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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Fertile Ground 1: ‘Vortex’ and more

A musical about Tom McCall and his rock festival is a highlight of Portland's new-works fest. The Roosevelts and MLK Jr. show up, too.

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


THINKING ABOUT THE FUTURE, WITH TOM McCALL


You would like to float the idea that the Fertile Ground performance festival, which ended February 9, is not just a way of taking “the pulse of Portland” – of feeling out what is currently on the minds of its creative individuals – but that, more significantly, the festival at its best is a telescope for doing some serious thinking about the future.

It is easy to think of Oregon as always having been a hotbed of environmental concerns & the fight for “sustainability.” Unless your memory travels as far back as the 1960s.

In 1962 there is this reporter doing commentary at KGW radio & TV on issues of the day. One series, titled “Pollution in Paradise,” particularly catches the public’s attention, about the open sewer running right through Portland called the Willamette River.

The name of this reporter is Tom McCall. Four years later he is elected governor of Oregon and uses the office as a bully pulpit: to clean up the WIllamette, to make all Oregon beaches public property, to institute a “bottle bill” to clean up litter and put in place a controlled-growth land-use plan, promote energy conservation instead of more dams, and on. He famously said to tourists something like:

“Please visit Oregon. It’s a beautiful place. But then go home. Don’t move here.”

McCall is the first major state figure to talk about “sustainability,” wanting to protect the livability of your cities and towns, and farm-country and forests. He preached it so passionately and so vociferously that people listened, and it started to become part of the way that Oregonians think about life – right up till the present. Without Tom McCall, Oregon today would be a very different state.

One of McCall’s most significant but most bizarre achievements as governor was the public sponsoring of the 1970 rock festival “Vortex 1: a festival of life” at McIver Park in Estacada. One of the outstanding works at this year’s Fertile Ground festival is the musical Vortex 1, celebrating this event. Book & lyrics by Sue Mach, music by Bill Wadhams, arranged by Reece Marshburn, directed by Allen Nause, and exquisitely acted and sung by the cast of twelve, this play not merely celebrates this unusual public event but analyzes it too, with acuity and no small degree of earned emotion.

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DramaWatch: “Indecent” proposal

Artists Rep and Profile stage Paula Vogel's play about an infamous episode in theater history. Plus: other openings, closings and theatrical miscellany.

Two women, in love — kissing even! That was controversial stuff a century ago when the Sholem Asch play “God of Vengeance” made its English-language premiere on Broadway. Paula Vogel’s 2017 Tony nominated play Indecent tells the tale of Asch’s iconoclastic approach to the stage, his (originally Yiddish) play’s worldwide success, and the tragic consequences of its travails in America.

A staged reading of God of Vengeance presented last month by Readers Theatre Rep showed how potent its characters and themes remain, as well as what an important step it was in the development of a more modern kind of theater. A recent essay for ArtWatch by Jae Carlsson lauded God of Vengeance, raising it up as an example of a theater aesthetic that’s  “off-kilter,” “naked,” “raw…real…slightly out-of-control,” while posing questions about how Indecent may or may not honor this inspiration. Despite a persistently skeptical tone toward it, Carlsson doesn’t give much indication of having seen the latter play. And though it might well ascribe to the more scrupulously organized psychological approach that Carlsson casually dismisses as “neoclassical,” Indecent is a powerful work in its own right.

Paula Vogel’s Indecent, in a joint production by Artists Rep and Profile Theatre, at Lincoln Hall. Photo: Kathleen Kelly.

Co-commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s “American Revolutions” history-play program (along with Yale Repertory Theatre, where it premiered in 2015), Indecent was staged in Ashland last season, in a production by Shana Cooper that I found both captivating and heartbreaking. The remarkable Linda Alper, a veteran of OSF and Artists Rep, was in that production and serves as a kind of bridge to the Artists Rep/Profile Theatre co-production opening at Lincoln Hall. Here, Alper joins a veritable Portland all-star team, with the likes of Michael Mendelson, Gavin Hoffman, Jamie M. Rea, Joshua Weinstein and David Meyers.

