Oregon Ballet Theatre: Come ‘Closer’

OBT’s season-ending program at BodyVox puts premieres in your lap

When they named it “Closer,” they weren’t kidding.

The Oregon Ballet Theatre show title is a play on words: “Closer,” now running through June 3, closes the 2017-2018 season. And as danced in the intimate confines of BodyVox’s studio, it offers a much better view of OBT’s dancers than you get at the Keller or Newmark.

“They’re actually people-sized,” rightly observed BodyVox dancer Daniel Kirk, who served on the opening-night crew. From this vantage point, you can see rib cages heaving and sweat flying, a reminder of the sheer effort involved in looking effortless.

And, too, the four world premieres on the program offer a closer look at the creative potential of ballet and its practitioners, something dancers already understand and viewers may be happily surprised to discover.

Following 2017’s Choreography XX Project, for which OBT Artistic Director Kevin Irving commissioned new works from international female ballet choreographers (a vastly underrepresented group in the dance world), “Closer” drew new talent from closer to home. OBT company members were invited to submit a proposal and show five minutes of work to be considered for this program. OBT dancers Katherine Monogue, Makino Hayashi and Peter Franc, plus OBT rehearsal director Lisa Kipp, made the cut. Each collaborated on original music for their pieces with Portland resident Andre Allen Anjos (aka RAC), who also happens to be a Grammy-winning remix artist; you might know him from The Shins’ “Sleeping Lessons (RAC Mix).”

Xuan Cheng and Michael Linsmeier performing Makino Hayashi’s world premiere ‘What do you see…’, part of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Closer, May 24 – June 3, 2018 at the BodyVox Dance Center. Photo by Chris Peddecord

“Closer” is an evening in two parts; the premieres debut in the latter half. Because they’re all set to the same composer, they feel in some sense like a suite of dances, although they’re choreographically divergent. Kipp, whose Trance of Wondrous Thought is the most classically balletic of the four, traces the different stages of a dancer’s career through ballet’s hierarchy. Three couples, from apprentice Alexa Domenden to principal dancer Chauncey Parsons, sail through lyrical pas de deux, the women en pointe. It’s deliberately pretty: As Kipp noted in her onstage introduction, “Sometimes it can be very touching to see something pretty.”

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DramaWatch Weekly: Left Hook

Rich Rubin's Portland boxing tale, part of Vanport Mosaic, takes a jab at the city's woozy racial history. Plus the week's openings and closings.

“Let me tell you somethin’, boy. You never know what’s comin’ … and the sooner you learn that, the better off you be!”

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A few years ago, when playwright Rich Rubin approached Damaris Webb about directing some of his work, she chose the play Cottonwood in the Flood because it told a piece of history unfamiliar to her, the fascinating story of the 1948 Vanport flood. Left Hook, another Rubin play that Webb is directing, in a production that opens Thursday night at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, gets closer to a history she knows. Extending the story of the repeated displacement faced by Portland’s black community, Left Hook is set in the 1970s, as urban renewal roils the Albina neighborhood that had absorbed the black Vanport diaspora a quarter century earlier.

Damaris Webb directs Rich Rubin’s play “Left Hook,” running May 24-June 10, as part of Vanport Mosaic. The cast includes Anthony Armstrong, Kenneth Dembo, Jasper Howard, Shareen Jacobs, Tonea Lolin, and James Savannah. Photo: Shawte Sims

Webb, who has chronicled her bi-racial background in a solo show called The Box Marked Black, grew up in the Irvington neighborhood and none of her family was forced to relocate for the major construction projects of the era – Memorial Coliseum, the I-5 freeway, and an abortive expansion plan for Emanuel Hospital. But she recalls that during the development of Left Hook she was shown a photo of the Black Panthers Portland headquarters when it was in the midst of being shut down by city officials. She recognized someone in the photo: her father, who worked for the Portland Development Commission.

