ArtsWatch Weekly: Jungle of Eden

A jaunt into Mowgli's jungle and a musical Paradise puts us into a song-and-dance mood. Plus a week's worth of good reading.


IT’S BEEN A SONG AND DANCE SORT OF WEEK in my little corner of Oregon ArtsWatch, a musical and movement adventure that’s taken me from the jungles of India to the groves of Paradise. First things first: On Saturday I caught a matinee performance of The Jungle Book at Northwest Children’s Theater & School, with a rapt young audience that included a troop of Girl Scouts who took a long enough break from selling cookies to get with the groove and clap, quite happily and rhythmically, to the beat.

A grand blend of sight and sound in “The Jungle Book,” reimagined. Photo: David Kinder / Northwest Children’s Theater & School

In this Jungle Book there’s plenty of beat to get down with, provided emphatically and stylishly by Anita Menon’s choreography and Rodolfo Ortega’s music, both of which combine Western and Indian elements to help nudge Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli tales away from any hints of English imperialism and more squarely into the sights and sounds and culture of India. Combined with Mary Eggers’ vivid costumes, Paul Brown’s lighting, John Ellingson’s floor-to-ceiling tropical-vine set, and some aerial choreography by Jen Livengood of A-WOL Dance Collective for when the monkeys and the action move up into the trees, the dance and music create a vibrant theatrical atmosphere.

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Fertile Ground 2: ‘Dorothy’s Dictionary,’ etc.

In E.M. Lewis's newest play and several others at Portland's new-works festival, the key question is "talking it thru."

(In Fertile Ground 2020, Portland’s 11th annual festival of new performance, Jae Carlsson witnessed four standout productions: “Vortex 1,” “Dorothy’s Dictionary,” “How to Really, Really? Really! Love a Woman,” and “Itch.” In four parts Carlsson will discuss each theater piece at length, as well as other works in the Festival dealing with similar issues.)

Talking it Thru

Is there anything unique and compelling about the Portland theater scene? Or is it just a colonial outpost of the New York or London or Chicago or Los Angeles theater scene?

Are the stageworks sprouting from Portland stages invasive, non-native species? Foreign species of theater, transplanted to Oregon soil but emotionally native to some faraway physical and social ecology? Evidencing a very different affective ecology from how most Oregonians actually feel about things?

Or is it just the case that . . . things today are so entirely globalized that no emotionally unique ecosystems any longer exist? That “an Oregon voice” is 100-percent irrelevant?

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E.M. Lewis’s “Dorothy’s Dictionary,” from LineStorm Playwrights. Design: Holly Richards

Dorothy’s Dictionary by E.M. Lewis (directed by Dan Kitrosser) is a remarkably tight and precise two-person play. You’ve seen it read at Lakewood Center in Lake Oswego last May, and now again during LineStorm’s noon readings at Fertile Ground.

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There is a value in simple things

An interview with composer-singer-violinist Caroline Shaw, performing next week with Third Angle

Whenever composers get together and talk about other composers, the topic inevitably drifts to Who’s The Most Important, a typical domesticated primate behavior which normally results in lists and fights (for the record, Pärt and Saariaho remain verifiably at the top). In terms of living U.S. composers, the question for us often takes the form, “who will be in future music history books?” The really big living names–the Adamses, Crumb, Elfman, Glass, Gordon, Higdon, Lang, Mackey, Monk, Reich, Riley, Tower, Whitacre, Williams, Wolfe, Zwilich–are already in the history books, so for this exercise we’d like to really dig down and focus on the rising generation of composers, the ones who are (let’s be generous) underfortyish.

Prediction’s a messy business, laden with personal biases and all the customary cultural baggage, but the present author would like to report that, in our experience, a handful of names nearly always make the speculative Future Music History Book list: Andy Akiho, Gabriela Lena Frank, Gabriel Kahane, Missy Mazzoli, Andrew Norman, and Caroline Shaw. My money’s on Frank and Shaw, who I think will be remembered as the Bartók and Stravinsky of this era. Frank as Bartók is an easy one, but don’t take our Shaw=Stravinsky equation too literally (sonically Norman is much closer). However we must note that if, as David Lang suggests, Riley’s In C premiere was his generation’s Rite of Spring premiere, then Shaw’s Pulitzer win for Partita for Eight Voices was quite likely ours.

In an important sense there has never been a composer like Caroline Shaw, who will be in town twice next month, starting with Third Angle’s “Caroline in the City” concerts March 5th and 6th. Brahms needed Joachim, Britten needed Pears, the Three Brothers of Minimalism (Phil and Steve and Terry) never could have existed without each other, ditto Bang on a Can’s Bizarre Love Triangle. But as near as I can tell, Shaw (like, say, Laurie Anderson) doesn’t actually need anyone else–and (again like Anderson) she has the generosity and collaborative spirit characteristic of such autonomous artists. We’re talking about a classical composer who can go on stage with a megastar like Kanye West and she makes him look cool. Suddenly Barbara Strozzi comes to mind.

