Cheney Cowles: Collecting Japanese art like a samurai

A review of Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art: Selections from the Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles at the Portland Art Museum

Forty years ago, Cheney Cowles bought his first Japanese painting. The work is a charming illustration of a samurai accompanied by a poem by the 19th century nun, Ōtagaki Rengetsu. The samurai charges forth toward the viewer, caught mid-stride. His enthusiasm and drive are palpable; his momentum, unstoppable. The same can be said for Cowles’s enthusiasm and drive for collecting. Only four decades later, Maribeth Graybill, the Curator of Asian Art at the Portland Art Museum, calls the collection “without question one of the finest collections of Japanese art in private hands.”

Ōtagaki Rengetsu (Japanese, 1791–1875), Samurai Footman with Poem, 1867, hanging scroll; ink and light color on paper, 12 13/16 x 17 1/2 in., Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles.

Selections from Cowles’s collection are on display, many for the first time, at Portland Art Museum’s new exhibition, Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art which runs now through January 13, 2019. The theme “poetic imagination” was formulated by Graybill specifically in response to the Cowles collection. The heading is expansive as the show incorporates calligraphic texts, imaginary portraits of poets, monochrome ink paintings, and landscapes from the eighth through the twentieth century. Graybill defines poetry as something “illusive or fragmentary that requires you to emotionally and intellectually respond,” and all of the works in the exhibition bear some connection to this concept.

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: jazz week

Blue notes flutter like autumn leaves through Oregon concerts this week, along with classical orchestral and chamber music

It used to be that Portlanders had to wait till winter’s PDX Jazz Festival to catch several strong jazz shows in a row. No more! Just check out this week’s improv-oriented offerings.

Jazzmeia Horn sings Wednesday night at Portland’s Old Church.

• Wednesday. One jazz’s rising young stars, Jazzmeia Horn (besides bearing the coolest first name ever) has won the two most prestigious international vocal jazz competitions, performed with top jazz artists, and regularly plays major NYC venues. PDX Jazz brings her to Portland’s Old Church Wednesday night.

• Thursday. Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble has been engaging in some cool collaborations lately, and the next one looks fascinating. Boundary-busting Portland composers Amenta Abioto, Sage Fisher (from Dolphin Midwives), and Floom’s Maxx Katz — whose music ranges from soundscapes to death metal to experimental improv — have scored new music to accompany the classic 1968 zombie film Night of the Living Dead, which they’ll perform Thursday night while the film and heads roll at Portland’s Holocene club. Rock those Halloween costumes!

•The pianist/guitarist team of Bryn Roberts and Lage Lund play their lyrical original music Thursday night at Portland’s Classic Pianos.

• Saturday. You may not instantly recognize the band name Circuit Rider, or even its leader, cornetist Ron Miles, but any jazz fan will recognize and revere the trio’s other two members: chameleonic / prolific Seattle guitarist Bill Frisell, and drummer Brian Blade. But Miles, who shares Denver roots with Frisell and who plays in Art Farmer’s lyrical tradition, really should be better known, and Saturday night’s trio performance at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel presented by PDX Jazz offers a rare and splendid opportunity.

• Sunday. The next night’s PDX Jazz show, this one back at Portland’s Old Church, is also a low-key winner. Danish guitarist/composer Jakob Bro (whose trio also includes bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Joey Baron) recently released a pair of terrific albums on the great ECM label and make another highly recommended entry in this fall’s excellent PDX Jazz lineup.

For more jazz this week, check out the lineup at Eugene’s Jazz Station, which ArtsWatch’s Daniel Heila recently spotlighted.

Orchestra

Composer Andrew Norman

• One of the country’s hottest youngish composers, Californian Andrew Norman composed his 2015 “hyperactive fantasy” Split for the great LA pianist Jeffrey Kahane, who’ll perform it with the Oregon Symphony Friday at Salem’s Willamette University and Saturday through Monday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway Ave.

Fronting an orchestra that includes abundant percussion (timpani, kick drums, slapsticks, guiro, temple blocks, opera gongs, triangle, flower pot, washboard, wood blocks, brake drum, bongos, splash cymbal, vibraphone, ratchet, log drum, tin cans, spring coil), Kahane, a frequent Oregon visitor, plays (musically speaking) a prankster who gradually becomes “more the pranked,” Norman writes, “an unwitting protagonist trapped in a Rube Goldbergian labyrinth of causes and effects who tries, with ever greater desperation, to find his way out of the madness and on to some higher plane.” The concert also celebrates Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birth anniversary with three orchestral episodes from his lively 1944 musical On the Town and Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony.

Continues…

Visionary of the afterlife

Milagro's "Alebrijes!" delivers a fantastical chronicle of the life of Mexican artist Pedro Linares.

