Now see this: a year in pictures

2018 in Review, Part 6: A baker's dozen pictorial stories from ArtsWatch's photographic artists tell a visual tale of Oregon in 2018

By SARAH KREMEN-HICKS

Writers do tend to go on a bit, don’t we? Maybe we ought to step back now and then, put the pens down, and let the pictures tell the story. In the following photo essays from 2018, ArtsWatch’s photographers serve up visual treats by the baker’s dozen.

 


 

Doug Whyte, executive director of Hollywood Theatre, a historic Portland landmark showing classic and contemporary films. Photo: K.B. Dixon

In the Frame: Eleven men

Jan. 2: K. B. Dixon finds the face of Portland in eleven photos of men who have helped shape its cultural milieu. “A good picture tells a story, and nothing tells a story better—more eloquently, more efficiently—than the human face. The story these eleven faces tell, in part, is Portland’s. These are talented and dedicated people who have contributed in significant ways to the character and culture of this city, people whose legacies are destined to be part of our cultural history.”

 


“The Point Reyes, Tomales Bay.” Photo: Austin Granger

Austin Granger’s commonplace miracles

March 17: “The one of the Point Reyes boat is sentimental. I’ve photographed that boat so many times that it’s become almost a living person. I’m making a record of the winter of its life. I’m interested in how things change. I’m interested in time. What is photography about if not time?” Austin Granger talks with Angela Allen about photography and his favorite subjects: a boat and his daughter.

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Montavilla Jazz Festival:  Journeys in space and time

Annual jazz celebration culminates in a dazzling musical voyage that transcended today's terrestrial troubles

By DAVID MACLAINE

In 1959 a student at the University of Oregon started singing jazz gigs with other music students, including future master Ralph Towner and Glenn Moore. A year later she moved to San Francisco, married a bandleader named Sonny King and took his last name. Soon she was touring, and for a couple of years you could hear her inventive jazz stylings in the Playboy clubs. (Where you could also take in Nat King Cole and Count Basie). But by 1970 the writing was on the wall: the musical world was not exactly crying out for the next great scat singer. So Nancy King settled down in Eugene to raise her three sons, gigging on weekends in Portland’s Benson Hotel. In 1976 she was featured on First Date, an album by jazz saxophonist Steve Wolfe. But that was it until the 1990s. By then the children were grown, and the fifty-year old singer was ready to embark on the second stage of her career.

Nancy King performed at the 2018 Montavilla Jazz Festival. Photo: Kathryn Elsesser

It wasn’t exactly a belated rocketship ride to the top, but within the niche where the jazz survivors and the new generation carrying on the traditions kept alive their art she began to build a reputation. By 1999 King had reached the point where a reviewer of her album Moon Ray could lead off his rave account with the suggestion that “With the passing of Betty Carter, a case can be made that the mantle as preeminent bop and post-bop vocalist should be draped across the shoulders of Portland, Oregon denizen Nancy King.” In 2007 Ben Ratliff noted in the New York Times that “Musicians eventually spread the word eastward, but it took a long time before anything happened beyond high-quality admiration.” But that had changed at last, he averred: “This is Ms. King’s time; jazz singers in general have become very interested in her.”

Jazz fans are interested too, so much so that I almost missed my chance to hear King, who was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame in 2007, sing on the final night of the the 2018 Montavilla Jazz Festival. I’m glad I didn’t. Her performance was one of those mind-altering excursions into another dimension that temporarily squelched my ability to translate an experience into words, a perfect embodiment of why some of us simply cannot live without the arts. Her set, which for the moment we will file under the cliche “out of this world,” was the culmination of a series of performances I saw during the festival at Portland Metro Arts: George Colligan and his keyboard, guitar and drum combo Other Barry; James Miley’s Watershed Suite; and the return to Portland of native daughter Nicole Glover, with the tenor saxophonist joined by Colligan on piano, John Lakey’s bass, and the drumming of Alan Jones. At each stop on my journeys during the festival, my thoughts kept darting back to the 1950s, and after the first evening’s headline event, the musical high induced by Glover’s brilliance carried with it the shadow of an alternative reality. My ears were in the here and now, but I couldn’t help imagining her blazing performance set in the very different musical world of the mid-1950s.

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Beauty, Romance, Horror: The Queer Poetics of Leigh Nishi-Strattner’s ‘Bone Honey’

Best known for her vogue triumphs in New York and Portland clubs, Leigh Nishi-Strattner has published a set of poems that celebrates sensory delights

By ANDREW JANKOWSKI

In his now-classic essay collection Ways of Seeing, the late artist and art critic John Berger distilled lightning with his take on classic depictions of the feminine: “You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her. Put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting ‘Vanity,’ thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.”

In Portland, the poet, performance artist and model Leigh Nishi-Strattner embodies Berger’s sentiment as a queer high femme, concerning herself with validating labors and expressions discouraged by toxic masculine culture. Whether she’s writing poetry, serving looks, or sharing her beauty secrets with one of the world’s biggest magazines, Nishi-Strattner stretches and bends the antiquated binary notions of how a woman can be. In November, the small press Club Soft Things hosted a salon to celebrate the release of Nishi-Strattner’s debut collection of romantic prose poetry, Bone Honey.