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Cuddles at CoHo

Fear, intimacy and absurdity collide in the CoHo Productions staging of "The Found Dog Ribbon Dance."

I first heard about Cuddle Con — the Portland cuddling convention — shortly before it debuted in 2015. A classmate in an audio storytelling class was doing a project about the event, and I remember thinking that it sounded glorious. As a single 24-year-old with only a couple close friends and no career, I found the prospect of physical intimacy with even a stranger inviting.

As it turned out, I never attended Cuddle Con, but I have remained fascinated by the concept of professional cuddling. What, I have found myself wondering, does it say about our society that people are literally paying for platonic closeness? Has the numbing isolation induced by social media sundered society that badly? Or does professional cuddling simply represent a solution to the age-old agony of loneliness?

Those questions aren’t answered in CoHo’s production of Dominic Finocchiaro’s The Found Dog Ribbon Dance, which I can safely say is the first play I’ve seen about a professional cuddler. Yet the play is a moving and entertaining meditation on the joy of physical intimacy and the awfulness (for some people) of its absence. Watching it may bring up painful memories of isolation (it did for me). But it also delivers a satisfying brew of truth, wit and catharsis.

Faraway, so close: Clifton Holznagel (from left), Beth Thompson and Tom Mounsey test the boundaries of togetherness in The Found Dog Ribbon Dance, a play by Reed College alum Dominic Finocchiaro. Photo: Owen Carey.

Directed by Connery MacRae, The Found Dog Ribbon Dance stars Beth Thompson as Norma, a woman who has started a successful cuddling business in her home. Her clients include an emotionally and physically scarred young woman (Deborah Jensen) and an elderly man (Marty Baeudet) who doesn’t speak a word until near the story’s end.

While the play could have worked as a series of vignettes about Norma’s clients, Finocchiaro chooses other narrative paths. He shows us the evolution of Norma’s romance with Norm (Tom Mounsey), a minor YouTube celebrity who works in a coffee shop, and her ongoing quest to find out who owns the dog she recently found (the pooch is played by Clifton Holznagel, who eschews a tail in favor of a black T-shirt that identifies him as a canine).

Norma’s cuddling technique is exemplary — her voice is so soothing that even her trite insistence that her home “is a safe space” becomes seductive. Achieving intimacy in her personal life proves more difficult for her, an irony that becomes a catalyst for a love-work crisis that causes her to question everything that she has devoted her life to.

It’s disappointing that the explanation for Norma’s fear of closeness with anyone besides her clients turns out to be fairly straightforward. In fact, it’s disappointing that the play offers an explanation at all. Making the story of what cuddling means and why it matters about one person’s inner strife distracts from the fascinating question of why human beings are so starved for connection that cuddling has become a viable job.

That oversight bothered me without diminishing my appreciation for the production’s numerous successes, especially Thompson’s performance. Found Dog chronicles the crumbling of Norma’s romance with Norm, which makes her doubt not just whether she’s capable of being part of a relationship but the value of physical intimacy itself. It’s haunting to watch Thompson take Norma on a journey from preaching the gospel of cuddling (“There’s nothing wrong with asking for what you need”) to all but renouncing her faith (“I want to believe. But I don’t know anymore”).

Tom Mounsey gets all in a whirl in The Found Dog Ribbon Dance. Photo: Owen Carey.

The play suggests that while professional cuddling has value, mediated affection has its limits, an idea that Norm embodies. His fame is the result of a peculiar fetish—he films himself dancing to the music of Whitney Houston while wearing a luchador mask and waving a ribbon through the air. He is willing to look ridiculous in front of anonymous internet users, but he refuses to let Norma see him dance, which underlines the inability of both characters to experience togetherness beyond confines of their respective pursuits.

The beauty of The Found Dog Ribbon Dance lies in its portrait of Norma and Norm gradually bumbling beyond those restrictions. In a show-stopping scene, Norm dances to Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” waving his crimson ribbon in a series of dizzying spirals and swirls. It’s a jubilant spectacle, but it’s just the beginning. Because above all, Found Dog is about how for both Norma and Norm, “I want” becomes “I will.”