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MusicWatch Weekly: from Maxville to Vanport to here and now

Musical celebration of Oregon’s African American history highlights the week's concert picks

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting” ― Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

So much of what ails America and Oregon has roots in our history. So much could be prevented or at least healed if we knew and listened to the lessons history teaches. But too many Americans find history boring, or irrelevant or maybe even threatening, and therefore make political choices that history will wind up revealing as dangerous, destructive or worse. It’s a big reason we celebrate Memorial Day this weekend.

Art can bridge that gap between history and action by making the past come alive. And art that reveals hidden but important history by telling the stories of people and communities is even more valuable, not just for what it tells us about yesterday, but about today — and tomorrow.

Marilyn Keller performs in ‘From Maxville to Vanport’ Saturday.

Which is why From Maxville To Vanport: A Celebration of Oregon’s Black History this Saturday night at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre promises to be such a valuable as well as entertaining show. Almost 70 years to the day after the Vanport Flood, this is the final performance of Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s concert of original songs and film shorts inspired by the stories of the multicultural populations of Oregon’s lost, short-lived predominantly African American communities, Maxville and Vanport, after last month’s shows in La Grande, Enterprise, and Baker City.

Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa County is where Maxville was built in 1923. Many of its loggers, homesteaders and ranchers came to Oregon in the Great Migration, when African Americans headed north seeking opportunity and equality denied them in the Jim Crow South. Unfortunately, the Oregon they encountered turned out to host its own white racist refugees, who frustrated, too often violently, their aspirations for decades. As has become obvious in recent years, their hateful legacy lingers.

But along with the challenges, including the losses entailed by pulling up roots and moving far from their families, churches and other nurturing institutions, Maxville’s residents also registered triumphs and created their own vital community before the town was shut down in 1933.

The same goes for Vanport, whose ultimate fate, if not necessarily its rich history, is likely more familiar to more Oregonians. In its six-year existence before it was destroyed by the horrific Memorial Day flood of 1948, the city (briefly Oregon’s second-largest) harbored a thriving community of shipyard workers who helped build the warships that helped win World War II.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Helen Simoneau and “Closer”

Oregon Ballet Theatre ends its season at BodyVox with an intimate program, led by Helen Simoneau's "Departures"

This week Oregon Ballet Theatre closes out its 2017-2018 season with “Closer,” an intimate showing at BodyVox Dance Center of new works choreographed by OBT rehearsal director Lisa Kipp, OBT company dancers Katherine Monogue, Makino Hayashi, and Peter Franc, alongside Helen Simoneau’s Departures. Simoneau’s ballet was commissioned by OBT in 2017 as part of OBT’s Choreography XX project to discover new women choreographers in ballet. The works by OBT dancers will be accompanied by commissioned musical compositions from Grammy award-winning remix artist, Andre Allen Anjos.

Additionally, OBT artistic Director Kevin Irving will rehearse the dancers in a Nacho Duato duet, live, as a means to open up the creative process experience for audiences to see. Each night—and there are eight of them—will involve a lottery to choose which of the company dancers gets to dance in the open rehearsal that night.

Last summer I sat down with choreographer Simoneau, to learn about her work, her process, and her dance company. Included in my conversation with Simoneau were questions I had at the time about how Portland State University’s shuttering of its dance program would affect the Portland dance community, how she defines classical ballet, and where ballet is headed.

Simoneau is an independent choreographer, dancer, and teacher, who, at the time of our interview, lived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and directed her own 12-member dance company. Helen Simoneau Danse had a yearly season in North Carolina and seasons every other year in New York.

Since I spoke with her last, Simoneau spent the rest of summer 2017 at the Banff Centre in Canada performing in a work by Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Chekaoui, provided choreography for a Joan Baez music video performed by New York City Ballet dancer Claire Kretzschmar, worked with LA-based company BODYTRAFFIC at The National Choreographic Center in Akron, was a Fall Fellow at the New York University Center for Ballet (where she created a new ballet on pointe for six dancers), toured her evening-length work Land Bridge with her company, created and restaged works for the students of University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Goucher College in Baltimore, and for Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. She is currently an artist-in-residence at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY, while maintaining a performing season in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Simoneau is an incredibly inspiring artist, to me, and one of the few people I know actually making a living full-time as a dance artist. Our conversation unfolds below.