Leigh Nishi-Strattner at the publication party for Bone Honey, her new poetry collection/Photo by Alec Marchant

Held at a warehouse in inner Southeast Portland, three dozen people gathered to hear Nishi-Strattner and fellow Club Soft Things poet Gary Gamza, who uses they/them pronouns. Salon patrons ate hors d’oeuvres, drank cocktails, chatted and perused other CST titles sold by publisher Emily Daniels.

The warehouse had one room decorated with gilded tropical leaves, a candelabra, tea and prayer candles, lit by what looked like a red gelled X-ray reader. The other was lit only by a circle of white prayer candles and dried flowers repurposed from the rapper Maarquii’s album release party the week prior. This room, containing an antique upholstered wicker chair that belonged to Nishi-Strattner’s grandmother, was where Daniels introduced Gamza and Nishi-Strattner, describing their work as making the reader feel comfortable being vulnerable.

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MusicWatch Weekly: holiday highlights

Reliably refreshing midwinter concerts dispel Oregon's midwinter gloom

The winter holiday: a time for rest, reflection, restoration, reconnection. But they too often mean stress: travel, house guests, obligatory cards and gifts. Sometimes by early January, I feel like I need a vacation from my supposed vacation.

Which is why it’s so reassuring to know that at the start of each winter, Portlanders can count on a few choral and vocal performances that are reliably high quality, musically and emotionally engaging — but not merely ritually repetitive renditions of overfamiliar holiday fare. Several that we told you about in earlier MusicWatches have already brightened this dark December as surely as the glowing lights on neighborhood homes. Two more I always look forward happen this weekend.

In Mulieribus performs in Vancouver and Portland. Photo: David Lloyd Imageworks.

Portland’s all star female vocal ensemble In Mulieribus draws the music for their annual Christmas concert from across a millennium, from chants by the great medieval abbess/composer/healer/icon Hildegard of Bingen to, this time, a brand new piece commissioned from one of Portland’s own classical music legends: composer/singer/instrumentalist John Vergin. A highlight of the divine group’s Green Groweth the Holly concert of Christmas songs and carols: 20th century English composer Benjamin Britten’s evergreen Ceremony of Carols, which will still be enchanting listeners a millennium from now.
Friday, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Portland, and Saturday, Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater, Vancouver WA.

Cappella Romana probably didn’t expect this year’s Christmas program to be part of a current news story. One source of world tension is Russia’s ongoing attempt to reclaim its dominance over Ukraine, including annexing Crimea and fomenting a separatist movement. The latest development in Ukrainian self-determination: forming its own Orthodox church separate from the dominant Russian Orthodox religion. And as it happens, this year’s Christmas concert by the outstanding vocal ensemble focuses on Ukraine’s long tradition of distinctive folk and Orthodox sacred music, with help from  a pair of experts in each sphere to lead and join its performances. Like the American “song catchers” who traversed Appalachia in search of traditional tunes passed down only through oral tradition, Ukrainian folk singer Nadia Tarnawsky has spent the past year collecting and studying folk songs and folklore in Ukraine, including traditional carols, which she’ll share. And Ukrainian-American guest conductor and former UC-Berkeley music prof Marika Kuzma is an expert scholar on Ukrainian and other Slavic choral music and has recorded one of the pieces she’ll lead here: a brief but radiant a cappella choral Christmas concerto by Ukrainian composer Dmitry Bortniansky, a contemporary of Beethoven who was one of Eastern Europe’s great choir directors and composers in his time and whose music Kuzma is helping to revive.
Saturday. St. Mary’s Cathedral, Portland.

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Hobbs Waters hasn’t conquered the world yet, but give him a minute.

Hobbs Waters is a pre-professional ballet student with Classical Ballet Academy in Sellwood. Photo by Rob Woodcox.

The 12-year-old Portland-based quadruple threat—he dances, plays trumpet and cello, creates fine art pieces, and runs his own arts business, called City Troll—took a breather just before the holidays at the book-lined Stacks Coffeehouse in North Portland. Wearing black-and-white checkered overalls, his feet splayed into a modified balletic third position, Waters shared his artistic ambitions and his plans for what will be a busy 2019.

This January, he’s heading to the Youth America Grand Prix and New York City Dance Alliance regional competitions in Seattle and Vancouver, respectively, followed by the International Association of Blacks in Dance conference in Dallas. The clock is ticking: along with rehearsing the solo variations and group pieces he’ll perform at those events, he’s selling his abstract paintings, pen-and-ink illustrations, and the T-shirts he silkscreens through City Troll to help fund his journey.

Waters sells his artwork to help fund his dance pursuits. Image courtesy of Hobbs Waters.

Waters, who chose his own first name based on his love of tigers (in particular, the title character of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes strip), the arts aren’t so much a hobby as a way of life. He and mom AJ McCreary, herself a painter and photographer, have embraced Unschooling, a form of homeschooling that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means of education. And Waters, the only 12-year-old I’ve met with his own resume and artist statement, has been doing his homework: unlike many youngsters who focus on a single genre, he is conversant in multiple arts and arts entrepreneurship, naming the painter Basquiat as well as Cuban dancer Osiel Gouneo as inspirations.

