rehearsal hall and the ballet world’s history with Shakespeare’s teenage tragedy. Then, in Ballet masters of the 21st century, dance journalist and former dancer Gavin Larsen follows OBT’s ballet masters Lisa Kipp and Jeff Stanton as they prepare the company’s dancers for the ballet. Finally, in A fresh ‘R&J,’ a fling with the giants, Ullman West talks about OBT’s just-announced 2016-17 season (called Giants) and reviews the performance of R&J, in which she finds Ansa Deguchi revelatory as Juliet.

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