One of the more contentious topics in art history is how the Mexican artist Pedro Linares dreamed up the sculptures of mythical creatures known as alebrijes. The most likely version of the story is that Linares was commissioned to create alebrijes for a party at the San Carlos Arts Academy. But a more entertaining tale suggests that these beasts came to him in a dream while he was ill during the 1930s.

Robi Arce stars in “Alibrijes!,” Milagro’s latest Die de Muertos production, based on the Mexican artist Pedro Linares. Photo: Russell J. Young

That saga informs ¡Alebrijes!, an eccentric and moving play written and directed by Georgina Escobar and currently onstage at Milagro. An offbeat blend of magical realism and plain old realism, ¡Alebrijes! does not always fully realize its ambitions, but is nevertheless both poignant and excitingly strange—a blast of visual wonderment that pokes fun at the very idea of death without ever fully making light of it.

After a clever present-day prologue, the play introduces us to Pedro (Robi Arce), whose brother Manuel (Matthew Sepeda) dies in a train accident during the first act. Unmoored by grief, Pedro poisons himself in the hope of convincing the powerful La Meurte (Patricia Alivetz) to free Manuel from the afterlife. But his gamble thrusts him into a world somewhere between the living and the dead, forcing him to confront the inevitability of death and his ignored artistic potential.

Continues…

It’s almost Halloween, which means it’s time to dress up like a zombie and join Thrill the World, in which thousands of people gather in cities worldwide to dance the choreography from Michael Jackson’s famous 1983 music video Thriller.

Thrill The World was created by Canadian Ines Markeljevic in 2005 with the goal to unite the world through dance. The event happens on the Saturday before Halloween. You don’t need to be a professional dancer or even have a zombie costume: just learn the dance in one of the group lessons, or online, and get out there and dance.

Portland’s Thrill The World takes place at 3 pm; registration begins at 2:40 pm Saturday, October 27 at Irving Park’s covered basketball court. The event will be emceed by Portland Bollywood dancer extraordinaire DJ Prashant and radio host Contessa de la Luna; Prashant’s Jai Ho! Dance Troupe will perform a Bollywood version of Thriller at 2:45 pm.

Performances this week

Thrill The World Portland 2018
3 pm October 27
Hosted by Thrill the World Portland
Irving Park, Covered basketball court, 707 NE Fremont St.
See above.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet in “Star Dust” mode. Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Star Dust
Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Presented by Eugene Ballet
8 pm October 26
Hult Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene
7:30 pm October 27
Craterian Theater, 23 S Central Ave, Medford
In this tribute to David Bowie, New York’s Complexions Contemporary Ballet (co-directed by former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson) thoughtfully explore new layers to Bowie and his music. Star Dust, choreographed by Rhoden, features dances to nine well-known Bowie songs: Lazarus, Changes, Life on Mars, Space Oddity, 1984, Heroes, Modern Love, Rock and Roll Suicide, and Young Americans.

Flamenco Pacifico dancer Elena Villa. Photo by Mary Landberg.

Flamenco Pacifico
Presented by Berto Boyd
7:30 pm October 26
Hawthorne Theatre, 1507 SE 39th Ave.
In the spirit of convivencia (“coexistence” in Spanish), Flamenco Pacifico’s acclaimed guitarist and composer Berto Boyd integrates Brazilian samba and American jazz with traditional Spanish flamenco in this one-night-only performance. Boyd, with guitarist/singer Grant Ruiz, percussionist Terry Longshore, and bassist Randy Tico, will accompany dancers Elena Villa and Melissa Cruz.

Young Peruvian dancers. Photo courtesy of the Peruvian Cultural Festival.

Matices Criollos
Peruvian Cultural Festival
3 pm October 28
Multnomah Arts Center, 7688 SW Capitol Hwy.
This first-time festival celebrates the kaleidoscope of influences on coastal Peruvian culture with dance and music performances by an array of Portland artists.

Dancers Adrianna Audoma and Nicole Osbon of Tongue Dance Project. Tongue Dance Project will be teaching a modern contemporary dance class as part of Steps PDX’s one-year anniversary celebration. Photo by Elliot Petenbrink.

Full Circle
Steps PDX
9 am- 9 pm October 28
Troy Laundry Building, 221 SE 11th Ave. Suite 220
Celebrate the one-year anniversary of Portland’s newest dance studio, Steps PDX, with a full day of FREE dance classes, snacks, raffles, and giveaways (admission is by donation). The studio, owned and directed by Kathryn Harden, kicks off the event at 9 am with an open ballet class taught by Harden herself, and winds it down with the all-abilities movement class Dance Church at 5:45 pm, taught by Allison Jacks. The anniversary event concludes with party.

Harden trained with Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Professional Division, performed with Ballet Idaho, and received a degree in Exercise Science for Kinesiology and Dance Performance from Towson University. With Steps PDX, her goal has been to create a safe, comfortable space for students of all skill levels and ages to experience professional-quality training.