Of his many pursuits, dance is dearest to Waters’ heart. He began studying five years ago; three years ago, he got more serious, enrolling in Classical Ballet Academy’s pre-professional program. Though he takes contemporary, modern, and hip-hop classes, his primary love is ballet as an outlet for what he describes as “self-expression and freedom”; he intends to pursue a ballet career. In student productions, he has danced Beauty and the Beast’s Beast, the Nutcracker’s Rat King, and, in this year’s CBA Nutcracker, a porcelain doll and a corps member in the Arabian divertissement. Last year, he entered the pressure-cooker competition arena, attending YAGP and NYCDA and auditioning for summer intensives through IABD.

Waters intends to pursue a professional ballet career. Photo courtesy of Hobbs Waters.

Founded 30 years ago, the IABD conference draws a diverse group of arts administrators, choreographers, dance companies, students, and teachers to a weekend of panels, performances, and auditions. Its mission is greater racial inclusivity in the dance industry; ballet, in particular, has been criticized for its homogeneity. “There are minority teachers from around the world,” McCreary says of the conference. “It’s an opportunity to meet dancers who are doing big things in the industry, and to meet people who are paving the way” for young black and brown dancers.

Waters acknowledges that he has experienced racist behavior in the ballet world, although he is reluctant to elaborate, saying only that “being around other students who look more like me” is an aspect of the conference he especially appreciates. The appreciation appears to be mutual: at last year’s conference auditions, 13 institutions accepted him into their summer programs. He chose an intensive at Connecticut’s Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory, although he also studied with Nashville Ballet and New Orleans School of Ballet.

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End of the trail

After 27 years and hundreds of shows, The Oregon Trail Band has decided to hang up its violins and pennywhistles after a final performance in Cannon Beach

It’s sure to be a bittersweet night at the Coaster Theatre Playhouse in Cannon Beach when The Trail Band takes the stage Dec. 26. It’s the last performance of the eight-piece ensemble, which has been together since 1991, when it formed at the request of the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the trail in 1993.

“It’s going to be a crying session,” said Robert Necker, co-owner of North by Northwest Gallery in Cannon Beach and a longtime fan of the musicians. “They are amazing musicians. It is going to be a wonderful but sad event.”

Members of The Trail Band include (back row, from left) Marv Ross, Eddie Parente, Phil Neuman, Mick Doherty, (front row, from left) Dan Stueber, Rindy Ross, Cal Scott, and Gayle Neuman. Photo: Keith Buckley

The band, which has been compared to town-square brass bands of the last century, decided to end it now largely because the members are all of a certain age, and it’s time to slow down, said Marv Ross, co-founder with his wife, Rindy, of both The Trail Band and nationally famous Portland rock band Quarterflash.

“The best way to put it is we are just exhausted from producing 13 Christmas shows over two-and-a-half-weeks,” Marv Ross said. “It’s sort of like running a marathon. As the years pass, it just gets harder to run that marathon. It was just time, both physically and mentally, to make our life simpler and have more relaxing time.”

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What a kick! Dance that moved us

2018 in Review, Part 4: Dance that turned our thinking inside out and took us places where we'd never been before

Sure, we love big jumps and fast turns, but that’s not what makes the best dancing. The best dancing is the kind that takes us places we’ve never been before, or turns our thinking inside out.

Some of Oregon ArtsWatch’s best dance writing this year did that, too. Collectively, the OAW dance team—the writers covering dance, that is; don’t book us for your holiday party just yet—has decades’ worth of writing, research, and performing experience, as well as the burning desire to produce insightful and inspired coverage of dance in all its forms.



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Lucky us: we had so much to do in 2018 that we can’t revisit it all here. Instead, we’re sampling some of the moments, big and small, that especially moved us this year:

 


Odissi Dance Conpany’s Artistic Director Aparupa Chatterjee with the ODC repertoire: Tanvi Prasad, Divya Srinivasa, Divya chowdhary, Swati yarlagadda, and Ramyani Roy. Photo: Sarathy Jayakumar

Embracing Odissi in the age of Trump

The 2016 U.S. presidential election continued to galvanize artistic action two years after the fact. “Since Donald Trump took office, I have been watching and admiring artists all around the world react to his words and policies and have been wondering how I should respond myself,” Jamuna Chiarini mused. “I think that my choice to step away from my Western dance practices and focus solely on Odissi is my response. The more degraded American culture gets, the less interested I am in being a part of it.”

Chiarini’s piece explored Odissi’s technical and cultural assets and illustrated why it particularly appeals to her in this degraded day and age: “Some dances in the Odissi repertoire aren’t even taught until a dancer reaches 40, because it’s believed that younger dancers don’t yet have the emotional depth and life experience to properly express what the dance is about. Odissi also doesn’t have strict rules on body shape and size as Western dance culture does. What is considered beautiful is much broader in Indian dance culture.”

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