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Music, poetry, and visual art, all within walking distance

Yamhill County calendar: Linfield College offers a little of everything, shows are changing at the Chehalem Cultural Center, and nearby, Salem goes steampunk

Totem Shriver uses various media to explore imagery in PATH SKY DREAM at Linfield College. Photo by: David Bates

We close out February in wine country with a rich bundle of cultural opportunities on the Linfield College campus in McMinnville. In the James F. Miller Fine Arts Center on the southwest side of campus, you’ll find Totem Shriver’s PATH SKY DREAM, an interesting collection of sculpture and imagery. The show runs through March 21.

This Thursday would be a great day to drop in, because afterward you can head over to the Nicholson Library and hear Dartmouth College professor Joshua Bennett read from his work. Bennett is a nationally recognized poet, the author of The Sobbing School (Penguin Books, 2016), and a junior fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. His Linfield appearance runs 5 to 6 p.m. Feb. 27. Then, at 7 p.m., you’ll find Linfield music instructor and flutist Abigail Sperling in the Vivian A. Bull Music Center. All events are free and open to the public.

STEAMPUNK CELEBRATION IN SALEM: Portland is still the weirdest, but Salem is doing what it can to keep up. Exhibit A this weekend would be the third annual Salem Steampunk Ball of Oregon. This year’s event promises a “circus element” and runs from 8 p.m. to midnight in the Reed Opera House Mall downtown. Craven Valentine serves as the ringmaster, and steampunk band Faerabella will provide the soundtrack for a pool of jugglers, magicians, burlesque dancers, and a parade led by Capitol Pride. Proceeds benefit Prisms Gallery, which strives “to make art accessible for all.” Tickets are $25 presale, $30 at door.

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Storming Viking Pavilion

PSU brings choral music’s first ‘rock star’ and 500 singers to campus basketball arena

One night in 1999, Ethan Sperry heard five minutes of music that changed his life. At choral music’s biggest annual event, the American Choral Directors Association conference, the 28-year-old choral director was transfixed by Minnesota’s famed St. Olaf Choir’s performance of Eric Whitacre’s Water Night, a setting of a poem by Nobel Prize winning Mexican poet Octavio Paz.

“It changed my life and the life of all the thousands of choir directors at that conference,” recalled Sperry, who has directed Portland State University’s choral programs for the past decade. “We were all talking about it. Here was a new language in writing for choir, and a new way of setting poetry. Not only was there a new voice in choral music, but also somebody bringing new secular poetry into the realm of choral music,” which typically relied on Latin or other dead poets’ texts. Sperry, only a year younger than the then little-known Nevada-born composer, heard “something extremely profound about what he was doing at a young age,” he said. “It was the first time I’d been moved so much by music written by someone my own age.”

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Coast calendar: The light shines on youth

The work of young filmmakers, stories inspired by Cinderella and Dr. Suess, and a documentary about Anne Frank are among coastal offerings

It’s film festival time in Manzanita, and the light is shining on young filmmakers from around the world. Each of the short films to be screened Friday was honored last year at the Gateway Film Festival, organized and hosted by students and Media Arts Department faculty at Pacific University in Forest Grove. Professor Jennifer Hardacker, who has shown her own films at the Hoffman Center for the Arts, will attend the screening to discuss the films. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28 in the Hoffman Center. Admission is $7. Films to be shown are:

  • Let.Go.Before.Trying, by Anna Mendes of Ashland
  • Istanbul: Home Away From Home, by Selin Tiryakioglu of Florida
  • Double Vida, by Sharlany Gonzalez of the Dominican Republic and Maryland
  • 63 Miles Away, by Emma Josephson of Portland
  • Writer’s Block Party, by Gabriella Sipe of Olympia
  • The Quiet, by Radheya Jegatheva of Australia
  • She, by Felix Koble of South Africa
  • Beacons of Portland, by David Pascual-Matias of Portland
  • Irony, by Radheya Jegatheva of Australia
Mel Brown
Mel Brown will lead his jazz quartet in a concert during Nehalem Winterfest.

NEHALEM IS PREPARING for the annual Nehalem Winterfest March 6-8. Performers are: the Marlin James Band, a country/rock group with influences ranging from Eddie Van Halen to George Strait, at 7 p.m. Friday; Eagles tribute band Eagle Eyes at 7 p.m. Saturday; and legendary Portland jazz band the Mel Brown Quartet at 2 p.m. Sunday. Performances are in North Country Recreation District Performing Arts Center. Tickets range from $18 to $29 and are available here.

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Breathing fresh air

Portland Opera’s ‘American Quartet’ of one-act operas

An American Quartet sold out–and for good reasons. Portland Opera’s seven-performance black-box show, which opened Feb. 9 at Hampton Opera Center and closed Feb. 22, was witty, short, well performed, utterly charming, and for once the spotlight shone on American opera composers. The entire program, sung in English with projected captions, lasted about 95 minutes along with a 15-minute intermission. That’s a long way from a four-hour night with Wagner.

Emilie Faiella as Lucy and Geoffrey Schellenberg as Ben in The Telephone. Photo by Kate Szrom/Portland Opera.
Emilie Faiella as Lucy and Geoffrey Schellenberg as Ben in Gian Carlo Menotti’s ‘The Telephone.’ Photo by Kate Szrom/Portland Opera.

These four one-acts, ranging in length from 10 to 26 minutes, provided a sharply tuned showcase for the up-and-coming Portland Opera Resident Artists, each of whom sang multiple parts.

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