Skinner/Kirk Dance Company hits rewind and fast-forward

In their upcoming concert Eric Skinner and Daniel Kirk pause to revisit their pasts and ponder an uncertain future

By HEATHER WISNER

The big questions we begin asking ourselves in middle age—about identity, achievement, love, loss, and how to reconcile the passage of time—color an upcoming concert by dance company Skinner/Kirk.

Founded in 1998 by Eric Skinner and Daniel Kirk, the company has produced work as the pair’s day job—dancing with BodyVox—allowed. But Skinner recently retired from BodyVox, where he and Kirk were founding dancers, and is considering his next moves, and both men have paused to revisit their pasts and ponder an uncertain future.

This new show, which runs February 1-10 at BodyVox, features an all-male cast that includes Brian Nelson, Chase Hamilton, and Skye Stouber, and it offers a world premiere and two restaged works, both of which, Semita and Here and There, Now and Then, were originally commissioned by White Bird. During the creation process of Semita, Kirk began to spend more time with his dying father, which pulled him away from the project: the dance palpably reflects that feeling of being unmoored. It opens with a figure floating in space, lit by lighting designer Mark LaPierre.

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MusicWatch Weekly: choral confluence

Chanticleer, Cappella Romana and St. Olaf Choir headline the week in Oregon music

Vibrant voices lead this week’s Oregon music calendar, beginning with one of America’s oldest and most revered choral ensembles, St. Olaf Choir’s performance Thursday at Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Friday at Eugene’s First United Methodist Church and Saturday afternoon at North Medford High School.

Anton Armstrong leads St. Olaf Choir’s 2018 tour. Photo: Flight Creative Media.

Led for 28 years by Anton Armstrong, familiar to Oregon audiences through his long tenure leading youth choirs at the Oregon Bach Festival, this year’s group sports several members from Oregon and is performing music by Portland born, Salem-based composer/educator (and St. Olaf alum) Stanford Scriven, as well as a J.S. Bach arrangement by Seattle’s John Muelheisen and Sure On This Shining Night by Beaverton native Morten Lauridsen. The program contains mostly compositions by 20th and 21st century  composers including Eric Whitacre, Robert Scholz, Rosephanye Powell, Undine Smith Moore, Moses Hogan, Jean Berger, Carolyn Jennings, Ralph Manuel, David Conte, choir founder F. Melius Christiansen, plus the  Sanctus from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass and a selection from Ariel Ramirez’s Misa Criola.

Choral glory continues with Chanticleer’s performances Friday at Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, and Saturday at the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall as part of the San Francisco ensemble’s 40th anniversary tour. This year’s program, “Heart of a Soldier,” includes songs from across the ages on the sadly perennial subject of human conflict and its consequences by Renaissance European composers William Byrd, Thomas Tomkins, Clement Janequin, and Guillaume Dufay through some of the finest contemporary American composers including Jennifer Higdon and Mason Bates.

Friends of Chamber Music often brings Chanticleer to Portland.

Another superb vocal ensemble, Portland’s world-renowned Cappella Romana, brings over the great French conductor Marcel Peres (who helped rescue early music from dry, scholarly performances) to lead one of the great Renaissance masterpieces, Guillaume de Machaut’s Mass of Notre Dame Saturday at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral and Sunday at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church.

Pérès’s Ensemble Organum’s 1996 recording of the masterpiece by the the greatest composer/poet of the 14th century used Corsican singers versed in traditional embellishments that might resemble medieval vocal practices. Their intentionally earthier vocal textures and Peres’s emphasis on lower voices produced as much controversy as early music ever experiences — decried by devotees of later choral music’s restrained, pristine Anglican choirboy sound (which most previous recordings adopted), praised by those (like me) who cherished its folkier, emotionally expressive power. His approach should make an excellent match for Cappella’s singers (particularly its magnificent basses), themselves experienced in medieval Mediterranean vocal traditions.

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Astor’s great and messy quest

In Part 2 of Chris Coleman's sweeping historical drama "Astoria," a rich man's dream runs aground – but not before it reshapes Oregon's fate

In the early years of the 19th century, John Jacob Astor, a German immigrant who’d already become wealthy through the fur trade and Manhattan real estate, gambled big on a grand vision. His plan was to establish an “emporium” near the mouth of the Columbia River — a geographic feature only recently known to Europeans and Eastern settlers — supported by fur-trapping posts along its tributaries. This would allow him to dominate the Pacific Northwest’s vast supply of one of that era’s most valuable resources. His company would then be able to initiate a lucrative global shipping network, trading in not just furs but Chinese tea and European manufactured goods. Flush with early-American idealism, he further hoped to set the stage for a democratic government in the region, a political and cultural sister to the fledgling United States, then still clustered on the continent’s eastern edge.

Jimmy Garcia as Pierre Dorion and Leif Norby as Robert McClellan with members of the cast of “Astoria: Part Two.” Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

To these ends, Astor, in 1810, sent two expeditionary parties toward the Columbia, one by sea around Cape Horn, the other overland, heading out from St. Louis along the trail blazed a few years earlier by Lewis and Clark. The harrowing, often deadly, adventures of these groups is vividly told in Peter Stark’s 2014 best-seller Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire, a Story of Wealth, Ambition and Survival, and now in Chris Coleman’s sweeping theatrical adaptation for Portland Center Stage. Astoria: Part One premiered last season; Astoria: Part Two is on the boards at The Armory through Feb. 18, with a few bonus performances of the first installment sprinkled through the schedule.