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‘Outset’ and ‘Confluence’ series: improvisation institutions

Creative Music Guild series bring both local and touring creative improv performers to Oregon audiences

Story and photos by PATRICK McCULLEY

Coffee shop/vintage clothing/used record store by day, and bar and music venue by night, Northeast Portland’s Turn Turn Turn has become a host, laboratory, and hub for the city’s small but thriving improvised and non-traditional music scene.

“Local” is the operative word here. The Creative Music Guild, which creates and promote concerts for improvised and/or experimental music throughout Portland, uses its Outset Series to showcase local talent every first and third Wednesday.

Outset showcases the local scene’s diversity. Last December, in a nod to their round robin duo performances from the Improvisation Summit of Portland, the CMG put together an ad-hoc improv night that randomly selects from a pool of musicians four ensembles which take the stage in turn to bring to life, to improvise, twenty minutes worth of completely new music.

Dead Death killed it at the Outset Series.

The first band of the night, with Blue Cranes saxophonist Reed Wallsmith, Derek Monypeny on guitar, and TJ Thompson on drums, sizzled, spat, and shimmered with the noise of free improvisation in the beginning of their set. But the feeling soon changed as Thompson’s driving, tom-heavy groove began to drive the band in a more rhythmically structured direction, with minor-key melodies from guitar and saxophone fluttering on top. After several minutes their intensity dissolved into an arrhythmic, nebulous, bright wavering of tone, dominated by distorted guitar and and shimmering cymbals.

The following band, with Andy Raybourn on bass clarinet, Tim DuRoche on drumset, Blue Crane Joe Cunningham on tenor saxophone and slide whistle, struck a more humorous tone. Rayborn’s bass clarinet melodies flapped and wandered like some kind of zany forest creature between DuRoche’s sporadic snare and cymbal hits. Cunningham added another zoological element to the music with the bird-like utterances of his slide whistle. As the set progressed, however, and Cunningham’s saxophone joined the fray, our musical jungle soon echoed with plaintive wails and screams of large, extinct creatures, as well as a strangely appropriate melodic fragment from Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight.” And oddly enough, although I doubt it was intentional, the set ended with a similar exchange of melodies and utterances with which it began.

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Katherine Bradford’s luminous nocturnes

"Magenta Nights" at Adams and Ollman considers atmospheres of air and water and the paint that can create them

“art is the power that causes the night to open.” — Maurice Blanchot, The Gaze of Orpheus

Katherine Bradford is a prolific and imaginative contemporary painter from New York City. Meeting her at the opening reception for her show Magenta Nights at Adams and Ollman gallery (through June 2) was like seeing a friend: Bradford’s social affability is that genuine and infectious. This is in keeping with proprietor Amy Adams, who worked closely with Bradford before the show to select works in her NYC studio. That evening, I got to talk with her a little about her acrylic paintings in that show, and then some more through correspondence. One takeaway from that initial interaction and my first looks at her work was Bradford’s affinity for atmosphere, the play of light and dark that is quintessential to the human experience, abstract and actual.

Katherine Bradford, “Swim at 6:10”, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18 inches/Courtesy of Adams and Ollman

In a 2016 interview with Jennifer Samet, Bradford said, “what interests me the most is the language of painting—how people are able to say things using paint.” She then refers to a vernacular forever common to both poets and painters: the sea, the sky and clouds. Having seen two of her exhibitions in person, both at Adams & Ollman, I’ve asked myself, what is it then, that Bradford is saying with her pictures? She’s telling me about revery, buoyancy, fun—all perhaps contingent upon meditation and reflection. And then there’s the mysterious depth of the night that Bradford summons, that and the deep sea, the human mind. It’s all exciting, beyond sense, mystical, and yet utterly clear, approachable.

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