Upcoming Performances

November
November 1, Windows 11, Beth Whelan and Roesing Ape, Night Lights-Regional Arts & Culture Council
November 2-4, A Midsummer Night at the Savoy, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre
November 4, civilized-Happy Hour, Catherine Egan
November 8-17, Future Voices, Willamette University Theatre Department, Artistic Director Michele Ainza
November 9, ¿LISTEN?, ELa FaLa Collective and Polaris Dance Theatre
November 9-11, Cloth, PDX Contemporary Ballet
November 11, Unfolding, a dance film premiere by Muddy Feet Contemporary Dance, SubRosa Dance Collective, and director Dylan Wilbur
November 11, La Sylphide, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
November 13-14, The Hip Hop Nutcracker, Jennifer Weber
November 14, Tangueros del Sur, Presented by White Bird
November 16-18, Perceiving The Constant, Jessica Hightower
November 17, The Nutcracker, Oregon International Ballet Academy, Choreography by Xuan Cheng / Ye Li after Marius Petipa / Lev Ivanov
November 23-25, A Midsummer Night’s Dream with PSU Orchestra, The Portland Ballet

December
December 2, Don Quixote, Bolshoi Ballet in cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
December 6-8, Winter Performance, NW Dance Project
December 8, So You Think You Can Dance Live! 2018, Eugene
December 8-25, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 14-16, Babes in Toyland (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
December 16, Fiesta Flamenca Navideña, Presented by Espacio Flamenco
December 21-23, The Nutcracker, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
December 23, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live

January 2019
January 9-20, The Lion King, Eugene
January 20, La Bayadère, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
January 24-February 3, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin Greenhouse
January 24-February 2, The Cutting Room, BodyVox
January 31-February 2, Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art, Presented by White Bird

February
February 9-10, Romeo and Juliet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
February 13, Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo, Presented by White Bird
February 16-23, Cinderella, Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 20, Beijing Dance Theater, Presented by White Bird
February 28-March 2, Compagnie Hervé Koubi, Presented by White Bird
February 29-March 2, Trip The Light Fantastic, NW Dance Project

March
March 1-3, The Odyssey, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
March 1-3, Materialize, PDX Contemporary Ballet
March 7-9, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, Presented by White Bird
March 8-10, Interplay, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
March 9, Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company, Walters Cultural Arts Center
March 10, The Sleeping Beauty, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
March 29-31, New Expressive Works Residency Performance

April
April 4-6, Parsons Dance, Presented by White Bird
April 4-13, The Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox
April 7, The Golden Age, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
April 9-10, Savion Glover, Presented by White Bird
April 11-14, Director’s Choice, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 13-14, The Firebird, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
April 24, Philadanco, Presented by White Bird
April 25-27, Spring Performance, NW Dance Project

May
May 9-11, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox and NW Film Center
May 10-12, Shaun Keylock Company
May 10-12, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, Cleopatra (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
May 17-19, Undone, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 19, Carmen Suite / Petrushka, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
May 26, Derek Hough: Live! The Tour, Eugene

June
June 7-15, The Americans, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 7-9, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 13-15, Summer Performances, NW Dance Project

Masters of Horror

Guignolfest, Dylan Hillerman and Julia Reodica's 72-hour horror film festival, returns.

When Dylan Hillerman and Julia Reodica were performers at the legendary Portland haunted house FrightTown, they specialized in subjecting people to fantastical terror. Yet in 2013, Reodica discovered a more mundane horror.

“I told her, ‘I had to walk six miles to my new place last night and I’m not getting paid until next week for FrightTown,’” Hillerman remembers. “She was like, ‘Oh shit! You’re gonna die!’ And I’m like, ‘I’m aiming at the Earth and hoping to miss.’”

Sensing his desperation, Reodica offered him a lifeline. “I hadn’t connected with a person in this way in a long time,” she says. “I said, ‘Come hang out with me. I’ve got sanctuary.’”

“She gave me six weeks,” Hillerman adds, “and it turned into a marriage.”

Reodica and Hillerman, partners in horror. AMBERED Photography

That marriage (which Hillerman and Reodica sealed with a promise that they made to each other in Transylvania) has not only transformed their lives, it has been a boon to filmmakers who participate in Guignolfest, the 72-hour horror film festival that Hillerman founded and produces with Reodica. This year’s films screen Sunday, October 28, at the Clinton Street Theater.

Continues…

Oregon Symphony: borrowed batons

Guest conductors lead orchestra’s October concerts

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

Guest conductor Jun Märkl dashed out onto the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall stage, cueing the snare drummers mid-stride as he hopped up onto the podium and launched the oldest orchestra west of the Mississippi—your Oregon Symphony Orchestra—into our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The audience and most of the orchestra got to their feet, hats in hands, everyone singing or at least humming. Classy move, Märkl.