SPOILER ALERT: Astor fails.

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Solofest preview: e pluribus unum

Bag & Baggage Productions' new festival shines a spotlight on storytelling by excluded voices

It’s easier than ever for us to hear people who have long been marginalized. From vlogs to podcasts to YouTube and the rest, the proliferation of expressive avenues has revealed a tremendous demand to hear personal stories from once-stifled voices. “The rise of shows like The Moth shows that storytelling is becoming super-trendy,” says Bag & Baggage Productions’ artistic director Scott Palmer. “Whether on a podcast or a TED Talk, there’s a movement featuring the singular voice of the storyteller.”

As solo storytelling has spread, theater has followed. Theater artists like Anna Deavere Smith and others have used solo storytelling to widen the lens to include stories of America’s diverse cultures and experiences. “We’ve been noting over last few years an increased awareness and interest in solo performers across the country,” Palmer says, “especially when those pieces are tied directly into issues of equity and social justice.” For example, “there are significant implications of the #metoo movement — people listening to and respecting individual stories. They’re a touchstone of how we move through the world.”

Damaris Webb performs in Solofest this weekend.

Result: while in the past, inexpensive-to-produce storytelling was sometimes dismissed as “poor man’s theater” more suited to fringe festivals than mainstream venues, Palmer says, “the values of artistic excellence, commitment, and preparation have risen, and those barriers between theater and storytelling are coming down.”

That’s why, when the company moved into its intimate new venue The Vault last year, Palmer created Solofest, which he hopes will be an annual showcase for solo performers, especially those telling stories that reflect the company’s values of equity and diversity. Curated by Palmer and B&B associate artistic director Cassie Greer, this year’s debut installment features four different performers telling personal stories in a theatrical setting. Two stories will run at each performance in different combinations from Feb. 1-4 at The Vault. 

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Well, Fertile Ground happened, and while I offered a few prognostications, for the first time in many years I didn’t get out to see those shows. Can you please use the comments to tell me, and more importantly each other, what you loved? With a festival that’s so egalitarian by nature, community opinions should hold the most sway anyway.

Now then:

The word around ArtsWatch via our reviewer TJ Acena is that Magellanica, which recreates the feeling of its setting, Antarctica, with a glacially paced 5+ hour runtime, is “worth it.”  I believe it. If I had to pick a group of people to get marooned in the Antarctic wilderness with, I’d actually consider Artists Rep’s company of actors. They’re versatile and compassionate, and they can make fire.

Alisha Menon is the Girl Prince in Northwest Children’s Theatre’s “Chitra.” Photo: David Kinder

Corrib’s all-age-appropriate Lifeboat closes at Northwest Children’s Theater this weekend, making way for Chitra, The Girl Prince, NWCT’s second major collaboration with Indian dance expert Anita Menon (the first being 2015’s Jungle Book). Nice to see Ken Yoshikawa pop up in a kids’ production and what looks like a romantic lead. His earnestness will not be lost on all ages.

What else?

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Long, cold, and worth it

Artists Rep's premiere of E.M. Lewis's Antarctic drama "Magellanica" – all five and a half hours of it – tells an epic tale of lives on the edge

Oregon playwright E.M. Lewis’s new show Magellanica opens with a scientist holding a parka and some luggage. “No one ends up in Antarctica by accident,” she says matter-of-factly. It’s true. Those who head deep into the frozen continent do must have strong resolve. The journey is long but those who make it hope for great payoffs.

Magellanica, which had its world premiere on Saturday at Artists Repertory Theatre, embraces this ethos with a five-and-a-half hour run time. The question you’re probably asking is, “Does the payoff justify its length?” The answer is a definite yes.

Don’t worry: There are three intermissions and a dinner break.

From left: Vin Shambry, Sara Hennessy, Allen Nause, Michael Mendelson, John San Nicolas, Joshua J. Weinstein, Barbie Wu, Eric Pargac. Photo: Russell J Young

Set in 1986, Magellanica follows five scientists, one cartographer, and two crew members to an international research station at the South Pole, the most inhospitable place on the surface of the earth. Some of them are there to study the newly discovered hole in the ozone layer. Some are there to escape their own pasts. Some are doing both at the same time.

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Crazy fun with Pete the Cat

Oregon Children's Theatre's musical version of the popular kids' books is bright and tuneful and a treat for kids and adults alike

“That was kind of crazy. Also kind of funny, right?”

– Pete the Cat (Dave Cole), Pete the Cat: The Musical

Pete himself might as well have been reviewing this lively, fun, infectious musical, the latest from the ambitious Oregon Children’s Theatre, running through Feb. 18 in the Newmark Theatre.

To start its 30th season last October, OCT teamed with six other children’s theater companies around the nation to commission and premiere Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt, an adaption of a popular children’s book series by Megan McDonald. This time around, it’s another ambitious children’s book adaptation – Eric Litwin’s Pete the Cat tales – that Artistic Director Stan Foote has been trying to bring to the Portland stage since at least 2014. He finally secured rights to put on this musical adaptation, which was commissioned and developed by New York’s Theatreworks USA.

Pete goes to school and breaks the rule. Photo: Owen Carey

While the storyline doesn’t matter all that much – Pete is forced to try out being a housecat for a week when he’s caught by the cat-catcher, and ends up with the Biddles, where he takes on a mission to inspire second-grader Jimmy (17-year-old actor Jackson Wells) to paint something beautiful to pass art class. What matters is the entertainment, and Pete the Cat and company deliver it in spades.

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