Märkl continued the October 1st concert with a few words about the OSO’s world premiere of its latest commission, Chamber Music by Living Composer Katherine Balch. “It’s a special piece,” Märkl said. “This orchestra is very committed to new music and to creating new music.” He gestured to the full orchestra and joked about the seemingly contradictory title: “you may wonder why we have such a big orchestra here.” Balch’s music, he explained, is meant to convey a chamber-like intimacy in which we might “come together and discuss certain things, whispering to each other.”

Märkl also issued a light-hearted warning: “there will be no melody, but very beautiful sound experiences, very unique.” A good warning for an audience which is adventurous, sure, but generally in more of a Messiaen sort of direction; Balch’s music was sparse and, as promised, amelodic. Yet it was a compelling amelodicism, a shimmering sonic blanket quilted from microswaths of richly colored acoustic fabrics, harmonic in an aggressively non-functional way, halfway between the John Adamses. Waves of dazzling brass, swelling out from muted trumpets and trombone glissandi, surging across the stage to the horns. A sine tone emerged from a pair of intent trumpets and threaded its way around the orchestra through wavering winds and spectralist strings. The sudden ending was ruined, perhaps, by an overhanging cymbal (quickly muted).

Märkl’s conducting style was equally well-suited to Haydn as to Balch: a light, precise, attentive approach that had him leaning into each section, carefully communicating dynamics and character around the orchestra. It paid off early in the short symphony (No. 83, aka “The Hen”) with an exquisite, Westworldy theme that shimmered around the first movement (Haydn’s myriad brief symphonies are packed with such delights). The two of these back-to-back are just about everything I love about this orchestra: cool, stylish, brave, confident, afraid of no music new or old.

Jun Märkl conducted the Oregon Symphony. Photo: Christiane Höhne

Copland’s piano concerto opens with a bold, dissonant brass fanfare—that Big Iconic American Sound—and the OSO brass delivered the gooseflesh as they always do. Soloist Inon Barnatan came out all Americana with a clustery, Cowellesque solo and a bunch of boogie-woogie business, his playing loudly graceful, never thundering but never timid. The concerto’s overtly Gershwinesque moments are all so much cleaner than actual Gershwin—that familiar whitewashed Copland aura—but Barnatan grooved it up and dressed it down. Winds and brass got into weird Dixieland multi-soloist passages, super corny stuff but played well, all of it no doubt directed (in jest perhaps) Bernsteinward. If it had been just a little dirtier, if the folkishness and syncopations had gone a little further in a Khachaturian/Bartók direction, this might have been a truly great piano concerto. Ah, but then luscious strings bring back that tortured tritoney melody and a recurring, distinctly non-jazzy clarinet solo, the return of the brass all massive and Milhaudy—that’s when we hear the true Copland, the modernist hiding inside the populist.

Barnatan’s solo encore blew me away, an inventive set of variations on Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” the timeless tune emerging slowly from behind mega-fast flourishes and cascades of Messiaenic post-tonal strangeness.

Inon Barnatan performed with the Oregon Symphony

It’s easy to pick on poor Brahms, born in the wrong decade, always looking over his shoulder, always fighting the future, perched perilously on Beethoven’s shoulders, invariably building better than he knew. He’s at his best when he can match his knack for witty musical ingenuity to his heartfelt gemütlichkeit and sublimated sturm und drang, which is why his symphonies are better than his piano music (#sorrynotsorry). Brahms champion Eduard Hanslick said of the Fourth Symphony, “it is like a dark well; the longer we look into it, the more brightly the stars shine back.”

Continues…

International film fest wanders to the Coast

The Wandering Reel Traveling Film Festival's short films explore gender and equality, overcoming obstacles, and little moments that make life whole

Oregonian Michael Harrington tells people he grew up with the ocean as his front yard and the forest as his back, which, if you know Oregon, must mean he grew up on the Coast. Depoe Bay and Lincoln City, to be specific.

“They are small town communities, you know everybody,” said Harrington, co-founder of the Wandering Reel Traveling Film Festival. “I think I’ve always had a deep appreciation for nature and for that small-town hospitality. Authenticity. People are themselves. There’s a real peace in that.”

A middle-class woman without a husband encounters problems renting a house in Mumbai in “Counterfeit Kunkoo,” one of the short films in this year’s Wandering Reel Traveling Film Festival.

That small-town upbringing also led to an understanding of what is sometimes lacking in those out-of-the-way places — in this case, film festivals.

With Wandering Reel, now in its fourth year and coming to the Coast this week, Harrington is trying to do something about that. He left Oregon to study film at Marlboro College in Vermont, then worked in the film industry in L.A., at one point running a short-film series in Big Sur, Calif. When he moved to Portland, he wanted to continue showing international films, but Portland already had plenty of those.

Continues…